Pompie’s Tips

Kalahari Dreaming with Bernd Wasiolka
November 25, 2015
Wild Africa Travel
November 25, 2015
Kalahari Dreaming with Bernd Wasiolka
November 25, 2015
Wild Africa Travel
November 25, 2015


Text & Photographs  Pompie Burger

The two most important objects you need for bird photography are a camera and a bird. Preferably a good camera, with at least a 300mm lens, and a ‘good’ bird (as in: as close as possible). Most of the other “megafters” are optional and only add to the load you have to carry in the process of following the most important object. Being technologically impaired I will not go into the finer photographical details like ISO, F-stop, shutter speed, not to mention white balance and histograms.

I think that most of the essentials of bird photography are pretty much the same as in any wildlife photography, so I will skip the “golden hour, background, composition, cutting of legs and heads from your subject and rule of thirds”. Trying to focus on the essentials of bird photography, one cannot overemphasize the importance of having a relatively strong (300mm but preferably 600mm) lens. It should probably be strong in terms of breakability, too, as you might drop the lens or it falls from the tripod, be it by accident or plain stupidity.

The main problems with birds are that they are much smaller than elephants (see 600mm lens), and that they have a tendency (probably because their lack of size) to fly away as soon as every other setting on your camera (see focus) is 100%. This is especially true in cases where you come across a bird you have been trying to photograph for many years. At this stage it is important to mention that your focus point should be the bird’s eye, with a glint in the eye otherwise you will have to chuck away (delete) your best effort and try again.

On the other hand, the beauty of bird photography is that birds are beautiful little creatures, they are colourful, and they are not restricted by borders and fences. They even come to your garden. Another rather big plus about birds is that they are not dangerous (except for an ostrich), but be careful for the real animals like lions, crocodiles, hippos, buffaloes and elephants, because they have a tendency to be around in the wild and can get quite irritated if all the attention is not focused on them, or sometimes if you are in their way while they are on the move and you might be busy taking pictures of a sunbird or some other unimportant bird. The last but not least advantage with birds is that they are always around: at a game park you will always see birds, even if only a lark.



A very special picture of a bee-eater leaving its nest, depicting the beautiful colours of the bird. 600mm Nikon lens, ISO 1600, f-stop 8, shutter speed 1/3200.



A breeding colony of southern carmine bee-eaters at Kalizo. Being able to take a picture of these beautiful birds in flight gives some idea of their unmatched beauty and agility. 300mm Nikon lens, ISO 800, f-stop 7.1, shutter speed 1/800.

Ethics are another important aspect as far as bird photography is concerned. Again, the ethics in all wildlife photography are pretty much the same, but there are a few exceptions. Calling birds has become a very popular tool in bird watching and bird photography. There are various philosophies but whatever your idea on this is, one should probably try at least not to irritate or confuse the birds, especially when breeding. My personal philosophy is to talk to the bird! This might sound strange but it is really a very important tool in your arsenal when taking pictures. Mostly it is to calm them down, telling them all is okay and that it will not be painful. If they fly away I swear at them, which helps to decrease the frustration and irritation resulting from an unsuccessful encounter. The variety of words at your disposal is endless and depending on your morals and vocabulary this can go on for quite a while and is quite satisfying in the end.

When it comes to taking pictures at a nest, feeding birds to attract them and throwing stones at them to make them fly (picture in flight, or moving to a spot which is a bit more open and suitable for a good picture), is up to you as the photographer and your ethical angle, but do not hurt or kill any bird in the process.

I found the use of a flash during daytime (fill flash) to be quite useful. Unfortunately it’s another item to carry when doing your photography on foot. The effect is especially rewarding when taking photos in the middle of the day (not the golden hour) and your bird is sitting in a tree with shadow or uneven shadows on it. This is done with aperture priority turned down 1/3 when the flash is on the TTL setting.



A hornbill coming in to land on the ground, with good back lighting on the Namibian landscape in Mamili Game Park late one afternoon. This is one of my favourite pictures, taken of a bird in flight as it should be. 300mm +1, 7 converter Nikon Lens, ISO 1000, f-stop 6.3, shutter speed 1/2500.



A kite in flight with the Erongo Mountains as a backdrop. The picture was taken just outside Usakos along the road, although the light was quite harsh at 13h00 in the afternoon.
300mm Nikon lens, ISO 800, f-stop 9, shutter speed 1/2500.



This spectacular bird/bill is one of my favorite birds because of its beautiful bill, colour and peculiar hunting method. The picture was taken at Mahango Game Park. 600mm Nikon lens, ISO 400, f-stop 7.1, shutter speed 1/400.



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This article was first published in the Summer 2015/ 16 issue of Travel News Namibia.

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