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How-to's

Bird Photography in the City

Richard Dubiel (Dubes)


Keywords: bird, photography, equipment, technique, dubes

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Introduction

As a bird photographer living in a temperate region, I always dream of being able to shoot in some exotic tropical paradise like Costa Rica, Ecuador or even in Florida. However, unless you’re doing this professionally or are retired with unlimited funds available, it’s highly unlikely for most of us to live out these dreams except perhaps for short vacations.  Seriously pursuing the art of bird photography over the past few years, I have learned and managed to capture dozens of images of different bird species within easy driving distance from home.

 

Image1

White Breasted Nuthatch - Nikon D300, Sigma 500mm f/4.5, f/7.1, 1/125s, ISO 400
Click for an enlargement

 

We live just outside the city of Toronto in a densely populated area known as the Golden Horseshoe. Stretching around the west end of Lake Ontario, it is an area with a population of over eight million people. Even though the area is heavily populated, we are very fortunate to have several large parks in the area. Many are right on the shores of Lake Ontario and offer diverse eco-systems with sheltered bays, marshes, forests and meadows. In fact most of my shooting is done within a half hour drive from home. These local parks can provide a large variety of songbirds, raptors, wading birds and waterfowl. Some are year round residents, but many unique opportunities arise with the seasons as birds migrate through the area. Another benefit to shooting close to home is that you learn to scout out areas that are productive without having to hire guides or local naturalists.

The local governments have been very proactive in our area to provide large tracts of parkland. However smaller towns and cities may not be able to provide these parklands. Check out public golf courses, quiet rural side roads, even parking lots that back onto to farmland, woods, meadows and wastelands. Just remember to park safely and not trespass on private property.

 

 

Image2

Red-necked Grebe - Nikon D7100, 600mm f/4 Nikkor + 1.4TC, f/9, 1/250s, ISO 250
Click for an enlargement

 

By shooting locally, it allows you to get out more often so you can develop and hone your technical skills preparing you for when you do get out to those more exotic locations. And when I mention technical skills, I don’t just mean learning all the functions of the multiple buttons found on your camera and lens, but also how to stalk birds and learn the behavioural patterns of various species. Knowing what to expect from your subjects is just as important, if not more important, than knowing what your equipment is capable of doing. So let’s forget about the tropics and focus on getting some stellar shots of the birds around your home.

 

Image3

American Kestrel - Nikon D300, Sigma 500mm f/4.5, f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 400
Click for an enlargement

 

I want to touch on two areas that will help you achieve photographs worthy of hanging on your wall or creating your own coffee table book. These are: [1] Equipment and [2] Field Techniques.

(28 Votes )
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Originally written on March 8, 2016

Last updated on May 16, 2016

Richard Dubiel Richard Dubiel (Dubes)

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Mississauga, Canada
Basic, 7781 posts

32 comments

James White (worker) on February 19, 2019

I agree. Let's shoot near home and protect the birds we know and love every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet.

Tom Holmes (Tomhol) on September 13, 2016

Thanks for this article. I enjoy photographing birds in a local park. Using a 55-200mm lens on a D5300 I now realise now how much patience is required. Reading this article I have picked up so many clues and seeing your images and data gives me a desire to keep at it. Thanks.

Peter Wallin (pipsqueak) on May 20, 2016

Very nice article Richard and some excellent pictures to. Thanks for sharing.

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on May 2, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thank you Paul - still trying to put a face to the name :)

Paul Janosi (Paul Janosi) on April 29, 2016

Richard I enjoyed reading your article. Well done! I am sure will bump into each other soon. Paul

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on April 15, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Dianne, congratulations on your new acquisition. I'm sure you'll have a great time exploring the wonders and marvels of wildlife photography. I'm also pleased that you found the article inspirational and looking forward to seeing your images posted.

