As you hike around that curve in the trail, you hear branches breaking. Suddenly, a gigantic moose steps out of the bush, his white paddle antlers moving back and forth as he sniffs the air. Frantically you reach for your camera. You have to be fast, the moose is almost gone. The lighting is iffy, and the moose won’t stand still. This is going to be one you want to frame, so the camera settings need to be just right. Are you ready? Do you know your camera well enough to capitalize on this opportunity? Practice makes perfect, and the perfect practice can take place right in your backyard.
Who hasn’t watched the frantic activity around the backyard birdfeeder? The constant coming and going of all sorts of birds, the squabbling over who gets to feed first, aggressive birds fending off others, more patient ones perched on nearby branches. It can be a pandemonium, and hard to photograph. You’ll need to know your camera and its settings. The large zoom settings required to pick up enough of the tiny birds are very unforgiving for instability and severely reduce depth of view. Trying to make a winning photo in those conditions is perfect practice opportunity to hone your camera skills, so you’ll be ready for when some of the big subjects step in front of your lens. Here are a few tips to make this a less-frustrating experience.
- Use the zoom to blur out the background. Not all of us live with a picture-book wilderness in our backyard. High zoom settings allow you to get the subject in focus, but everything behind it blurry. That way you don’t have to worry as much about ugly walls, fences, garden tools and whatever else could disturb the perfect photo.
- Limit the number of feeders. If the visiting birds have many places to eat, you’ll be constantly shifting attention from one spot to the other, likely being late ninety percent of the time.
- Set your camera to focus on the centre only. Nothing is more annoying than your camera picking up some branches in front of the bird. With the big zoom settings, it’ll make your bird out of focus.
- Keep the bird in the centre of the viewfinder. Worry about composition later. Often you don’t have the time. Crop to get an exciting composition later, at the computer.
If you have the patience, put the camera on a tripod, find a branch or garden ornament your subject likes to sit on, set up the camera, settle in with a coffee, and when the bird lands, click away! But of course, that defeats the purpose of this exercise, which was to learn how to adjust your camera quickly to changing circumstances. Oh, you forgot? Understandable; backyard photography quickly becomes a rewarding challenge in itself.