Ted Ng first stumbled upon wildlife photography in late 2016 when a photographer he encountered showed him photos of an olive-backed sunbird. He had no idea that such a beautiful bird was commonly sighted in Singapore. Ever since then, he became intrigued with birds and started looking into gear suitable for wildlife photography. Now, he spends most of his weekends taking bird photos and even travels to other countries to learn about more different bird species. In this article, Ted shares tips on how to capture these stunning creatures in movement!
1. Have patience
When it comes to bird photography, “ patience is the key, timing comes second.”
One cannot predict what the bird might do or if the bird will be at the place you expect it to be. Sometimes, the bird appears within two minutes of your arrival and other times it can take up to a few hours. In times like these, stay focused because even a slight distraction might cause you to miss the perfect shot opportunity.
2. Choose a frame with a higher ‘Frame Per Second’
I highly recommend fellow birders to get better gear with a higher ‘Frame Per Second’ like the Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, Canon EOS 7D Mark II or the new Canon EOS 90D. You can try out the Canon EOS 80D for a start. It’s a very good camera for beginner wildlife photographers. Do some research on the bird before heading out. If the bird is perched high and is not easy to approach, bring a lens that can shoot with a longer range.
Although I’ve just upgraded my camera body to the Canon EOS 90D, I will still stick to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. It’s a very good lens and I highly recommend it for beginners. It gives a sharp image while providing quiet, accurate and fast focusing. Alternatively, a better choice would be the Canon EF400mm f/5.6L USM or the Canon EF500mm F/4L IS II USM which I tried on my previous trip.
3. Find a good angle
There are two main challenges I faced when taking bird photography. Firstly, finding a good angle because sometimes the bird’s position is not in your favour and you have to make a quick judgment without making sudden big movements. You don’t want the bird to be startled and fly away leaving you without a shot. That is why I suggest using the ‘shoot and proceed’ method. For every 3 steps, take at least 5 to 8 shots before you proceed slowly to get a closer shot.
4. TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE IN A HANDHELD POSITION
The second challenge is to hold the camera very still for low shutter speed in low light conditions. Some birds like to move around or don’t stay long in dark environments. Some terrains are not on flat ground and you might waste some time setting up the tripod. Worst of all, some birds don’t give you time to do that. That is why training yourself to be in a handheld position is necessary. If possible, I also suggest shooting with both eyes open. It’s very useful when you are tracking birds in flight or when they are hopping from tree to tree. As you know, shooting with one eye closed might make you lose your target.
5. Shoot First, Ask Later
At times, you may wonder which bird species you are looking at. Senior birders have advised me to ‘shoot first, ask later’. You may have captured a lifer (a species that an individual birder has never seen previously) especially when you are overseas. You might think it is a common species but it could be something that you have not seen before.
Last but not least, always walk at a slow pace when birding, you will discover more than what you expected to find.
For more of Ted Ng’s shots out and about Singapore, check out his Instagram here!