Captive Birds in Dramatic Light

For as much as I enjoy photographing birds at Bird Kingdom, I let my membership lapse in 2018 due to my rather hectic schedule. About a week or so ago I renewed my membership and spent a couple of enjoyable hours at Bird Kingdom. This short article features a small selection of photographs of captive birds in dramatic light. All were shot hand-held in available light at Bird Kingdom.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-4500

I liked how the light was hitting the feathers on the crown of this blue scaled quail. I shot this photograph from a crouching position so I could achieve a straight-on angle.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-250

The silver pheasant in the above image, is often quite difficult to photograph as it moves constantly. I was able to momentarily line up the bird against a dark monochromatic background to get this image.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-2500

Sometimes the way the light hits a bird’s feathers can add drama to a photograph. I loved the highlights on this guinea turaco’s neck, upper chest, beak and around its eyes. They give the bird a regal look. I took a number of images as the bird was moving about, with the photograph above being my best capture.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

The cattle egret in the above photograph, was up against an extremely dark monochromatic background. I captured a good selection of images and liked this one the best as the feathers on the crown of the bird are well defined against the dark background.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-2800

The zebra finches  are extremely active and rarely sit still for long. I waited for one of the finches to perch in an area that would give me a dark background against which to highlight this colourful, little bird.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 186 mm, efov 502 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-640

I’m not sure of the bird species in the above image. My best guess is a fife fancy canary… but I could be wrong. To get dramatic lighting on small birds when visiting Bird Kingdom I look for perches in good light that are up against dark backgrounds. I then select a shooting angle and wait for subject birds to enter into my predetermined shooting area.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-5600

The java finch is another bird that stays quite active and can be a challenge to photograph, especially when trying to get up close to one.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 275 mm, efov 743 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-400

The domestic canaries are easier to photograph as they tend to stay on the same perch longer than some of the other small birds. I took a few images of this bird.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-1600

Again, I’m not sure about what species of bird is captured in the image above. My best guess, based on the information on the Bird Kingdom website, is a society finch.

Bird Kingdom is a great place to go to get in some practice photographing birds. I often go with an objective in mind, which makes the visit even more worthwhile. If you are in the Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada) area and would like to experiment with photographing captive birds in dramatic light, Bird Kingdom is a great place to visit.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images for this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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6 thoughts on “Captive Birds in Dramatic Light”

  1. Hi Tom,

    It’s a good tactic to choose an area with dramatic lighting and an uncluttered, preferably contrastingly-colored background, in a zoo/aviary environment. Taking time to observe favorite perching places really go a long way in helping one shoot dramatic bird images as you have shown.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      I agree that observing birds is an important step with bird photography. They are creatures of habit and learning what they do goes a long way towards capturing images.


  2. I love your bird photos!

    Your guesses are correct. The first bird is a pied or variegated canary and the second is a chocolate and white pied society finch.

    Canary Colours | Canary | Finches and Canaries | Guide | Omlet UK —

    Society (Bengalese) Finches – Lonchura striata domestica —

    I use to work at a pet shop (many years ago) and I also owned and raised society and zebra finches. Miss having those fun, little birds.

    The Audubon Aviary | Audubon Zoo | Audubon Nature Institute — – they once had a nice, small, planted birdhouse with free-flying birds that I use to visit and take photos of their birds. Now they have a larger one.

  3. I like the suggestion to pick a spot to shoot from and aim at, and then wait for a subject to land. I have never been good at such patience, however I will have to try sometime.

    Great pics. I wish there was a place like this near to where I live.

    1. Hi William,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the images! I didn’t choose an individual branch, but rather an area with similar lighting. In the case of this article it was an area about 2 feet x 2 feet (60 cm x 60 cm)… so one still needs to be pretty quick framing and shooting a subject bird.

      Bird Kingdom is a pretty unique facility with free flying birds in two separate areas of the building.


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