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Bird photography tips and more with birder Jeremy Medina

For many people, the marriage of birding and photography is a natural and rewarding combination. You’re able to integrate the love of nature with the skills and challenge of taking a great picture. If you’re someone like me who loves birdwatching and photography, it’s difficult to know how to jump into bird photography.

So, I reached out to experienced birder and photographer Jeremy Medina from Arizona to get some answers. Jeremy runs a fantastic blog called AZ Birdbrain that showcases some of his fantastic photographs and birding experiences. I highly recommend you check it out. Here is my Q&A with Jeremy on tips and advice for burgeoning bird photographers:

First, start by telling me a little about yourself. How did you first get interested in birding?

Jeremy: When I was younger, my dad took me on daytrips where we would explore southern Arizona. Sometimes we went to popular birding locations. Sometimes we hiked. Other times we explored old ghost towns. But, we always had our Bushnell binoculars to look at birds and other wildlife. We weren’t out chasing rarities like I do now, but if we saw a new bird, we would circle it in the Peterson Guide. I didn’t do much birding during high school and college. Then in 2004, I started keeping track of the birds I saw in my own Peterson Guide. It progressed from there.

What do you love about birding?

Jeremy: I love being outdoors and observing wildlife. The nice thing about birding is you don’t have to go anywhere special to observe birds. You just have to go outdoors. When I started getting more serious about birding, I was amazed at all the birds I started to notice. Birding got me to slow down and become more aware of everything in nature. It also has taken me to new places I’ve never been. I love knowing that each time I go birding, I could see something new, whether it be a new species or a new bird behavior.

This picture of a Red-tailed Hawk is a sample of Jeremy Medina's work.

Your site focuses a lot on brilliant pictures of birds. Was there a natural progression from birding into bird photography?

Jeremy: There was a natural progression. I wanted to be able to capture everything I was seeing and maybe even document a rare bird. It’s rewarding to share my photos with others. I started by putting my photos on flickr. Then recently I discovered birding blogs and decided to start my own.

Do you get the same joy from bird photography as birding? For example, some people see bird photography as a more technologically advanced way to go birding.

Jeremy: Yes I do. Just like I get excited about seeing a new bird, I get excited when I take a great photo of a bird. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rare bird or a common bird. If it’s cooperative, I’ll photograph it. But like all things, there’s always room for improvement, especially when you’re a perfectionist like me. I still have a lot to learn.

Many of our readers are birders, but haven’t ventured fully into the world of bird photography. What’s the first thing they need to do to get started? Also, what equipment do you recommend for beginners?

Jeremy: First of all, I would tell them not to get discouraged by the high prices of camera gear. You don’t have to use the most expensive gear to get great shots. I use an entry level digital SLR camera and a 100-400mm lens with image stabilization. For beginners, I would recommend a digital SLR camera and a lens of at least 300mm with an image stabilizer. Both Canon and Nikon offer affordable 70-300mm lenses with an image stabilizer.

An image of an Elegant Trogon by Jeremy Medina.

Once someone has all the equipment, what should their next step be?

Jeremy: I recommend that they get out into the field and become familiar with their gear. If they’re not familiar with the manual settings, I recommend using the sport mode to start off.

What’s one key piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s venturing into bird photography?

Jeremy: They should know that birds are one of the most difficult subjects to photograph. It takes a lot of patience and persistence to get what you want. Even the best photographers take hundreds of shots to get that one great one.

Is there anything about birding or bird photography you’d like to add?

Jeremy: I would say to enjoy yourself. You won’t be able to identify every bird and you won’t be able to get a perfect photo every time either, but it sure is fun to try.

If you want to see more pictures like the ones above or read about Jeremy’s experiences birding, head over to his site AZ Birdbrain or his flickr account.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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