If those Danged Birds would Just Stand Still….

I’ve been inspired by the amazing nature/photography blogs that I follow to take a stab at improving my own wildlife photography.   Not intending to become the next David Attenborough — yep, I’ve been watching Nature on PBS — but there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement, so it seems a worthy goal.

When I get good, I'll go to Botswana and get a photo like this.

When I get good, I’ll go to Botswana and get a photo like this.

Step one: a camera upgrade.   I have a little Sony point and shoot, and I’ve been using it so much this past year that the on/off button keeps getting stuck in one position or the other.     Contrary to my usual buying method (see an ad, think it looks nifty, and buy it) I actually did a tiny amount of research for this purchase, and discovered that there is a class of cameras called “bridge cameras” for folks just like me who want to take a step up from the point and shoot, but don’t want to jump all the way to a Single Lens Reflex camera.   Cool.  Research paying off.  (And I finally figured out what SLR stands for.  Extra cool.)    I knew there was one thing I wanted on my next camera: a viewfinder.  I don’t know if any of the point and shoot digital cameras have a viewfinder, but mine doesn’t.    In the days before reading glasses, this wasn’t a problem.  But now…unless the light is just right I can’t clearly see what I’m focusing on without my reading glasses, and I can’t see the actual object I’m focusing on with reading glasses.  Life is hard.

It turns out that there aren’t actually that many bridge-type cameras out there with viewfinders, so my choice was narrowed to two.  Surprising myself yet again, I did a little more research, and found good reviews for the Nikon Coolpix 510, so that’s what I got.

I wasn’t expecting that it would be that different from using my old camera, but I am so nicely surprised by how much fun this camera is to use.  So that is extra cool, as well.   I’ve been on a mission the past couple of weeks to start my wildlife photographer career by stalking the winter birds that hang out in central Montana.   What have I learned so far? Birds sitting still are easy to shoot, birds flying not so much.  What an insight.

For example, it was pretty easy to get a decent photo of this good looking Roughlegged Hawk as he sat on a fencepost:


but a whole other matter to catch him when he decided to fly:



fail again

fail again

fail again, but I actually kind of like this one

fail again, but I actually kind of like this one

Luckily for my frustration level, geese are wonderfully cooperative when you want to catch them flying.  They take a long time to get in the air, and once they’re up they move nice and slowly:



We have a few flocks of cedar waxwings that are wintering in town, and I would dearly love to get a picture of hundreds of them taking off from a tree in unison.  That hasn’t happened: I’ve tried sitting and watching them, camera at the ready, but have totally missed it when they do decide to take off.    These two are my best waxwing shots so far:


not great...

not great…

Birds at the feeder are good for practice, but, man – those little guys just move so darned fast!   Got a few of them, though:

this guy was no challenge: he was attached to the suet feeder for days!

this guy was no challenge: he was attached to the suet feeder for days!





The other day I did come across some wildlife that stood still for as long as I needed:


If they’d all cooperate like these guys, I’d be a pro in no time.

About westerner54

Hello. I'm Cindy, and I love to hike, bike and explore the outdoors - particularly the western U.S.
This entry was posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Wildlife and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to If those Danged Birds would Just Stand Still….

  1. I really like your birds…even the slightly blurry ones 🙂 The geese in flight photos are fab

  2. LuAnn says:

    I love all your pics…well done. 🙂

  3. I just upgraded my camera too! Enjoyed your post.

  4. lylekrahn says:

    Ah yes, the frustrations of trying to shoot wildlife. Maybe you can unlock a secret to make it easier for everyone. Good post.

  5. At least you have some wildlife to experiment on. We did actually spot a beaver swimming in the lake the other morning on our run. My city friends didn’t believe that we actually have beavers here in the heart of the city, but we waited for it to come back up after it submerged and you could see the flat tail very visibly from our bridge perch. I need to start running with my camera!

  6. ldsiebs says:

    I think these shots are fantastic! I can’t wait to read more of your posts and learn new tips for photographing wildlife. Thank you for sharing!

  7. oopsjohn says:

    My eyes aren’t so good either 🙂 Is that a black bear with FOUR cubs? Wow!

  8. znara says:

    You had me laughing and enjoying your beautiful shots at the same time! I’ve been wanting to upgrade soon too, so I’ll have to check this one out. I really like the cedar waxwing shots and the bears, but the downy woodpeckers are my favorite. They are such a sweet little bird and you got a couple of cute shots here 🙂 Enjoy the camera, I am looking forward to more pictures!

  9. beeseeker says:

    love the sense of adventure and humour here – a great mix. Good luck with your wild models!

  10. Pretty sweet shots. I like the “blurry” one, too, because it shows motion.

  11. lekker says:

    great pics. those bears are up early!

  12. franzfuls says:

    Hey W.
    Maybe someone more experienced than me can give better wisdom, but here’s my version!

    Some really great shots! I share your frustration, and anyone wanting action shots of birds do – regardless of the artillery they are packing. In my experience the problem is twofold: Lack of proper focus and shutter speed.

    To help with focus, get a broader depth of field, something like F14-F22. Now focus is easy, but you paid with underexposed images because the light is not getting through. Next bump up your iso to get back to a good shutter speed. Now you got noise, aargh! It also helps to have a camera with super fast tracking autofocus or being the manual focus guru of the universe. Lens quality also makes a huge difference…at a cost.

    Using a 500mm lens with the bird covering about 30% of the frame I try to go for a shutter speed AT LEAST 1/1500sec. More if I can. Less if light simply does not allow. Too little light and I dont bother taking the shot – it will be crap.

    Sometimes I bump my ISO to 4000, and deal with the noise later. Sometimes I deliberately overexpose. Sometime Im simply happy having a shot that can be identified, if the subject is doing something really unique or peculiar.

    Get close…really close and things will get better. Grow some xmen mutant skills and become invisible, or get skill in camoflage. Be prepared to wait for hours, or days util the subject is exactly where you want it. Expect birds not to do what you hope, and compromise.

    In conclusion: A good friend of mine, professional photographer for almost 50 years firmly believe that a good camera does not make a crappy photographer good, and a crappy camera does not make a good photographer bad.

    I love your shots. keep on!

    • westerner54 says:

      Wow, what great helpful tips – thanks so much. This is all so much fun to learn, and I really appreciate your taking the time to share your knowledge.

      I’ll go work on growing my mutant skills now!

  13. You’re progressing very well I’d say. I love the first geese in flight shot especially. By the way, that giraffe shot isn’t all that good. You can do better (I did). Psst…go to Zambia, or Botswana!

  14. I so sympathize with your frustration over fast-moving subjects (any animal, including human, as subject can be maddeningly mobile!!), but you’re doing remarkably well with your photos despite the challenges!

  15. timalil says:

    I really love your photos and how you present them!

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