Birds photography is probably one of the most challenging genre of photography but it is also the most rewarding. I started photographing birds in 2011, accidentally found interest in this genre of photography after shooting an eagle in flight at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Since then, there is no turning back. Some of the key points of photographing birds are summarised below:
1) What to wear: some comfortable clothing that is dull in colour as bright coloured tops can be an eye-sore in the midst of all birders that are mostly earth-colour adorned. Don't be the one standing out. Some commented that it is logical not to wear excessively coloured shirts as it can "chased" away the birds.
2) Bring a good binoculars to locate the birds and insect repellents and sun blocked. Bring lots of water as sometimes you can stay within a park for the entire day.
3) Bring a telephoto lens. I have used 300mm with teleconverter but this is still not enough reach but it is useful for Birds in flight. I am now using 600mm most of the time with a 1.4x Teleconverter. Note that Nikon 2.0x or 1.7x Teleconverter is not really good as it creates softer images. However, the 1.4x is pretty good.
4) Usually for walk around shoots, I set my camera to Aperture Priority to f8 and let the camera choose the shutter speed as it deems fit. f8 seems to be one of the best options for birds photography or even wildlife. Most of the time, my camera is set AF-C (Auto-focus Continuous), Burst Option and Matrix Metering. As I am using a prime F4 telephoto lens, it has excellent optics and most photos have good separation of subject with background creating what most people wished for : Bokeh. As we are using telephoto lens, a good sturdy tripod is a must as any slight shake will be magnified many folds and of course you cannot simply photoshoot with a 8kg lens and body combo. I use the Gitzo carbon fibre tripod series and it has been good.
5) But be flexible to change your camera setting (such as ISO) anytime due to light condition, such as low light. Sometimes, the shutter speed went down to so low that render it impossible to even press the shutter button for a usable shot. So at all times, I have my camera on tripod and have my wireless remote control attached to my camera. I will further enhance its use together with either the Silent Mode or Mirror-locked up. Also, most important is that you should always remember to focus at the eyes of the birds regardless of lighting condition.
6) For flight shot, I will switch to Shutter Priority and depends on the light condition, I will sometimes sacrifice my ISO. If I want to capture freezing shots of the birds including the wings, I usually pumped my shutter high and sometimes condition would need me to pump ISO up too. So a good camera that can handle ISO well is a plus. I have been using the Nikon cameras such as D3, D4 and now D5. D4/D5 can handle image without much noise up to 1600/3200. And a good camera and lens combo with fast focusing is definitely desired as you will want to get a sharp focused shot of the birds. Some good camera can perform good tracking mechanism. There is an option in camera on Focus Tracking with Lock-on and you can set the blocked shot response timing or subject motion. Excellent setting when you want to capture birds in flight in the sky and diving down to the water, doing a delayed response allow your camera to lock on the birds longer then usual otherwise the chance of refocusing onto more contrasting background may happen when you swing from sky to water as you follow the birds. So a well focus shot with sharpness in its entirety including its feather are my favourite, even though I know some who prefer focus with motion blur shots. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to birding. Sometimes, the birds in flight are big and come near and by setting too big an aperture will result in too narrow a depth of field and you can only see the head in focus. So see what you want and now you can hear our heart beat, the birds sometimes only give you one opportunity and your setting must be right once, that is what made bird photography challenging. And yes lots of luck too!!!
7) Apart from locally in Singapore, I have photographed birds in Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Africa and more recently in China. My dream bird is Hummingbird which I have yet to see and photograph.