Dianne Clark (Dianne340) on April 15, 2016

Hello again Richard Just reread your article (4th or 5th time). Yesterday I turned my back on all the "to dos" and took my camera to an area of parkland right in the heart of Melbourne under one of our busiest freeways and surrounded by industrial complexes. A great place which I would never have discovered until prompted by your article to look in my own backyard. Will post a few photos and I would welcome any suggestions and criticisms from the community. Mine is a journey of discovery and self-discovery through photography and I couldn't help thinking yesterday how little we need in material wealth to have a truly rich life. Dianne

Dianne Clark (Dianne340) on April 4, 2016

Thank you again to everyone for advice and support. Just purchased a Tamron 150 -600mm lens. My decision was based on weight and portability with the essential tripod. Just seemed easier to handle than the 200-500 or the 600. Chose Tamron because that was the most quoted by Nikonians. Took it out 2 days on the weekend. Thrilled with the results. Now I just need to practice and improve my own skills plus learn photoshop to enlarge. The start of a very exciting journey. My sincere thanks to all and this great community. Looking forward to posting some photos for criticism and suggestions Dianne

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on March 30, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Jim, tank you and enjoy your new home. Hope you get out soon to photograph some of the local birds. Always loved our trips to Florida to see the wonderful assortment of birds that are residents to the area. Dianne, thanks also for stopping by. Difficult for one to recommend a purchase, especially without having hands-on experience with all the models. All 3 have produced excellent quality images as can be seen especially on the wildlife forum. Remember, there are 2 models of the Sigma 150-600, a "contemporary" model (their low cost version), and the "sports" model (higher end, rated very highly but twice the price of the "C" model and Tamron lens. The Nikkor 200-500 falls in between the Tamrom/Sigma "C" and the Sigma "S". Since I wrote this article, I did pick up a copy of the Nikkor 200-500 lens and have been very impressed by the IQ, VR and build quality and does have the capability of accepting a 1.4TC (although at a loss of 1 f-stop and some IQ). It also fit into a gap I had in my lens collection (70-200 then jumping up to my 600 prime. Read on-line reviews, there are lots of them and can make your decision harder. If you can, head to a retailer that carries these lenses and handle them on your camera. Also check their warranties and long term customer support for your purchase as well.

Dianne Clark (Dianne340) on March 30, 2016

Richard Thank you again. I have been re-reading your article as I become more and more enthusiastic about bird photography and I am now considering purchasing a lens with more reach than the 70-300 I am using. Unfortunately I am on a tight budget and I need to consider the cost. I have looked at the 2 sigma 150-600 lenses, the Tamron 150-600 lens and the Nikon 200-500 lens. Any of these will be a major purchase for me so I don't want to make a mistake. Any comments would be much appreciated Dianne

James Gould (jgould2) on March 21, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his excellent and frequent contributions and sharing his in-depth knowledge and experience with the community in the Nikonians spirit.

Thanks Richard. I have long admired your photos and appreciated your comments and advice. Haven't been on the wildlife forum for a couple of years (moved to Florida), will have to find my way back. JIM

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on March 18, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Once again, thank you all for your comments and feedback, appreciate your suggestions. Edward, take care after the surgery and don't overdo the first few days, I think just being outdoors with nature can lift your spirits an re-energize you.

Don Young (dyoung0) on March 17, 2016

Some very practical advice and the pictures are beautiful. I was thinking about the same type of concept for myself this spring. I don't live in gloriously beautiful area, but there are a few places to get great pictures. You can always do close ups of many things, insects, botanical gardens, zoos, wildlife preserves, some museums, flowers, sunsets, auto shows, historical buildings, and churches to start. Animal shelters are usually open for volunteer work. You can keep at least your second camera with you most of the time to take advantage of opportunities that come your way.

Ray Heslewood (Hessy) on March 15, 2016

An excellent article Richard, with some beautiful images. Ray

Patrick T (hobieboy) on March 14, 2016

Beautiful pictures & very informative!!! Particularly timely for me as I am just started to get into wildlife photography (from sports). Thanks!

Andrew Lee (Udall) on March 14, 2016

My compliments, Richard. So nicely said and such constructive field tips. Your work is inspired and absolutely tack sharp yet artistically composed. Wonderfully written - enjoyed it very much.

Carman Pagano (the diewrecktor) on March 12, 2016

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Excellent primer, Richard. This will be another one of those Nikonians classics that I re-read multiple times. Waiting for your next article on post processing, :)

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on March 11, 2016

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

Great photographs and tips! Thanks for sharing

Fred Laberge (labtrout) on March 10, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his constant sharing of his skills and continuous comments of encouragement in the Nikonians spirit.

Some very practical and useful advice here, Richard. Much appreciated.

Edward Anderson (esandy) on March 10, 2016

Very informative article Richard, thank you. I haven't been able to get out with my camera for a few weeks now due to recent surgery. This is a great inspiration to head out to the local parks and try to capture some bird photos. Thanks again.

