Thursday 18 April 2024

Photography Tips for the Not-a-Photographer

Like loads of birders, I take photographs but am not a photographer. I like to decorate this blog with them, and a visual record of any unusual birds I am jammy enough to encounter is always nice to have. As regular readers will know, since the death of my Nikon P900 super-zoom, I now use a P950. Like the P900 it is lightweight and quite versatile, but a DSLR it ain't. To be the relatively inexpensive Jack-of-all-trades that it is, serious compromises have been necessary. For example, low light and birds in flight are a massive challenge. Even so, on the very rare occasion that a bird presents the opportunity for an exceptional photo, it can do a pretty good job. The object of this post is to demonstrate that decent pics can be had from these super-zoom cameras, and to offer a couple of suggestions for maximising one's chances of a nice result.

Back in the spring lockdown of 2020, I stumbled across a singing Lesser Whitethroat that posed perfectly. The following snap involved no playback or any other nefarious activity, just jam...

Singing Lesser Whitethroat, April 2020

I am confident that I'll never better that shot, and the same is true of the following Whinchat pic from May 2021...

Two members of the Whinchat display team.

Talking of Whinchats, this one from September last year...

A few more examples of photographs that make this not-a-photographer very happy...

The Cogden Tawny Pipit. May 2021.

Just a female Wheatear with a blue-sea backdrop, but pretty sweet.

Clifftop Raven in monochrome.

So, tips.

Not being a photographer, I always feel a bit of a fraud offering photography tips. All I can say is that what follows works for me, with my camera. DSLR owners would doubtless leave me eating dust, but if you're one of the many birders who carry a super-zoom, here you go...

  1. Get off 'auto' if you can. The P950 also has a 'bird-watching' mode, but I've never used it. Learning how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed influence the final image, and how best to employ the various metering and auto-focus options, has been 100% worth the effort. I did write some stuff about my initial steps with the P900, including some settings I used at the time. I've moved on since then, and the P950 is a little different anyway, but the post highlights a few useful principles and might be helpful for anyone starting out. Find it HERE.
  2. Use a 'burst' setting, so that multiple shots are taken rapidly with one press of the shutter release. The P950 recovers from a burst of shots somewhat quicker than the P900 did, but there is still a brief delay before it is ready for action again. Even so, within a burst there may be one shot that is sharper than the others, or captures the perfect pose.

And that's it. Number one is the key I reckon, but definitely requires the most work.


  1. Gav, I think it's fair to say that the picture of the singing (well, rattling) LW is priceless. Focus, composition, context. That eye, sharp, dead centre. Bill slightly open. You should send it to Nikon marketing. I mean, how good can a picture ever get?

    1. Thanks Ric. Yes, definitely a special one. 😊

  2. For a non-photographer you do pretty well Gav, but thank goodness for digital over film.

  3. Hi Gavin - looking to replace my old sony superzoom and just wondering how the nikon P950 is for macro? My son mostly uses the sony these days for macro lizard photos so would to get a replacement bridge type that is also good for macro.

    Any thoughts appreciated!

    1. Hi Col. I'm happy enough with the P950's macro capabilities. If it helps, all my moth pics from about mid-August last year were taken with it. P900 prior to that.

  4. Gavin. I see myself very much as a birder who wants to get record shots for scarcities, ID’s etc. I bought a second hand P900 and your advice tips from your original post(s) have been invaluable so thanks for posting.
    Andy Firth

    1. That's really good to hear, Andy. Many thanks for taking the trouble to post a comment. 😊👍