Instructions for taking photos of birds in the hand

The camera and other accessories

Any camera is good if it provides fidelity in colors and photographs with a sufficient number of pixels to support a good size increase without losing sharpness. We recommend a minimum resolution of 1.5 MB.

It is best to work with two people, one holding the bird and the other taking the photos. Working alone is more challenging. You need to have both hands free, to stretch the wing, for example. This demands the use of a tripod, a table and a chair.

Your camera should have the following two functions:

– The first is an extendable and rotating monitor that allows the bird to be viewed from any angle, including from in the front of the camera. This is also useful for photographing larger birds: Stand in front of the camera, holding the bird in the center of the picture taken.

– The second, and most important, is that the camera has the function of autofocus after, and not before, that the timer counts the seconds programmed. This will allow us to start the timer and to adjust the position of the bird. Thus, we can use both hands to, for example, extend the wing as many times as necessary. Or to place ourselves in front of the camera with a large bird without loosing the focus.

These essential features are not available in every camera model.

The photographic report

Before taking pictures, you should know which characteristics are needed for identifying age and sex of a species in order to clearly present these features in the photos.

Here some examples:

– The wing of Erithacus rubecula allows to easily define the age of the bird, but the tip of the rectrices helps to confirm the determination.

– In the majority of the species of the Sylvia genus, the details of the wing and tail allow to define the age in autumn, but in this time of the year the color of the iris will give you as much information as the feathers.

– The wing of Alcedo atthis after the postnuptial / postjuvenile moult allows the determination of the age only with difficulty, while the limit of change in the rectrices gives a clear indication of age.

Taking pictures of small birds, the best way to proceed is to hold the specimen by the tibia with the left hand while the camera, which must be in autofocus, is operated with the right hand.

To photograph the extended wing, one hand should hold the bird by the tibiae when placing it in front of the camera. Then activate the timer and extend the wing with the free hand, holding it by the tip of the primaries if the wing coverts are used in the determination or by the area of the alula if the complete flight feathers should be seen.

. To photograph the extended wing, one hand should hold the bird by the tibiae by placing it in front of the camera, activate the timer and extend the wing with the free hand holding it by the tip of the primaries if the wing coverts are used in the determination or by the area of the alula if the complete flight feathers should be seen.  If the specimen is very restless, it can be held by the body to avoid fluttering with the free wing.

In the case of birds whose large size exceeds the distance between the camera and the extended arms, we have to use the timer and place ourselves in front of the camera.

It is important to know the habitual behavior of each species before handling:

Most of them are mainly calm, but the families Picidae, Sturnidae, Hirundinidae or Motacillidae or species like Luscinia svecica, for example, are extremely nervous and it is necessary to restrain them to prevent fluttering. Precaution must be also taken with fragile species such as some of the genus Emberiza.

In these cases, it is convenient to start with the photographs of wings, tail or details of the body. The birds usually calm down and it is then possible to take pictures of other parts, such as the color of the iris or the feathers of the breast.

In large birds, like when handling them for ringing or taking biometric data, it is convenient to use hoods to minimize stress. In any case, to avoid accidents caused by potentially dangerous species, such as raptors or herons for example, it is necessary to take precautions to avoid injuries by claws and beaks by using gloves or glasses. Due to the loss of sensitivity, the use of gloves for the handling of small birds is not recommended.

In the case of annoying species, such as Corvidae, Laridae or those of the genus Lanius, it is only necessary to bear stoically the inconvenience that they can produce.

Some conditions make it difficult to take good photos. For wind, which moves the feathers, you should have a sheltered place.

Good light is essential. The excess of light or absence of good light will reduce the quality of photos. This can be solved with umbrellas or artificial lighting, although this increases the amount of equipment to be carried in the field. Irregular lighting of a wing can lead to misunderstandings when looking for feather details: It might show different shades in the coloring or shine of the feathers, even when they do not exist on the real surface.

I always use a natural background, like vegetation or ground. In order to avoid problems with autofocus look for places with distant backgrounds; to preserve the natural colors water and gray backgrounds are better than green or reddish ones.

Finally, we recommend carrying manicure material on the equipment: poorly maintained nails can ruin a good photo of a beautiful bird.