Bird-watching as a hobby dates back many years and was quite popular in many parts of the world. People used to take their binoculars in the field and engaged in spotting birds and observing their behavior. Later on bird-watchers started to get SLR cameras in the field in order to capture the behavior of various types of birds and also document the kind of habitat in which they thrive. In the later years Digital Photography took over and it started with point and shoot cameras and slowly transcended to the use of Digital SLR cameras popularly known as DSLRs.
A 500mm focal lens is the minimum requirement to capture birds obviously because you won’t be getting them in close proximities. Start by going out to places near your home where you know there are chances of seeing some species and begin practicing with your gear. Before starting out, if you have an idea about the kind of birds which visit the area then read about the behavioral pattern of those birds from any book or from the Web to get a sense of what to expect when you reach the field. A lot of experimentation is required along with going out to various places which is home to different kinds of birds. Practice will only better your craft and slowly enable you in achieving well-exposed, well framed and sharp images.
Hand-holding such long lenses for longer hours is a tedious task so it is highly recommended to use a tripod or a monopod or a beanbag, which is also useful in certain situations. Getting an uncluttered background is essential and helps the bird to stand out clearly. Distractions should also be avoided in front and around your subject so that certain features of the bird like wings pattern, shape of the head etc are clearly visible. Birds move a lot even when perched and thus you may end up with some shake in your images. To reduce shake, you can use the maximum aperture of your lens and higher ISO settings which will help you in freezing movements better. Another advice would be to try and get to the eye-level of the bird you are going to freeze and then execute the shot. It creates a more impactful image when eye-contact is established between the subject and the photographer. Use the Autofocus Continuous i.e. “AF-C” in Nikon and “Al-Servo” in Canon which will track moving subjects better. Try to get the “catchlight” i.e. the sunlight to reflect off the surface of the eye, in your subjects. Last but not the least you have to process your images in the right manner so that the mood of the image is sent across to the viewer. The span after sunrise and before sunset, known as the Golden Hour is the perfect time to shoot as it enhances the whole scene.
So the next time you hop outside to shoot birds try to keep these points in mind. Remember practice and more practice along with reading and improving your knowledge about your subjects will help you achieve better results.