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8 Tips for Awesome Animal and Bird Photos

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is a retired accountant and a photography enthusiast living on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. Gayle is passionate about writing and keen to showcase Aussie culture to a global audience. Gayle loves her family, dogs, sunsets, and chocolate.
Published November 26th 2019
Loving Animals and Birds Through Photos

Animal photography and particularly bird photography is a passion of mine and it could be a passion of yours. For me, it started with holiday snaps of birds. I was amazed at the different types and colours and I was hooked. Now I have a camera with me whenever I go for a walk but so do we all these days as mobile phone cameras just keep getting better.

You can take animal and bird photos on any camera, on your phone, on a point and shoot camera or a DSLR. For those who have a DSLR, I have included notes about the settings. For those of you who are bitten by the animal and bird photography bug, here are my tips with examples to get the most out of your images along with some ideas of where to go to see the animals.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

View Point Looking Into Their Eyes

Viewpoint is important in animal photography. One of the best ways to bring out the personality of the animal or bird is to be at eye level with them whenever possible. This means instead of standing and taking the photo from above, I sit or stoop or even lay on the ground to get to their level. I aim to capture the animal's eyes in the photo. After all, they say the eyes are the window to the soul.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Bush Rat Photo. For the shot of the bush rat taken in Kilcunda, I laid on the ground, about2 metres from the animal. This was as close as I could get before it got skittish. Try not to stress the animal you are photographing. Not only is it the respectful thing to do but a relaxed animal will make a much nicer photo. I liked the blue tint in his eyes and his bony, little "old man's hands." You could easily have captured a photo of this little guy with your phone or any point and shoot camera. I was using a DSLR camera on a fast shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second to freeze motion which cranked the ISO up to 1800.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Echidna Photo. For the echidna, I wasn't able to lay flat. The wetlands where I spotted it were living up to their name and as it was my boots were full of water and were squelching. Instead, I stooped and used the Liveview screen instead of the viewfinder to get the camera low enough. If you are using a phone camera, just stop down and hold it low to the ground. On my DSLR, I used 0.33 exposure compensation to supplement the high ISO as the animal was in the shade of bushes.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Keep an eye peeled whenever you are out and about, you never know what you might encounter. Birds are all around us even in heavily urbanised areas. Small lizards can be found in path side vegetation. Many dog walkers will happily let you photograph their pets when presented with a polite request to do so. In my local wetlands, I have spotted kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas along with a large variety of birdlife. At Wilson Botanic Park in Berwick turtles can be spotted in the lakes.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Gippsland Water Dragon Photo. This Gippsland Water dragon unexpectedly emerged from Lake Gutheridge in Sale, just as my husband and I were walking by a concrete path by the roadside. It was about a metre long, with its tail being half its length. What a magnificent creature it is and how glad was I to get the photo. I couldn't get to its level as the bank sloped away. It was less than a metre from us so I was able to get good detail with the telephoto lens out to its full 400mm. If you can't get close you can crop the image. This is a heavy crop of the full animal to highlight the pattern of its scales and the vibrant colours of the eye and throat. The full photo was made too busy as there was grass around and in front of the subject. The crop is a cleaner image. Any photo editing software including phone apps will allow you to crop photos. For available options, click on 7 Free Programs for Editing Your Photos.

Lighting Challenges From Shade to Sunshine

Correct exposure (how dark or light your photo turns out) is a challenge in the shade of the wetlands and particularly when I am intermittently moving from shade to sunshine. Photos taken in the shade may be too dark. Many phone cameras now have the option to compensate for this. On my Samsung J3, their cheaper range, my phone camera has a Pro option where I can set ISO to shade or even increase exposure compensation. Those of you with iPhones might want to take a look at this article, 6 Advanced iPhone Camera Controls for Jaw-Dropping Photography by iPhone Photography School. On my DSLR I usually have my ISO set on Auto. Of late, I have been capping ISO at 3200 for animal and bird photos to avoid the grainy noise high ISO can bring to a photo. I use exposure compensation where necessary, and particularly in the shade.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Dusky Moorhen Photo. The dusky moorhen was on the banks of flooding creek many metres below ground level and was completely shaded. Neither high ISO nor exposure compensation was helping, so I had to wait for the bird to step into a small sliver of sunshine falling across the rocks. Sometimes you just have to wait for the light.

