Hi all, this is a general question which i'm sure has been asked in the past and probably sick of answering but...
I have taken up photography and have become addicted to it.
i picked up a Nikon D3100 and a 18mm - 55mm lens, i have got the hang of apetures and shutter speeds but (as every photographer) i want to get "the shot" sharp and crisp like most of the pictures on here, i am hoping to get a bigger zoom lens soon so any handy hints will be very welcome indeed.
I'm a Nikon person too :) What kind of bigger lens are you thinking of getting? For most bird photography situations, you'll need at least 300mm... and more is better, but the cost starts to get ridiculous...!
Getting sharp, clear photos with minimal noise is about good light, holding the lens steady, being close to your subject (so you don't have to crop the photos too much), and using settings that give a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur from the camera or the subject moving. So there are elements of luck, good fieldcraft (to get close) and good equipment - the lens being more important than the camera body. If your lens isn't the longest you can still take great bird photos but you may need to be more creative about composition, and use hides to get closer to the subject.
I'm sure someone else who's more knowledgeable than me on photography will help you better but I'll try!
It's a lot easier that you understand Apertures and Shutter speeds etc, other than that, it's not really all about the camera as they say it's 'The glass you stick on the end of it', I went for a Sigma 150-500mm because I really did need a bigger zoom and for a 500mm, it's really a great price! Like you I wanted some 'sharp and crisp photos', I've found this lens has definitely helped, though I guess the processing and editing of them also helps in this too.
I'm still using the software that came with my camera on disk as I'm shooting in raw in now and there's a lot more you do with raw than with a jpeg. I'll be purchasing photoshop at a later date but at the moment I'm happy with what I've got, it seems to give me some good results, probably not great like lots of others on here, but does the job!
The closer you can get to the subject the better, that's always handy with a bigger focal length :-)
Hopefully I've helped, if not, I'm sure someone else probably will, I'm usually pretty useless lol!
Here's a couple of my recent photos with the Sigma:
Another Nikon user here. As the others have said it's a matter of either getting close or shelling out lots of cash for a good telephoto lens. A really long prime lens will set you back as much as decent car and few of us can afford or justify spending that much on a hobby.
Just to elaborate a bit, here are some recent examples of photos of mine that aren't clear/pin-sharp, and what the problems were:
Subject blur. Chiffchaff moving too fast, camera (and my reflexes) couldn't keep up.
Noise. It was quite gloomy when I photographed this Azure-winged Magpie, so the camera had to use a high ISO, resulting in a photo that's noisy (has a gritty or grainy look). It is in focus though, and is probably as good as it could have been under the circumstances.
Camera shake. Long lens and low light meant a slow shutter speed, so the camera was not steady enough and the Night Heron is blurry. A tripod might have helped.
Subject too small in the frame. This Hoopoe was a long way off so I had to crop the photo a lot. This means that although it's sharp there's not much detail or clarity left. Needed to be closer!
Rubbish light. This Dartford Warbler was side-lit from behind, so its front end is shadowed and you can't see any detail. I was trying to move around it to a better spot when it flew away :(
and one that went OK (though not photographed by me!) This Woodlark was close and in good light, and we were in the car so Mr aiki could steady the lens on the windowframe.
One thing I have not heard mentioned much when trying for pin sharp images, especially with telephoto lenses, is Aperture.
You obviously need to have a high a shutter speed to combat both camera shake and subject movement, but this will often mean opening up the lens to it's widest aperture.
Unfortunately the widest aperture of any lens will give you the narrowest depth of field, (the amount of the image that is in focus infront of and behind the actual point of focus), which makes it more difficult to actually focus correctly. Also all lenses will have a sweet spot in the aperture range where the focus is at it's crispest, this is normally a few stops from wide open
I always try to balance the Shutter and aperture settings to give me the minimum acceptable shutter speed that still allows me to "Stop Down" a couple of stops, it's a compromise, but often you are photographing subjects with little actual movement so as long as you can set the shutter to the reciprocal of the, (35mm equivalent), lens length, you should be ok for camera shake.
Setting the reciprocal of the of the lens length is a long held method where you should set the speed at 1/100th sec for a 100mm lens, 1/500th Sec for a 500mm lens, Etc.
Sorry if this seems a little technical but hopefully it is something that can help :)
I'm certainly no expert but I would just add that where possible use a tripod or monopod. A bean bag on the car door/window works really well when shooting from a vehicle and if none of these are available keep the camera steady by leaning against a tree/wall or something else stable. This obviously isn't so easy with birds in flight (BIF) but actually can be achieved with a little practice.
When I started I just literally shot birds in the garden and for BIF pictures I shot Gulls (they're easy to aim at and usually very obliging!!). Get your settings right here and practice 'panning' the camera for BIF Getting this practice done in the comfort of your own garden/home will take the pressure off and make it easier when you go out and about. Someone gave me the advice that if you practice out in the field you will come home disappointed??
One thing I have adopted recently is when shooting with a tripod but getting lots of BIF opportunities I will take the camera off of the tripod but use the tripod to support my left elbow/forearm this gives you more flexibility to 'pan' after the subject but adds some form of support to help keep the camera steady...
Combine your steady camera with a decent shutter speed and you should be starting to see an improvement hopefully?
Hope this helps a little
Thank you for the info i was shocked at some of the lens prices when i looked.
Thanks Becca every ounce of info helps me on here and the photo's are great :)
Thanks Galatas, i agree maybe one day i get a good shot and be able to sell it to afford a big lens ha ha!!
Thanks again, the photo's help too, seeing different problems that accur.
Thanks Nigel, it was technical but i understood it, every bit of help will get me better shots.
Thanks Higgy great info! i have a good tripod but i like the bean bag idea from the car window, that i will be trying out :)
Thank you all so far for the valuable information you have given me on this subject, every ounce of info you gave will better my chances of getting good photographs!! Thanks again.
Good luck with it Darren and don't forget to report back with how you get on and of course some of your 'sharp' pictures!!?