Bird Photographer Etiquette

This article discusses some basic bird photographer etiquette and shares some images of a kinglet in flight. A few days ago I was out attempting to capture some new images of birds. Not having much luck at some area locations, I decided to do a quick stop at LaSalle Park before heading home.

Not much was happening at LaSalle Park either. On my way back to the parking lot I spotted another photographer who was ‘on a bird’. There is some basic bird photographer etiquette to follow in this situation.

Always approach quietly and slowly as not to scare the subject bird away. Never step in front of, or otherwise block, the site line of the photographer who is ‘on the bird’. Give them space to change their shooting angle should they need to move. Remain quiet and if possible signal your intent to also photograph the bird. Use your camera’s silent shutter if it has that option.

As luck would have it the subject bird was a kinglet. This was only my second opportunity to photograph this particular type of bird. The other time was at Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest in South Carolina a number of years ago. I had managed to capture a few quick images of a perched kinglet before it darted off.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-4000

Even before I spotted the bird partially hidden in the foliage of the tree in which it was perched, I set the mode dial on my E-M1X to ‘C3’. This is my Pro Capture H custom setting. Situated about 7 metres (~23 feet) away from this diminutive bird, I placed a single auto-focus point on its head. Then, half depressed my shutter to engage Pro Capture H and begin recording images in temporary memory. It didn’t take long before the kinglet launched into flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-400
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-4000

Unfortunately the kinglet flew behind a branch hanging in front of it. This made some of my images unusable as it obstructed the view of the bird’s head and eye. I did manage the two photographs above.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200

The kinglet kept flying around the inside of the tree, darting from branch to branch. It paused on a branch for an instant, allowing me to capture a second Pro Capture H run. Being mainly belly shots they aren’t particularly good images, but I did find the some of the details (such as the bird’s feet) quite interesting. The next six consecutive images were captured in a total of 1/10th of a second.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200

I used my standard Pro Capture H settings for all of the photographs in this article. Both my Pre-shutter Frames and Frame Count Limiter are set to 15. I used a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second.

The final image series in this article incorporates 12 consecutive Pro Capture H photographs. This series yielded my best images of the kinglet. All of the following photographs were captured in a total of 1/5th of a second. As you view each photograph take note of the distance that the kinglet travelled in only 1/5th of a second. These little guys are fast!

In this next series of photographs I was about 8.7 metres (~28.5 feet) from the subject bird.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600

The next four photographs are my favourites from my brief encounter with this kinglet.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600

Here is the balance of my Pro Capture H run before the kinglet left the framing of my composition.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-1600

Some readers may wonder why I spend time to regularly photograph common small birds such as sparrows and chickadees with Pro Capture H. I do this to maintain my shutter release timing and technique, so when more unique opportunities like this kinglet arise, I have a better chance to successfully capture some photographs. When it comes to bird photography, we often only have a second or two to get our shots.

Without being able to use the Olympus Pro Capture H technology in my OM-D E-M1X, the photographs in this article would have been almost impossible to create.

If you’re new to bird photography remember the basic bird photographer etiquette outlined in the first part of this article. Demonstrating that you understand basic bird photographer etiquette will go a long way to help establish good working relationships with other photographers in your area. This can lead to them sharing bird location information with you, as well as providing some tips on their technique and camera settings, should you have an interest in same.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Photographs were cropped to 3800 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.

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4 thoughts on “Bird Photographer Etiquette”

  1. Tom,

    I’d like to add that your post applies as well to birding and birdwatching. Birds are easily spooked by motion and noise; some more easily so than others. Getting too close (a relative term depending on the bird and its comfort zone, so to speak, and familiarity with the curious human) can also chase a bird away. It’s a faux pas often committed by new birders/bird photographers/enthusiasts but not totally limited to them as even experienced birders can forget etiquette at times in pursuit of a lifer.

    Lovely set as always. I always dig it when the series show the unfurling and motions of the wing — very symmetrical and evocative of the power of feathers, bones, and muscles to give the bird the ability to fly. Never ceases to amaze me how even the tiniest birds can defy gravity. Thanks for the wonderful images.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for adding your birding and bird watching experiences to the discussion! I also enjoy examining the wing positions of birds captured in a photograph. It is no wonder that humans have been fascinated by birds ability to fly.

      Tom

  2. Good comments and photos Tom. I live in Charleston and visit Beidler Forest a few times each year. You were lucky to get the Kinglet which I have never seen.
    Regarding etiquette, your comments are suited for much of photography, not just birds. I was in Iceland a few years ago photographing the sunrise on the famous black sand beach where chunks of ice were washing up after breaking off a glacier. With the whole beach available, another photographer decides that right in front of me was the place to be. To get there, she had to go out in the cold water which I guess tells you a lot about how much common sense she had. I have see that type of thing happen a number of times and it is maddening if you are the person being infringed on so I greatly appreciate your remarks.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Joel… much appreciated!

      I totally agree with your observation that being infringed upon happens with all types of photography. I found this endemic when on a tour of Italy last fall. Having to deal with the selfie crowd was a constant issue. Sometimes we find a great perspective for a photograph that other folks realize as they observe us. At times all we can do is have patience and wait for the interloper to create their image, and move on. Hopefully we don’t miss our opportunity for good light when this happens!

      Tom

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