Taking The Long View

African Birdlife|July - August 2020

Taking The Long View
Long focal lengths when photographing birds
Grant Atkinson

One of the most common challenges faced by bird photographers is that of getting close enough to their subject. This is partly because, understandably, many birds won’t allow a person to approach them, having learnt that humans (or their pet cats) can harass, hunt or even kill them.

How close a photographer needs to get depends upon what use the images are intended for. If they are meant for display on a computer screen, for the internet or a website, the resolution required is a little less than if they are to be made into large prints. The focal length (magnification) of the lens also makes a difference. If a photographer is able to use a lens with enough focal length, then there is less need to approach very closely.

Remaining at a distance that is comfortable to the bird brings more than one benefit. Most importantly, if the subject does not fly away, the photographer is able to take more than one picture and refine the composition and settings. It can also mean that interesting behaviour may be captured because, instead of reacting to the photographer, the bird continues to do what it was naturally doing.

For the purpose of this article, I would consider focal lengths from 300mm up to 1200mm as being typical.

There was a time when almost the only way to get maximum focal length and good image quality was to make use of the very expensive fixed focal length super-telephoto lenses made by Canon, Nikon and Sigma. Thankfully that is no longer the case and there is a variety of less expensive options available.


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July - August 2020