3. Photography Accessories

Camera manufacturers and equipment companies would have us believe that a plethora of accessories are needed for us to become better bird photographers. Much of what we read, or are told, is hype. And it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that that buying the latest gizmo will improve our photography when really what we need are more opportunities, and to hone our skills. Nevertheless, there are a handful of accessories that are vital for bird photographers, and others that protect equipment and just make life a whole lot easier.

a.       Tripod

A tripod is essential if you use a heavy lens and you want to leave it poised, hands-free while making camera adjustments or while inside a portable hide. It needs to be sturdy enough to support the weight of the lens and camera combination, but light enough for you to be able to carry it all day if necessary. Carbon fibre is the sensible option and choose a tripod whose legs can be spread flat on the ground, and with at least three leg-extensions so that you have the option of using the camera at eye-level while standing up.

b.       Tripod head

The strength and robustness of your tripod head should reflect the size and weight of the lens you use. Pan-and-tilt heads, and even ball-and-socket systems may be sufficient for smaller telephoto lenses, but for anything above 400mm a Gimbal head is highly recommended. A range of options is available, including a new gimbal fluid head, and if fine-tuned correctly they allow perfect balance and effortless movement of even super telephoto lenses.

c.       Bean bag

A bean bag is exactly what the name suggests: typically a saddle-shaped bag that can be filled with dried beans or a lighter weight filling such as foam beads. It is a versatile accessory that can be used to support a heavy lens resting on, for example, a car window, a horizontal tree branch, or on the ground.

This intimate Stone Curlew image was captured at a winter daytime roost, using a car as a mobile hide, the camera on a bean bag, and the windows screened with camouflage netting. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

This intimate Stone Curlew image was captured at a winter daytime roost, using a car as a mobile hide, the camera on a bean bag, and the windows screened with camouflage netting. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

d.       Ground plate

A ground plate, to which a gimbal head can be attached, is ideal for low-level wader photography. Some makes resemble a durable Frisbee and slide beautifully over wet mud or sand.

Images of waders such as this Black-winged Stilt benefit from being taken at water level using a ground plate. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

Images of waders such as this Black-winged Stilt benefit from being taken at water level using a ground plate. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

e.       Remote control

Usually operated wirelessly these days, a remote control device allows distant triggering of the shutter – an advantage with a shy subject that uses a regular perch for example, or perhaps if you want to use a shorter lens than usual. Advances in technology continue apace and there are now systems that allow the camera to be monitored and controlled by a smartphone.

f.       Camouflage netting

This simple addition to a photographer’s kit can be an invaluable and lightweight alternative to a mobile hide. It can be strung between branches, used to shroud the photographer amongst scrub, or as a screen in the open window of a car; a range of designs and patterns are available.

g.       Rucksack

A rucksack is an essential accessory for any serious photographer but the choice of make and model needs to be considered carefully. Personal strength and back shape vary so it is important to try out various models before you make a purchase – preferably with the rucksack fully laden. Think about what you might reasonably be able to carry on your back for a whole day; and whether you might want to pack everything away securely in the event of a sudden downpour should be a factor too. If you travel abroad by plane, check the dimensions of the rucksack. Most airlines impose restrictions on hand luggage dimensions, the upper limit being 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.

h.       Covers and caps

If you have spent thousands of pounds on a telephoto lens and camera then consider investing in relatively cheap neoprene camera and lens covers and a lens cap, to protect your equipment from inevitable bumps and scratches. If you want to shoot images in the rain or in falling snow, then waterproof lens ‘sleeves’ are a great aid.

While photographing seabirds such as this Buller’s Albatross at sea, corrosive salt spray is an inevitable problem, and a lens cover helps with protection. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

While photographing seabirds such as this Buller’s Albatross at sea, corrosive salt spray is an inevitable problem, and a lens cover helps with protection. ©Paul Sterry/BPOTY

i.       Clothing

The best advice when it comes to clothing is to use commonsense and wear whatever feels comfortable. Breathable waterproof layers are good; these should be rustle-free and in muted colours that do not stand out in the landscape. There is a trend amongst some bird photographers to dress in ‘full camo gear’, the patterns of which can be remarkably inappropriate in some circumstances. There is something of the uniform or fashion statement about this clothing but if you find it comfortable then it might be the style for you.

Rob Read