How to Photograph Birds in India-Part III

How to Photograph Birds in India-Part III

-Vijay Kavale

Contd from previous month

D. Learn to outwit them to get into position

Once you have decided not to haunt nesting birds, but try to photograph birds as they go about living their vibrant natural life, your greatest challenge will be to get into the right position to focus and click. This means getting as close as possible to the bird while it is sitting on a natural perch with the sun shining on it and your camera at the same level as the bird! Does that sound tough? Yes it is!

The challenges are many. The major one, at least in India, is that a large number of species are extremely alert to human activity. They will disappear as soon as they spot any unnatural activity, such as a photographer approaching to train a camera on them!  
Once, I saw a group of 20 painted storks sitting in shallow water, in good light. They offered a great photo opportunity since I had mostly seen them before on trees at their nesting sites. I stopped my car and was considering my next move when a woman from the nearby village came with her buffalo and headed for the water. There goes my opportunity, I thought, as she and her buffalo went close toward the storks. But when the woman began washing the buffalo, the storks did not seem perturbed at all although she must have been only 20 feet or so away. Emboldened, I took my camera and tripod and 
walked towards the water. The storks, which until then had been calm, began to appear nervous at the intrusion. And before I could set up my tripod and focus, they were gone! They arose and circled high above the water and headed for another location. 

Over time and after innumerable such experiences, I began to understand bird behavior a bit, and that has helped me to get into the right position before the bird disappears. Here are a few pointers:

1.Try and shoot from your vehicle 

You will be surprised how tolerant birds are to vehicles. If you do not get down and are able to shoot from your vehicle without making much noise, chances are that the bird will offer you a good opportunity to shoot.
The author shooting from a vehicle

2.Try using a Hide            
In some cases birds use the same perch regularly. Here you can set up a hide and shoot from inside without scaring the bird. You will be surprised how many species you can shoot if you have the patience to sit for a day in a portable hide. Also, remember to wear clothes of muted color that will merge with the background when you are in the field. 

A portable hide

3.Food is the key

A great number of species of birds feed all day long! They have to drink water too. If you wait near a drying body of water, you will notice that as the water level ebbs the fish become more accessible to many species that feed on them. Kingfishers, Storks, Herons, Egrets – all haunt such water bodies, and you will be able to shoot them.

Similarly a tree or shrub that offers food, such as berries and flowers, attracts smaller birds, for example, Flowerpeckers and Sunbirds.
In grassy patches you will find Larks and Wagtails feeding on insects. Cattle Egrets and Drongos follow grazing cattle whose feet flush out insects, which the birds then pounce on.
Thus, understanding the food habits of different species of birds will help you get into position for a good portrait shot. Also, remember most birds have a favorite water hole where they land to drink water at least once a day. 

Spotted Dove
4.Spot the bird before it spots you
Yes, it is needless to say that you need to spot the bird to photograph it. However, in the case of Raptors and especially Owls, they will be sitting motionless on their favorite roost and you will most likely see them only when they move. They move because you are too close and you did not even know it. Thus, to spot a Raptor, watch carefully from a distance and act as if you have not noticed the bird, and keep approaching it without looking directly at it until you are ready to shoot. As soon as your lens points directly at the Raptor, chances are it will fly away. The lesson here is: ignore the watching bird and it will ignore you.  

Brown Fish Owl

5.Flushing out birds using calls

Sometimes you can play bird call recordings in the field to flush out birds. For example, if you play an Owl call, many birds will begin to mob the ‘Owl’ and thus approach close to the ‘call machine’, providing the photographer with an opportunity.
Though I have not used this much, I am told it can be very effective in some difficult cases. However, recording the calls of birds is in itself a rewarding avocation.
You can learn more at 


About the author:

Vijay Cavale has been a nature addict since birth. He lives in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka State in South India. After almost two decades of a successful career in the Indian IT Industry, he decided to quit his corporate career at the age of 40 and follow his dream. For the last seven years Vijay Cavale has been traveling to several parts of India photographing its rich wildlife with a focus on birdlife. He has photographed close to 400 species of birds found in India, and gladly shares them on his homepage below. His work in this area is entirely non-commercial and is aimed at creating awareness and sharing the joy. He hopes his work will contribute in some way towards nature conservation. Although he does not offer any of his images for commercial use, he is glad to collaborate and discourse with like-minded people from around the world.
Homepage:   Email:
Vijay Cavale, Jan 2007.

Part I of this article can be read at 

Part II of this article can be read at 

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