Tips for Bird Photography Raptor Shoot - by Kathy Cubert

These tips have been prepared for you so that you can get the most out of your time during the upcoming raptor shoot. Please take a few moments to review them prior to the trip. As a reminder - a minimum of a 70-200 mm or 70-300 mm lens is the recommended lens for the shoot, but it all depends on how close staff will let us get and how comfortable the birds are with our presence. Using a 1.4x teleconverter will also help. Often a teleconverter can be rented inexpensively if you don't happen to have one on hand. Midwest Photo and I believe also the World of Used Photography have rentals available locally. Also, Midwest will typically let you pick up equipment late Thursday night and return it on Monday but only charges a one day fee. I don't recommend using a 2x teleconverter as I've heard many people complain about soft photos and the loss of light resulting in a higher ISO.

Whenever possible when shooting wildlife, make sure the sun is at your back - point your shadow towards the bird. What you don't want is side lighting and shadows on the bird. This tip has been one of the most important tips I've learned in order to take better photos. Flash photography is not recommended for several reasons during this event.

Move around! Shooting from different angles brings new perspectives that will give you interesting shots that other photographers don't think to take. Go low, go higher than normal if possible...get tight shots and shots that also show the environment surrounding the bird.

One of the most significant items that will help you on a shoot is to know how to use the camera you take. Inside and out. If you don't, then bringing your manual will quite possibly help you out of a rut during the day of the event. It's best to use the camera you feel most comfortable with rather than renting one that you'll have to keep stopping to figure out how to operate.

Focus on the eyes - spot focusing will help you achieve this goal for birds that are in portrait mode. Look for catch lights and take the shot when you see the eye light up - it brings life to the photo.

While taking photos of wildlife, the eyes MUST be sharp for the photo to be a keeper. The human eye is drawn to the eye of the subject, and sharp eyes provide an instant connection. Catch lights are a definite plus - like studio lighting for humans, catch lights bring life to the subject, and you don't need a flash to get them. ISO 500 F10 1/40 Shot taken at 280mm.

• Wait for moments where there is movement and get comfortable in using different shutter speeds to achieve your creative vision.

Action shots bring energy to the photo. Look not only for the standard portrait shot, but movement. Try to anticipate action and make sure that your shutter speed is high enough to capture it. ISO 250 F4 1/100 Shot taken at 280mm.

Look for backgrounds that don't distract from your main subject. A clean, uncluttered background highlights just the bird in a way that brings the viewer's attention immediately to the bird. Here are some examples.

This is a good example of the rule of thirds and an uncluttered background.
As a general rule, you should use a shutter speed equal to the mm length of your lens to get a sharp shot. Image stabilization is typically turned off when the camera is on a tripod. ISO320 F4 1/400 Shot taken at 280mm

Shoot to the right when using a histogram to check your shots. A histogram gives you a much more accurate idea of the exposure of the shot and it's good to have data in the fifth box over but don't "clip" the histogram. If this info doesn't make sense to you, please ask. The shot will end up looking overexposed in camera, but the details can be brought back in during editing.

Composition is VERY important. It's good to get in the practice of using the rule of thirds to set up your photos, or at a minimum move the bird out of the center of the frame and to one side or the other. You typically would want to allow the bird room in the frame to give space to look out, rather than placing the bird looking the other way toward the edge of the frame.

Giving the bird room to look out of the frame

Color in the sky or background adds to the appeal of an image. The photo below would have been a stronger one aesthetically if there had been blue sky. It would have helped define the bird more. So even though there is good action in this shot the washed out background detracts.

Too washed out - Osprey at Scioto Audubon
Even just a touch of color boosts the overall appeal of an image

Most importantly, take your time to set up the shot during our event, and remember that Rose and I will be more than happy to help you out if needed.

We hope you have a great time during the shoot!

Also, feel free to check out my website at for more examples of bird photography. If you have time, Arthur Morris is a well-known bird photographer ( and will have great tips for you on his site.

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