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Grey-headed albatross, Diego RamirezPhotographing wild birds can prove difficult, time-consuming and frustrating. The larger species such as cranes, vultures and eagles can sometimes be approached using a 300 or 400mm lens, but to fill the frame with the smaller ones requires a minimum focal length of 600mm. These so-called super-telephoto lenses are difficult to hold steady, and some consequently incorporate image stabilization. Nevertheless, a sturdy tripod is required in most cases. The combined weight of all this equipment is significant and sets the pursuit of birds apart from other aspects of travel photography.

Birds are, not without reason, nervous of human beings. They watch our movements carefully and fly away at the slightest sign of movement. Dedicated photographers set up hides which enable them to approach more closely but, when travelling for other purposes, this may not be practicable. An alternative approach is to find a nest or a place where birds feed and then, in the reasonably certain knowledge that some birds will return, just sit and wait in a comfortable and concealed spot. Patience is a virtue under these circumstances. One can wait all day and see very little activity, but usually your efforts will be rewarded.

If possible, set up the camera and telephoto lens on a tripod and focus on a favourite perch – perhaps the nest, or a fence or tree stump. With the sun either behind you or to one side, set the shutter speed to 1/250 sec or faster and the aperture to give appropriate depth of field. A remote release is useful because it removes the need for arm movements when the subject suddenly appears. Hold the release out of sight in vegetation or under clothing and gently squeeze the button. Long-range remote releases allow the photographer to retire a substantial distance from a camouflaged camera, and minimize disturbance. Remember that many bird species are protected and in some countries it may be necessary to obtain a license before photographing them.

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