The time of year has come when the weather is just horrible. At least in Northern New York it is horrible. Up here the skies are gray, it’s rainy, it’s cold, just no fun to be outside at all. Many of us are faced with a similar problem, it’s discouraging and you just don’t want to get up and go out and photograph things. Now is the time to go to florida! If you time it right you can save a ton of money going down there and avoid all the tourists as well.
Florida is traditionally a tourist destination, but early to mid November and most of January it’s dead there. The hotels are empty and traffic is light. The locals are in a better mood as well which is a huge advantage!
Bird photography in Florida is simply the best in the United States without question. There are more species there than anywhere else and they are completely comfortable with people approaching them. You don’t need blinds, camouflage, or any sort of difficult equipment. Simply get out of your car and go watch them and shoot away.
And if bird photography isn’t your favorite thing there are great coastlines, docks, lighthouses, marinas, the possibilities are endless. I’m a nature photographer so I’m going to share with you some of the best places I’ve found to get some great bird images.
viera wetlands, brevard county waste water treatment facility many birds and eagles and aligators and stuff N wickham rd rockledge, fl
wakodahatchee wetlands wastewater treatment facility many birds and aligators and stuff 13042 jog rd, delray beach
1200 lakeshore blvd st. cloud spoon bill cranes and chicks walking take trails from boat ramp
900 joe overstreet rd. kenansville driving along road, pond on left, and marsh on right at end of road… tons of birds, eagles, owls, cranes
601 lakeshore blvd kissimme many wading birds
cape coral burrowing owls at library
922 sw 39th terrace cape coral
laurel road dump sign in at office… eagles, hawks, aligators
knights trail rd, nokomis
Honeymoon island state park ospreys and possibly owls 1 causeway boulevard, dunedin, fl
Those are just a few specific places that will get you started, but there are tons more around. Everglades national park is there too, you can spend a day there easily at just one small section of the park.
Bird photography is tricky, you can spend years til you get it right so practice practice practice. With the amount of birds around you can try all sorts of techniques as well. Birds in flight are one of the biggest challenges most of us face. Practice on simple shore birds and sea gulls. You can sit for a few hours and work on tracking them in flight and figure out how they move and the best ways to take the picture. After working on them for a while you have become much better at photographing birds in flight so you will have a much easier time when you see those eagles, owls, or cranes that look much cooler than an ugly sea gull.
Also, remember that you want to blur the background as much as possible. Try to keep your aperture around 2.8 or 4.0. Don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO if necessary, a picture with some noise is better than no picture at all.
As far as equipment this is one type of photography where bigger and more expensive IS better. Sorry, but hands down, a 600mm F4 is going to do things that are impossible to do with a 70-300 with a teleconverter. Now, I understand most people are on a budget and not everyone can buy the big glass, but don’t get discouraged. Try to think of different ways to get the shot if you are limited on the lenses you have. You might have to get your feet wet walking in the water to get closer, or you might have to use a bit of stealth and sneak up some.
The main equipment I use for birds is either a 600mm or the sigma 300-800mm. I do keep a smaller 70-200 attached to a body all the time and this is the one I have closest to me. Think of it this way, you are driving along, or walking on a trail and suddenly 10 feet ahead you see your subject. A spur of the moment image is not something you will need big lenses for. This is something you will need to click fast before it flies off. Anything beyond 10 feet and you will have time to set up the tripod and bigger lens.
Teleconverters are also very important. Even with huge lenses sometimes you just can’t get close enough. I’ve seen photographers with 600’s and 2 teleconverters stacked behind it.. I’ve done it myself, ha ha. The problem with using all those converters is you lose light and autofocus speed, sometimes you won’t be able to autofocus at all. All my cameras and lenses will autofocus with a 2x converter but that may differ depending on what body and lens you are using at the time.
No matter which setup you choose, stability is key. Tripods are your friend. Live view mode is your friend. Your tripod is just as important as the expensive lens you have with you, get a big heavy duty one, period. Ball heads do not work for bird photography, you need a wimberly style head. It allows you to pan and follow the bird in flight and has no trouble supporting 15lbs of camera and lens.
Live view is also a huge help, I’ve written articles on the advantage of live view, but essentially it’s a mirror lockup and still allows you to watch your subject. A remote shutter release either infrared, radio or cable is important too. If you are set up watching a nest with two teleconverters on a big lens, the slightest touch will give you camera shake, so some sort of remote shutter release is important.
It sounds like bird photography is expensive. Well, it is. Sorry but it’s not a type of photography that will be something you can just pick up and do cheaply but the rewards are amazing. There are exceptions to every rule and even if you can’t afford all the expensive equipment you can still get out there and enjoy it though. Don’t get discouraged wishing you had the biggest best lens. Have fun with the birds you can work with and then when you can afford more you can step up to the “advanced birds”.