Bird Photography Simplified 12 January 2021   

This presentation was a first for Devizes Camera Club, we welcomed a photographer from overseas to our Zoom! meeting. Glenn Bartley joined us from Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada.
GB Pic1For those of us who had browsed his website, we knew we would be listening to an expert. Glenn is an award winning bird photographer, particularly known for his hummingbird portfolio. Fascinated by these “mesmerising birds” since childhood, Glenn has spent months, over the years, in the rain forests of Ecuador and Costa Rica developing and honing his skills. He his a regular contributor to magazines and journals, and has published a number of his own books.
Glenn started by talking about his approach to capturing images, in particular the 7 elements of a great bird photo: Exposure, Light, Composition, Sharpness, Perch, Background and Pose.
GB Pic2He said it is important to balance the exposure and avoid images such as a dark bird against a bright sky. Use your histogram, he urged, and “expose to the right”. He said that, although Manual exposure is best in some situations, he uses AV most of the time and dials in exposure compensation as required. Glenn prefers to work in natural light, but the quality of the light is important. He gave us a great tip, suggesting that it is only worth taking photos if your shadow is longer than you are tall - otherwise the light will be too harsh. He said that bright overcast conditions are great, especially in the Tropics, giving you more shooting time and flexibility of composition. However, images may appear a bit flat out of the camera and will need more post-processing time. Using flash is useful, especially for fill-in purposes, but you need to learn how to control the power and you should get the flashgun off the camera. He showed how the use of flash with the right mode and power can help to freeze the action, particularly of hovering hummingbirds.
Key composition issues for bird photography, Glenn suggested, include the orientation of an image, which will depend on the shape and pose of the subject. And he suggested leaving some space around the subject to allow for some cropping in post-processing. For wildlife images, Glenn confirmed, sharpness is all about the eyes and the factors required to achieve sharpness include using a tripod, good quality lenses with stabilisation and an appropriate shutter speed. But he warned us not to over prioritise sharpness as its not the only factor in achieving a good image.
Glenn pointed out that a good perch for the subject can be essential for a great shot, whether it is about finding a branch in the wild that a bird keeps returning to or a set-up in your back garden. While a messy, distracting background is to be avoided, Glenn warned against getting too hung up on blurred backgrounds as the inclusion of some environment can be important. The pose of the bird is also important, he said, and should always include eye contact with the subject.
Having sorted out all these elements, Glenn then talked about finding an x-factor that will really make an image stand out. He provided a long list of things to watch out for including birds feeding, especially with prey, birds mating, birds with chicks, birds in bad weather or any sort of action shot.
GB Bird PhotographyIn the second part of his presentation, Glenn talked about the research that he does before going on a trip. He likes to find out where birds are located for which he recommended ebird.org which provides information on sightings. He familiarises himself with bird calls (xenacanto app) and other peoples trip reports (cloudbirders website). In the field, he advocated keeping it simple, only taking the equipment you need, setting realistic goals and taking your time to get set-up correctly.
When building a portfolio, Glenn emphasised the importance of defining your goals with regard to species diversity and styles of images. During post-processing, on your calibrated screen, he recommended targeting the deletion of at least 90% of the images taken. Becoming picky about your images will make you a better photographer, he said. He also recommended establishing your own workflow, using basic techniques, and building your skills over time. He encouraged us to share our work with others through websites, social media and email.
Glenn finished off by talking about the sort of gear you need for successful bird photography. In answer to questions from the audience about his basic camera set-up, he said that he starts with AV, f5.6 and an ISO setting depending on the available light. He generally uses Evaluative Metering with AV and checks his histogram to see whether any exposure compensation is needed.
Throughout his presentation, Glenn showed us some stunning images to illustrate points he was making. His website at glennbartley.com is full of amazing images of birds from the various countries he has visited. Despite having spent considerable time in countries such as Ecuador and Brazil, when asked which country he would most want to return to, Glenn unhesitatingly said - “Colombia”
A thoroughly interesting and comprehensive evening was enthusiastically applauded by the audience. DF