I like to practice bird photography in my front and back yards, but this is often an exercise in frustration. My DX-sensor Nikon D300 and 70-200 lens give me something I never had in my 35mm film days – the equivalent of a 300mm lens. Funny, I used to think that if I had a 300mm 2.8 lens, I’d be unstoppable. But most birds are tiny. Not only are they small in the overall frame, but they are smaller than our focusing sensors, so surrounding foliage can drive the autofocus system a little batty.
There’s no way that I’m going to be investing in a 400mm or 600mm lens anytime soon, so I need to act on the lessons from my backyard safaris by changing my technique. Hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and even hawks are relatively small animals, but I want to photograph them. They’re not going to get bigger, so I need strategies for getting closer. As I’ve mentioned before, the greatest strategy is patience. If I settle down next to a well-lit, colorful plant and wait long enough, the birds will come to me. Fortunately, I’ve developed a taste for Russian novels; will I finish War and Peace before I get a satisfactory hummingbird image?