Monthly Archives: February 2013

Boyscouts Would Make Good Bird Photographers

Their motto is “Be prepared.”

pileated woodpecker
This is the Pileated Woodpecker – about 15 inches tall. Woody Woodpecker was modeled after this magnificent bird.

One of the most important tips I could give any beginner or would-be digital SLR photographer is to always be ready. Always have your camera with settings that will allow a quick photo when the opportunity arises.

Wondering why I am giving this advice right now? I was hoping you would ask 🙂

This past weekend was a monumental one in my life as a photographer. I captured the picture of my dreams!

It’s the Pileated Woodpecker pictured here.

And here’s how I got this amazing bird picture:

I have been getting ready for this photo for almost 7 years. Oh, it’s not like I have been consciously thinking about and preparing every day for that long. Nope, it’s just that I have done my due diligence to lure birds to my camera with purpose and diligence.

bird photography- downy woodpecker
My feeder has given me many great shots of birds that look very natural.

I started with a bird feeder years ago. Then I got this idea that if I had a bird feeder that looked like a bird’s natural habitat, the images I got would be so much better. I found an branch on one of the trees in my yard, and I did some tree surgery, cutting it off at just the right spot so I could fashion some holes for bird food that had branches near them for the birds to perch on.

The project took me several hours, and I actually had to start over after botching it the first time. But in the end, I had a “natural” bird feeder.

I have taken many a bird photograph over the past 6+ years from the comfort of my back deck and my kitchen window.

It was a great day when I realized I did not have to go out in the cold for these pictures. I could take them through the kitchen window. The birds didn’t like me on the deck, but they could care less if I am inside looking out. Sometimes they come right up to the window and pose, or at least they look as if they are posing.

I usually keep my camera loaded and nearby.. like a boyscout, I am ready.

However, when the pileated woodpecker showed up on my suet feeder, I was so excited I froze. I could not bring myself to move and reach for the camera. It was there for only a few seconds before it flew off into the distant trees.

I was only a little disappointed that I did not get that picture. The feeder was not positioned well for a good shot. So I took the time to reload the feeder and reposition it so that I could get the best shot possible.

Then I waited… for two days.

I was able to get a pretty good shot of the pileated woodpecker in the tree next to my kitchen window.
I was able to get a pretty good shot of the pileated woodpecker in the tree next to my kitchen window.

Sunday morning, my patience paid off. The woodpecker flew in from the west and I calmly picked up my camera. It already had my most powerful lens, a Sigma 18-250mm zoom lens, attached with the lens cap off.

I snapped off several good shots, and then, instead of flying into the distant trees, the bird flew up into the tree next to the house, and I was able to get another shot of it there. This one was not quite as sharp as I would like, but it is definitely a more natural looking photo.

So, the “Tip of the Day” is: Be Prepared.

5 Photography Tips For Digital SLR Photography Beginners

chipmunk - photography tips for digital slr beginners
This is one of the first shots I got with my original Canon Rebel

If you are just starting out in Digital SLR photography, this one’s for you!

It’s hard for those of us who write about photography and are familiar with digital SLR cameras to put ourselves in an absolute beginner’s shoes. It’s been awhile since we were there where you are. And for that reason, we take some things for granted that just seem natural to us.

So, in an attempt to think back to the day I got my first Canon Rebel, here are some things that, while normal for me now, were totally foreign at the time.

Digital SLR Photography Beginner’s Tips:

  1. digital slr photography beginner
    Patience is a virtue for digital slr photography beginners

    Read the Manual – This is not meant to be funny or demeaning. Some new camera owners will page through the manual step-by-step, but most of us are so anxious to start taking pictures, we never actually get this done. The manual contains the answers to all the questions, even the ones you don’t know enough to ask. Camera makers take pains to explain every facet of the camera in that manual, so spend some time with it.

  2. Set the Picture Size and Quality – This setting is in the Menu. Nearly every digital SLR has a dedicated button that says “Menu”. Use it to find the area where you can set the size and quality of your photos. Set it to the largest and finest setting. (If you don’t know what RAW is, don’t use that one yet.) Do not make the mistake of setting your camera to a small photo format so you can continue to take pictures on the same storage card for a year. The simplest reason to take pictures at high quality is that you could get some good photos that you would want to decorate the walls of your house or office, and they will have to be high quality in order to get large prints.
  3. Set the mode dial to either P or Auto – These dial settings will let the camera make all the important decisions about choosing the right aperture and shutter speed. Then, as you read through the manual and test how the other features and mode settings work, you can learn and change which dial settings you prefer to use. But using the Automatic camera settings will help you to get the most consistently good images without knowing what an aperture or shutter speed is. (But definitely learn these things because that is how you will really improve the quality of your photos.)
  4. Get a large storage card (or two) – Back in the day, cameras came with a token storage card – one that would allow you to take a few pictures at a good quality and size setting. Now, new cameras require that you buy a storage card separately. Get a good quality card with at least 8GB of storage capacity (32GB is even better). You surely don’t want to be a some important event and run out of space on your camera.
  5. Have Patience – You will not learn everything about digital SLR photography in one afternoon or even one month. So stay calm and stay with it. Also, have patience with each individual picture. Look at the view finder with a critical eye to see if the shot can be improved somehow. Do this, and you will improve the number of “keepers” you get right away.

Bonus Tip – Take tons of shots. They cost nothing. The second or third shot, even if it is exactly the same, may be sharper than the first one or be better in some other way. Just keep shooting. You can always delete identical shots after you have examined them on the computer.

And if you take more blurry shots than you think should be normal, read this article about “The number one reason for blurry shots.”

Also, if you have not already taken advantage of the free e-book, fill in your email address on the right side of the page and download it. It has some excellent hints for improving your photos without spending another dime. And they also qualify as photography tips for digital SLR photography beginners.