#1 – Get down low to the ground
The single most important thing to do when photographing shorebirds is to get down to their level. This usually means lying down on the ground, so it’s helpful to bring a towel or something to lie down on. Photographing the birds at their eye level does two things: it makes the image more intimate and it usually results in a better background (because from this low angle, the background will usually be farther away).
#2 – Watch out for harsh shadows
Ideally, you want the bird front lit by the sun (so the sun would be directly behind you as you’re looking towards the bird). This helps you avoid lens flares and harsh shadows that can hide the subtle details of your subject.
#3 – Wait until the bird is parallel to your camera
If you’re looking for a sharp profile of the bird, then it’s helpful to wait until the bird is parallel to your camera. You only get one geometrical plane of super sharp focus, so waiting until the bird is in this plane will ensure you get the sharpest shot possible. But, remember not to get too obsessed with sharpness if it goes against the composition you’re looking for.
#4 – Snap a lot of photos
Anytime you’re photographing wildlife, it’s helpful to snap a lot of photos because wildlife has a habit of constantly moving 😉 So, snapping a bunch of shots will ensure you photograph the bird when it was standing still in the pose you’re trying to capture.
#5 – Wait for the birds to come to you
The secret to getting close shots of shorebirds is to wait for them to come to you. If you try to approach them (even super slowly), you’ll almost always just scare them away. Instead, let the birds get comfortable with your presence by lying still on the ground. Eventually, they’ll come super close! Sometimes even too close!
#6 – Bring something to rest your camera on
Since you’ll be lying down on the ground, it gets tiring to hold up your camera for so long. So, one thing that helps is if you bring something to rest your camera on so you can comfortably lie down and look through your viewfinder at the same time. This could be something as simple as a cardboard box, or personally I like to use a GorillaPod so I can quickly adjust the height if I need to.
What did I miss?
If you have another tip for photographing shorebirds, then please share it with us by leaving a comment below. Thanks!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.