Baudin's Black Cockatoo

Black Cockatoo Photography Quick Tips

My best Black Cockatoo Photography Tips

 

There are many blog articles out there, giving you tips on how to photograph birds, but how many on photographing black cockatoos?! Here are my black cockatoo photography quick tips.

1. Cooperate with the cockatoo

Every black cockatoo has its own personality, it is your duty to make sure that the birds feel comfortable with you getting around them. At Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre for example, some black cockatoos will come straight to play and “eat” my camera, while some will stay away as they are not interested. Funny enough, some Carnaby’s like Terry at Kaarakin are not at all interested in me and they just don’t want me to follow them with my camera. But for Squawk, Randy or Skye, it’s no problem at all and they will sit on my shoulders while I take photos or film.

In the wild, the situation is very much different and black cockatoos (they are quite shy birds) are likely to fly away if you are coming towards them too fast or make too much noise. There are many blogs which deal with tips on which camouflage to wear best or even how to build a bird hide. I have never worn camouflage and never used a bird hide, so I cannot give advice on it. But generally, in the wild I will most likely use my lens at 600 mm (which is even longer on a cropped sensor), be as quiet as I can, make sure the cockatoos are not distressed by my presence and I will look at ways to hide behind a tree for example.

My tip is to capture every bird’s personality and to make sure they always feel comfortable.

Female Red Tailed Black Cockatoo in Kensington

2. Get up close

I take different types of “black cockatoo portraits”. Sometimes I only focus on the head and sometimes I make sure that the whole bird is in the picture. It depends of what you want to show! Getting up close to the birds will show more about its personality while showing the whole bird in picture will compliment its shape and its surrounding.

In the wild, it is harder to only frame the head as you are further away and in some situations, the birds might be spreading its wings, which makes for nice compositions like this photo:

Carnaby's Black Cockatoo

 

3. Focus

Always focus on the eye! If taking more than one cockatoo in picture, make sure that you aperture is narrower so that all the black cockatoos are in focus (for example f/8 or f/10). In the wild because of my lens (150-600mm Sigma C version), I cannot afford to get a narrow aperture over f/11 or I would be loosing too much light and I would need to crank up the ISO to keep a fast shutter speed. And ISO means adding noise to photos. With my camera I prefer to stay under 6000 ISO.

So I often shoot at or f/7.1 for a single bird or f/8, f/11 for two or more birds. To me a fast shutter speed is very important as the lens can get very heavy and my hands start shaking. As a rule, it is common to keep a bigger shutter speed number than your focal length. For 600mm, for example, I would not want to go down more than 1/600 sec or the image might be blurry due to hands shaking.

If you are taking photos of birds in flight, it will depend on your camera’s functions. For example, I can select several focus points on my Canon 7D ii and I can adjust the algorithm in the camera’s settings. I often use 6 focal points but it can get tricky with black cockatoos as sometimes the camera will select a focus point over the white tail. The best option is try to refocus and take several photos.

4. Speed, ISO, AI SERVO or ONE SHOT

Depending on the camera you use, you will need to adjust settings. Try to keep a high shutter speed (so this means raising the ISO accordingly) to avoid any blurriness in the picture and especially the eyes. Cockatoos always move! I tend to shoot with AI SERVO but sometimes I will use the ONE SHOT mode to focus and recompose on the eye, depending of the camera I use and this situation often means I am at Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre. If the camera has a lot of AF points, I always stick to AI SERVO unless my composition requires to focus and recompose. When I use this technic, I often use a small lens such as 24 – 70mm ( I use the landscape version f/4 if anyone is interested to know).

5. Processing images

There are numerous software which will help you process your images. I always shoot in RAW so that I have access to every details of the file. The software I use are Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Those are nowadays affordable and provide great tools and efficiency to get great processed photos.

White Tail Black Cockatoo