Picture This: Birds in Focus
Photographer Cissy Beasley offers tips for better bird photos.
By Earl Nottingham
A familiarity with the behavior and nuances of birds and other wildlife is apparent the moment you see the elegant photography of Beeville-based photographer Cissy Beasley. Through the artful combination of lighting, composition and animal form, she consistently produces extraordinary images of ordinary objects.
Cissy, who entered her first Wildlife in Focus competition in 2013, is a relative newcomer to the photographic profession, but a lifetime spent in the field at the family ranch near Laredo taught her well about wildlife behavior.
“With my father and brothers as guides and teachers, I learned how to be a respectful guest in nature’s house,” Cissy says. “This comfort level has served me well as I’ve traversed the path of nature photography.”
She is well on her “path” as she continues to rack up contest wins with her artistic eye and shares her talents with others via workshops and social media. She also uses photography as a tool for conservation to visually tell the stories of threatened bird species like the black skimmer and the perils faced by ground-nesting birds like the royal tern.
“Doing what I believe I am meant to do — fulfilling my purpose — gives me great joy and satisfaction as I use photography as a means of education,” she says.
Here are Cissy’s top 10 tips for creating better bird photographs.
• Spend time watching and learning bird behavior. This will allow you to anticipate what the bird will do next and keep you ready to shoot at the right moment.
• For birds in flight, keep moving the lens with the subject. It takes only a second for the subject to get out of frame and then it’s gone. Go outside and practice moving your lens with things that move, especially when using longer lenses.
• Heads beats tails every time. For photos of birds in flight, strive to take images of the bird approaching or directly in front of you, but not going away from you.
• Check the background. Try to position your subject, whether in flight or static, against a nondistracting background. This may mean waiting
a moment to fire the shutter or moving the camera slightly in a different direction.
• For close-up beauty shots of individual birds, try to get the light behind you. This will fully illuminate the subject and display its distinct avian features.
• Maintain focus on the eyes of the bird, even if it means letting other parts of the body be slightly out of focus. This is true when photographing other species also.
• Set up and use your camera’s “back-button” autofocus feature. This allows you to control the autofocus separate from the shutter button.
• Use your camera’s focus tracking feature. Most newer cameras offer the option to acquire and hold focus on a fast-moving subject as it moves across the frame. Consult your owner’s manual for specific tracking modes.
• Think Fast. To freeze wing movement, use a fast shutter speed such as 1 /2500th of a second or faster for larger birds and at least 1/3200th of a second for smaller birds like hummingbirds.
• Don’t rule out camera phones for taking great bird photos. On newer phones, you can touch your screen and the phone will make adjustments for exposure. Take advantage of the zoom feature to bring the bird up closer. Several third-party camera apps offer even more custom camera features.
To see Cissy’s work and workshop schedule go to www.coastandcactus.com.
Please send questions and comments to Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at www.tpwmagazine.com/photography.
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