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March 2016 Issue
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Photo school: Forest birds

Photo: Richard Young

Focus on the eyes for sharp images of birds, writes Richard Young

Find the light

You need to find some nice light breaking through the canopy. This will help you in two ways; it will allow you to use a faster shutter speed to help freeze the bird in motion (small birds move about a lot), and it will show the detail of the bird’s feathers, which can be hard to capture in poor lighting.

Let them come to you

If you walk up to a bird, it will fly away, so let them come to you. Often, if you sit down on the ground close to small birds like robins and fantails, they will come very close. They will often approach you if you are walking and stirring up the forest floor where the insects on which they feed live.

Get the bird in focus

If the bird is the subject of your photograph, it has to be sharp and in focus. To achieve this, use fast shutter speed and set your camera on single point focus (not auto point focus), then make sure the focus point is on the bird, ideally its eyes.

Watch the background

A messy background can be distracting. Try to position yourself to line up the bird with a pleasing background such as some nice leaves or something that contrasts in colour or lighting to help define the bird. You can also make the bird stand out by using a large aperture, which will make the background out of focus.

– Richard Young is a Wellington-based photographer running photography workshops in Tongariro National Park

Location New Zealand Robin/Toutouwai, Kahurangi National Park.

Settings 300mm lens, ISO 800, f5.6, 1/250 second