In recent times a lot more people on Phuket have become interested in “bird photography”, and you’ll often see photographers, both professionals and amateurs, carrying a camera and lens on their way to one of the island’s naturally landscaped areas to catch some images of their favorite, and sometimes rare, two-legged vertebrates. However, we must appreciate that wildlife photography isn’t easy, especially when it comes to birds, which aren’t exactly the most motionless of animals, and are often in flight as soon as they hear the quietest of sounds.
Phuket now has a number of bird photography groups whose members routinely venture out to the islands and neighboring provinces forests and sit patiently waiting to capture images of one, or hopefully more, of Thailand’s 982 species of these feathered friends, to share on their group’s Facebook page.
Phuketindex.com has recently been lucky enough to have talked to one of these people, Khun Danai Plikomol, founder of Phuket Bird Club, who in the following article will tell you his story of becoming a keen bird photographer as well as giving some tips and technical advice for those interested in the subject.
Please introduce yourself
I am Phuketian and use my free time away from my pharmacist job to partake in my favorite pastime, photography, a subject I’ve had a keen interest in since the film era of photography, right up until now, the digital age. However, there is one subject matter I like to photograph more than any other, and that’s birds, particularly those who are habitants of our wonderful forests. Prior to photographing these wonderful specimens I had often visited forested areas and seen a variety of colorfully feathered birds and watched their behavior, this really boosted my interest in birds, and I was soon photographing and recording the species I was lucky enough to have seen and sharing my material with others with such a keen interest. I believe when people get to really learn and understand the importance of birds and nature they are likely to expand their interest to other creatures in our ecological system.
The establishment of Phuket Bird Club
After a time of going out taking pictures of birds and sharing my stories and pictures to a group of my photographer friends they subsequently began to become more interested in what I was doing and wanted to join me, the number was so great that I decided to open the Phuket Bird Club Facebook page to serve as a channel of communication, informing about and showcasing the birds of Phuket. The group now has members not only in Phuket, but all over the country.
Where to photograph birds
In Phuket we’re fortunate to have 3 places where many bird species can be found; Suang Luang Rama 9 Park in Phuket City, and Bangpae Waterfall and the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park in Thalang. In addition there’s also the neighboring Sri Phang Nga National Park, an area which is ideal for bird photography.
The best time to photograph birds
It’s best to shoot either early in the morning or closer to the evening. You’ll find that early morning or later afternoon provides the best opportunities, because the birds are hungry and are looking for food. I personally prefer to shoot early in the morning as I have come to notice the birds are most active at this time.
What equipment is best?
The camera equipment is the most important part of bird photography, and it’s best for those taking up the hobby to invest in a fast DSLR camera and one or more telephoto lens. For me it’s important to have a camera which has an ISO setting, this allows you to capture clearer images and the noise from the camera is minimal. It also makes for perfect shoots in a variety of lighting conditions.
But the most important thing is the lens, the lens size should be at least 200mm but 300mm is much better. This size lens is very popular amongst bird photographers and it’s like this lens was made for shooting birds. The price can go into several thousand baht, but if you’re that keen on getting the best shots it’s worth the investment.
Furthermore, if you’re going to take your bird photography seriously you should also be investing in a tripod and camouflaged tent, allowing you to take photos discretely in the bird’s natural environment.
It’s very important to know what settings to choose in certain situations to get the most from your camera.
Exposure – DSLR cameras have a range of exposure modes, they also have a set of special modes for specific types of photography, such as landscapes, but these can be ignored for our purposes.
Birds are usually constantly on the move so you need a fast shutter speed to freeze them. Also, long lenses magnify the movement in your gear, so this also calls for a fast shutter speed. However, long lenses also tend to be ‘slow’. Adding teleconverters makes them even slower and further magnifies any movement. As a result, you always want to know that you will be using the fastest shutter speed available for the given light level, and that means you need to keep your aperture at its widest usable setting.
Aperture-priority mode is therefore the best setting for almost all bird photography; because it lets you fix a wide aperture, and have the camera set the shutter speed accordingly.
Aperture – Personally I find the best Aperture setting for photographing birds in flight is f/5.6. I always make this my starting point. On a nice sunny day, setting your camera to Aperture Priority and shooting with f/5.6 should result in a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second or faster.
Setting a low Aperture F number also results in a bird that stands out from the background (highly recommended).
If on the other hand you want a natural photo of a bird and its surroundings, then I recommend using a higher Aperture F number, for example f/7 or higher. Remember the higher you go the more natural light you need to keep that shutter speed nice and fast. In other words, you need a good sunny day!
Ways to photograph birds
Birds will almost always fly away if you get too close to them, so instead wait for them to come to you. If you wait patiently long enough, then birds will often land just a few feet away from you, once they realize you’re not a threat.
Always use cover to conceal yourself whenever possible. By blending in with natural surroundings, remaining quiet and motionless, birds will not fear you and will often come within a few steps near you. The best idea is to find a birdy area, settle in a comfortable position and wait for the birds. If you master concealing techniques and be patient enough you will learn how to approach birds really close to get awesome shots.
The conclusion from Khun Danai
Bird photography is very difficult because there are a number of environmental factors and constraints, but if you’re patient you will soon learn the best way to get the best shots. You can chose to either keep your captured images private or sharing them within a group, but this is always down to your own personal preference. You can also publish your stories and pictures through various media outlets which often help bird researchers, but it’s always necessary to have photographic evidence and data to back up your story.
Join Khun Danai on his Facebook page – Phuket Bird Club
Those who have any interest in the club or who may wish to sponsor exhibitions, please contact Khun Danai directly on +66 (0) 81 895 3709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
All images contained in this article have been taken by Khun Danai Plikomol.
Video Interview (Thai Language)