In the field, birders often watch for something unusual to help them spot birds, such as unexpected movement or flashes of color. When looking through a camera lens for bird photography, the field of view is much smaller, but the process is no different. I don’t always see birds right away, but I notice stunning light or a beautiful background that can help make a pretty photo. When those conditions are right, I look for the birds – their movements, their colors, their shapes, their sounds.
Of course, it’s not always me looking for the birds – I often hire local guides willing to share their expertise. While I’m looking at lighting, backgrounds, and composition, they point out the birds and help me learn their behavior, on the fly as it were, so I can frame the best shots. Their knowledge is invaluable, and more than once, I’ve had a guide take me right to the birds I most want to shoot. They often know the spots for unusual species, as well as nesting areas and other great locations for spectacular photography.
When we do spot birds, it’s important to respect their space. Like all creatures, birds have their own comfort zone – for smaller birds, it’s often at least 30 feet. If you stay outside that range, the birds aren’t bothered as much by your presence and will go about their business, the exact business that you want to photograph. If you want to get closer, using a blind or hide can be a great option. At the very least you want to avoid wearing bright colors or making noise or abrupt motions that can scare birds away.
In today’s digital age, searching for birds online is another type of challenge, and I’ve tried to organize my photos to be as easy to search as noticing a bird in the field. The search box – located in the upper right-hand corner of every page – is useful for entering names, keywords, or even colors or behaviors to look for birds.
The filter menus on the search results page are even better for narrowing down which birds you want to see and can help you discover more types of birds. Want to see all the birds I’ve photographed in Ecuador? Use the “Country” filter to find them. Looking for endangered birds? The “Conservation Status” filter is the fastest way to see them. Considering a trip to a specific birding lodge? Use the “Birding Sites and Lodges” filter to discover all the birds I’ve photographed at top sites around the world.
Discovering new birds is exactly what I want to help people do, whether it is through online photos, my book Bringing Back the Birds, or learning more out in the field on their own. The more we are inspired to search for birds and appreciate their beauty, the more we will be moved to protect them. Even the simplest conservation steps can be vital to protecting birds so they can be found – and enjoyed – by generations to come.