Tips for Photographing Birds in the City

Urban areas aren’t typically thought of when it comes to exciting birds and places for Nature Photography, however, with a good eye and some knowledge behind it, you can create pleasing photographs that viewers would never have known came from a city environment.  Many cities nowadays have rivers that attract ducks and often times can have nesting Peregrine Falcons so don’t discount a trip to town with your camera.

The key to most urban photographs is simply having your gear with you when you wouldn’t expect an opportunity to happen.  We can all remember a time leaving a situation wishing we had our camera with us.  This happens more in the city because we don’t expect natural opportunities to occur.  Having a simple rig with relatively quick access can really up the odds.  One of my more memorable photographs is a perched American Kestrel I photographed in downtown Battle Creek, MI.  While sitting at a traffic light I noticed the bird milling about behind an old fire station so I immediately pulled into a lot with better access to the area.  By staying in the vehicle, the bird was more accepting of my presence allowing me to get a bit closer.  I had my camera with a 300mm lens in the car and was able to position myself so the tree line and sky were my background.

This is the key in city shooting, the background and isolating non-natural elements out of frame.  So many aspiring photographers forget to look at their backgrounds when an exciting subject is in the frame.  To me, the background is almost as important as your subject matter and in some respects, more important.  By shooting wide open (f4 in this case); my background blurred nicely which made the bird really pop.  With any photograph, luck plays a role but knowing how to set up the shot allowed me to take away a great image within five minutes and still make it back to work on time!  When focusing on birds in the city, it’s important to go telephoto in order to isolate your subject.  By isolating your subject, this will help take away the non-natural parts in the frame.  While most photographs involve hours, days or even weeks of work there are times when a little luck and simply being ready can mean all the difference.  Be cognizant of your surroundings and always stop and think about the situation before shooting away.  Knowing where the sun is, the placement of the background, and where to shoot from will yield better results every time.

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