Beautiful Background and Foreground

An attractive background and foreground will make your animal or bird photo much more appealing. Of course, you can't choose where the animal will be but moving your camera and yourself up or down or to either side can give a better view or cut something ugly from your photo. You will be surprised how much difference a couple of steps to the side can make. Those of you with a DSLR camera will be able to take advantage of "bokeh." Both my extended telephoto lens and the macro lens give a good artistic blurred background referred to as bokeh. Most of my animal and bird photos are opportunistic but where possible, I look for background that will give an artistic effect. If the surrounds allow it, the subject can be isolated between both foreground and background bokeh.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Female Superb Fairy Wren Photo. Notice the blurred spheres of blue, green, yellow and white light behind the wren. These are the result of a lilly pilly tree with gaps between the leaves to the open sky. The perch the wren is sitting on is at the top of a weeping tree in our back yard which I know is a good spot for photos. The wrens, and other small birds are frequent visitors and I know they will usually end up in this perch. In order not to spook the birds I often photograph through the back window as was the case with this image.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Eastern Grey Kangaroo Photo. The photo of the eastern grey kangaroo illustrates the use of bokeh in both the foreground and background. The roo was on the other side of a levy bank on the edge of the golf course driving range. As the grass on the top of the bank is on a different focal plane to the roo, the bokeh could be obtained. This can be achieved with anything forward of the focal plane such as grass, flowers or of the trees where the light was shining through. To achieve the positioning I want with a stationary subject I move to one side or another.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The European Honey Bee Photo. In this macro (close-up) image of the European honey bee, white flower petals in the foreground provide a soft veiled effect. The blurred foreground is designed to provide context and to draw the eye up to the bee which is in sharp focus. On my DSLR camera, a fast shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second is used to freeze the motion of the bee. Although this is a macro photo, I pulled back and used autofocus which I find more accurate than my manual focussing attempts. I cropped the photo to get a close-up of the bee.

Post Production and Cleaning up the Image

Birds photographed in trees or bushes not only make focusing a challenge but often end up lost in the busyness of the image. Sometimes an otherwise good capture is spoiled by branches that appear to be growing out of the bird's body. I'm not a huge fan of post-processing but if it is feasible, I will clone away unwanted parts of an image.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Male Superb Fairy Wren Photo. In the original image of the male superb fairy wren, a number of twigs behind him appeared to be protruding from his rear end. Since the blurred background of the photo is relatively even and simple, it was easy to remove the unwanted twigs using the clone brush. I use Photoscape for post-processing which is a free to download program.

Macro and Close-up Photography Reveals Secrets

Macro and close-up photography can sometimes uncover the unexpected, such as a tiny bug not seen with the naked eye. A butterfly doesn't sit still for long but snap a close photo and you will be able to see in detail the beautiful patterns of its wings. A close photo of a honey bee will reveal what a hairy creature they are. For tips on obtaining close-up or macro photos click on 8 Low Budget Ways to Get into Close-up and Macro Photography.

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

The Australian Native Resin Bee Photo. When I took the photo of the resin bee in a pig face flower, I thought it might be an Australian native bee. I wasn't even sure of that though, let alone what type it was. The photo is a heavy crop but is sharp enough to enable me to identify the insect. It is much smaller than a honey bee and is almost submerged in the centre of the flower.

Equipment and Focus

Any camera, from phones through to the most expensive professional kit, can be used for animal and bird photography. Check your phone's advanced camera features. To focus your phone camera, tap the screen where you want the picture to be sharpest. You might be surprised by what you find. Most modern cameras have a bird or sports mode in the scenes menu which enable a number of shots in quick succession. This is particularly good if the animal or bird is on the move.

I use a Nikon D7500 DSLR which is a 1.5 crop sensor camera. This camera was a deliberate choice for bird photography. I use a Tamron 18-400mm telephoto lens for animals and birds and usually crop the photos both for a closer image and for better composition. For insect macro photography, I use a Nikon Micro 105mm lens. For animals (not macro) I am currently using back-button focus with continuous autofocus. I use a single focus point for still animals and multiple points for birds in flight or fast-moving animals.

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Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito... from Pixabay

Where to Go To Photograph Animals.

Now that you are inspired and ready snap amazing animal and bird photos where should you head? Wetlands and conservation parks are cropping up all around the city. Find your local park and take a walk. Jells Park and Wilsons Botanic Park are both great examples. Make this a family affair with a trip to a wildlife park, zoo or animal farm. For details of where to go click on Best Animal Attractions around Melbourne

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Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge (Marien)

If you're keen on a less formal experience and want to photograph animals in their natural surrounds, click on 9 Places to See Kangaroos in the Wild or, 9 Places to see Koalas in the Wild, or 5 Places to See Lyrebirds in the Wild.
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Why? Open up a whole new world and see nature through different eyes
When: Anyday
Where: Anywhere
Cost: Free unless you choose to visit a paid wildlife park, zoo or animal farm.
Your Comment
Some fabulous ideas, thank you Gayle!
by Elaine (score: 3|6825) 8 days ago
Great tips and amazing photos.
by Roger (score: 2|643) 8 days ago
We'll be heading for one of the wildlife parks and I'm determined to photograph an animal eye to eye.
by betty (score: 2|526) 7 days ago
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