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on March 10, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thanks Dianne, it can be rather addictive once you get started. Some of the lenses I referred to in the feature would be good starting points. I started off slowly buying a used lens before investing in more expensive equipment; wanted to make sure I really enjoyed this area of photography first. Buying used first allows you to almost get your investment back should you decide to upgrade. Borrowing a friends lens or renting a lens for a week is also an option before purchasing. Techniques & settings, that's a very general question and could end up being a whole new article. Static vs. in-flight shots, tripod vs. hand-held all require different settings and techniques. Browse through the wildlife forum postings. Most members post their settings for each of their images, make note of those. Ask members questions on the forum, they'll be more than pleased to provide answers or suggestions. I'd be more than pleased to assist on any more specific questions or concerns.

Dianne Clark (Dianne340) on March 10, 2016

Thank you. Your photos are inspirational to someone not only new to photography but unexpectedly captivated by bird photography on a recent trip to costal areas. I would be grateful for any advice on best lenses, settings and techniques. Purchased my camera last December. Never thought of bird photography then but I am well and truly hooked. Dianne

Richard Dubiel (Dubes) on March 9, 2016

Awarded for his high level of achievement and willingness to help others – most notably in wildlife photography. Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Macro and Wildlife Photography Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest  Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thank you all for stopping by and glad to see you've enjoyed the article. Mike, Allen, thanks also for providing alternate locations. Mike, I've had the opportunity to visit Luther Marsh which I believe was restored with the help of Ducks Unlimited, a little far for me on a regular basis but wold sure be appropriate for residents in smaller towns close by. Some areas allow duck hunting when in season, so check for restrictions and stay out of areas used by hunters!! Allen, cemeteries are a good spot, private land so be wary of rules and treat with respect. In fact is was a spot I managed to add a red morph Screech Owl to my portfolio. David, your question regarding sport mode VR, I believe it was designed more for use of fast moving objects while panning. My understanding is that it only corrects for vertical motion. This is what Nikon states "When shooting action, especially on a monopod, the VR Sport Mode recognizes a panning motion to provide accurate compensation for camera shake, resulting in super-sharp images, with motion blur where the photographer intended". No experience using sport mode yet with this lens. As I gain more experience with the lens and functions, I'll post updates regularly in the wildlife forum.

Hong Chow (hongkchow) on March 9, 2016

Hi Richard, Thank you for your knowledge and images sharing. Much appreciated. Hong

David Robert Jackson (Wingnuts) on March 9, 2016

Richard, I have followed your images with a 200-500mm Nikon and have a question about how you use its VR. Why two VR modes, if Sport VR mode is for fast subjects why not use that mode all the time for birding or whatever. Where would you use the two VR modes? Thank you

Allen Round (Sing141) on March 9, 2016

Thanks for the information. Cemeteries may be good places for bird photography depending on the rules set up by the caretakers/administrators and observing common courtesies such as (obviously) staying away from funerals in progress. Some cemeteries have strange rules: No photography of graves, etc. but they will allow photographing birds once you explain that that is what you are doing. Seems like rules are often arbitrary and set by individual caretakers so if you can find out the cemetery rules ahead of time it often saves an argument. One cemetery I visited let me take photos of birds and told me I could also take photos of the graves of famous people, but not of the graves of people who were not famous. I don't know who decided who was and wasn't famous but the birds didn't care.

Marsha Edmunds (meadowlark2) on March 9, 2016

Donor Ribbon awarded for her support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Fellow Ribbon awarded for her continuous encouragement and meaningful comments in the spirit of Nikonians. Donor Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for her in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.

Thanks for the well presented information Richard. I have yet to try draping my arm over the lens and I am interested to check out the effect. Great timing for this article with spring just around the corner.

Gary Worrall (glxman) on March 8, 2016

Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Excellent images Richard, Much appreciated Regards, Gary

User on March 8, 2016

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise in this well written and illustrated article, Richard.

User on March 8, 2016

nice article and photos Richard, duck unlimited help funding parks and area for migrating birds which also help local wildlife, also some hunting and fishing association does that too.

John Giglio (jkg0806) on March 8, 2016

 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Fellow Ribbon awarded for his frequent posting with an always positive comment, sharing his knowledge, contributing to the spirit of the community.

Richard a really well written informative article thank you for sharing some of your tips for shooting wild birds. I'm sure it will benefit anyone who has a love for photographing these beautiful creatures.

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 8, 2016

Nice images. Good tips. Merçi

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