One of my favorite photographic subjects is nature, and birds in particular. Birds can be particularly challenging as subjects, since they are very wary and move very fast. All but two of these pictures were taken in Ireland - locations indicated [in square brackets].
It helps to start with a long lens - you'll probably want 200mm at least. This picture of a Skylark was taken at 200mm (f/5.6 @ 1/750sec).[Inishbofin, County Galway]
Longer is better - this Ringed Plover was taken at 300mm (f/5.6 @[sup]1[/sup]/2,000sec, ISO500). The wide f/5.6 aperture, as wide as the lens will do at that focal length, throws the background out of focus and lets the bird "pop". With limited depth of field, always make sure to focus on the eyes. [Inishmaan, Aran Islands]
This Pied Wagtail was also taken at 300mm (f/5.6 @ [sup]1[/sup]/500sec, ISO200). Notice the placement of the bird, according to the Rule of Thirds, which says to put the subject on a one-third line rather than precisely centered. If you're going to do that, though, make sure that the bird is looking into the frame and not out of it - in this image, if the Wagtail were looking left instead of right it would throw the picture out of balance.
Pied Wagtail at Slieve League, County Donegal:
If you can get the bird to look right at you, that's a plus, especially if it looks interested. The "tongue click" technique sometimes works, or a low whistle, which is what I did to attract the attention of this Wheatear (once again, 300mm, at an exposure of f5.6 @ 1/350)[Achill Island, County Mayo]:
In-flight pictures can be especially tricky. You'll want the highest shutter speed you can get to freeze the motion, but that will require a wide aperture. With the limited depth of field of long lenses at wide apertures, this is where a really good autofocus system can prove its worth. If your camera has a "continuous autofocus" mode, use it. With my Nikon in "Auto-C", I center the bird in the frame and push the shutter button halfway to activate the autofocus. The camera focuses on the bird, and as long as I hold the shutter halfway down and track the bird, the camera changes focus sensors to keep the bird in focus as it moves around the frame. When the picture is what I want, I push the shutter all the way and take the shot.
Fulmar, taken at 280mm (f/5.6@1/2000sec) [Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim]:
Another Fulmar, 200mm (f/5.6 @ 1/1500)[Ft. Dunree, Inishowen, Co. Donegal]:
It sometimes helps to bump up the ISO a bit to allow higher shutter speeds - this picture of an Arctic Tern was taken at ISO 500 instead of the normal ISO 200 (300mm focal length, f/5.6@1/2000). Be careful not to increase the ISO to the point where your camera introduces noise into the image - experiment a bit and see how high you can go without losing image quality. With the D7000 you can go to ISO 1600 at least, but on my old Fuji S2 I couldn't go even as high as 800.
Arctic Tern on Inishmaan, Aran Islands:
Note that with all of the in-flight pictures I have the bird either centered, or on a one-third point flying into the frame. You never want the bird to be on one side, flying out of the frame.
It's a plus if you can include something in the frame to indicate the bird's environment. Here, these Razorbills are nesting on a cliff face. Because they were stationary, I could afford to stop down the lens to get some more depth of field to show both the birds and the rocks in focus (300mm, f/11 @ 1/60). Normally, you shouldn't try to hand-hold a lens when the shutter speed is less than the focal length - in other words, at 300mm you should try for a shutter speed over 1/300th. This is where image stabilization (Canon's IS) or vibration reduction (Nikon's VR) really comes into its own - because the lens was compensating for any vibration in my holding the camera, I could use a shutter speed as slow as 1/60 and still get a sharp picture (40+ years of practice doesn't hurt, either).
Razorbills [Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim]
Sanderlings in the surf [Inishmaan, Aran Islands]:
A Jackdaw in the ruins of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary:
The photographs I like the best show the bird actually doing something. It can take a few tries, or a lot of patience, but if the bird is calling or singing it's worthwhile waiting for the perfect shot.
A Rook in full cry (250mm, f/5@1/500)[Fota, County Cork]:
A Song Thrush singing on a rock wall (300mm, f/5.6@1/500)[Inisheer, Aran Islands]:
Catching a landing water bird can combine the challenges of flying shots and action pictures - continuous autofocus helps, if you can track the bird as it approaches to land, then shoot just as it touches down. Here, a Canada Goose lands in the pond at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, NY:
Finally, if you can get in really close, do it! This is seldom an option for wild birds, but you can get pictures under controlled circumstances which don't look like they were staged. Look for raptor demonstrations or falconry, or even birds at zoos or wildlife parks, where the bird is used to having people get close. This Kestrel was part of a falconry demo at Stirling Castle in Scotland (200mm, f/5.6@1/125):
And as one bonus, a famous press photographer was once asked his rule for getting great photographs. He said, "f/8 and be there". In other words, you can't get the shot if you're not there - so get out and take pictures!