How to Photograph Kingfisher – a brief guide

It is often a dream of many bird watchers to see a Kingfisher, the flash of blue, the stunning oranges, they are truly a dream bird for many. The same can often be said of wildlife photographers. And so this is my guide on how to photograph Kingfisher. I hope it helps some of you achieve your dream.

Kingfisher
How to Photograph Kingfisher – A brief guide

How to Photograph Kingfisher – a warning

Firstly let me start off with a warning. Kingfisher are a Schedule 1 protected species. This means that disturbing the birds at or near a nest site is against the law, without a license. So DO NOT DO IT!

Now there are various ways to interpret this rule, and you can find some great advice here: https://www.naturettl.com/understanding-schedule-1-licenses-for-bird-photography/

But my advice is simple, if you know there are Kingfisher breeding near by move somewhere else. There really is no excuse to put a bird at harm just for a photograph.

How to Photograph Kingfisher – Location is key

Birds can turn up anywhere, Kingfisher are no different. You will find them on lakes, rivers, garden ponds, tiny ditches in the middle of town. Really anywhere is possible. But the key to photographing them is to know regular fishing locations.

If you have a local Kingfisher then it is worth studying the behaviour, watch flight routes. Study fishing locations. Time appearances. watching and learning will show you where to be. Does the bird return to the same perch often? Does it eat where it catches? Is it easily spooked by people? Local Dogs? Are there times when the location is busier and there is less chance to see the bird?

Knowing a spot that kingfishers regularly visit to fish from, or perch will make taking their photo that much easier. Knowing when the area is quietest will help avoid disturbance by others.

Scouting a location in advance of a photography session will also allow you to look for the type of background you want. A beautiful clean background that allows the Kingfisher to “pop” can be great, but isn’t always what you are looking for.

Kingfisher with messy background
Kingfisher with messy background – the messy background (and foreground) actually helps this Kingfisher stand out I think.

But even when you find the perfect place, it is not always easy to get the shot.

Patience the photographers virtue

Kingfisher photography is really just about luck….

No not really, what it takes is time to catch that great shot. Time and patience. In my own efforts to photograph Kingfisher I have spent hours in the same hide waiting. This is a hide where Kingfishers are seen very regularly, but it still took me over 12 hours spread out over three days (and a couple of weeks) to get “that” shot. I know others who have spent much longer waiting in one place for one split seconds visit; or visited the same location many times over just to sit and wait for the bird to come in and the photo opportunity to present itself. Kingfisher photography is not a quick task.

The ability to sit still and wait is something you WILL need to learn if you want to take great photographs, not just of kingfishers. Birds of all species are easily spooked by quick movement. Slow steady motion is your goal in wildlife photography.

How to Photograph Kingfisher - Clean backgrounds
How to Photograph Kingfisher – Clean backgrounds

Some form of hide will help in your wait, be it a commercial hide, one at the local nature reserve, or your own portable hide (I have a bag hide I really should use more). Something to disguise your presence will make the photo a little easier (assuming you have the location).

Patience really is needed if you want great Kingfisher photographs.

The Importance of Light

Kingfishers often move fast, so finding a location that a kingfisher perches that is shrouded in shade will make things more difficult; although not impossible. An open branch that natural sunlight hits will help, and make for a brighter image.

That said they can stay very still, especially while watching teh water, so bright areas, and fast shutter speeds are not always a prerequisite for a great photograph.

How to Photograph Kingfisher - Low light can work
How to Photograph Kingfisher – Low light can work

Action shots

Of course it is not just about “Bird on a stick photography” capturing a kingfisher in action can make for a wonderful photo. Knowing their feeding spots allows you to potentially get that diving shot (Personally I have yet to capture a diving bird well); and flight shots can be wonderful too, if tricky. Kingfisher don’t half move fast.

Kit List and settings

I’m sure there will be people who want to know what kit they need to take the photos, or what settings they should use, but I don’t think this is as important as knowledge. There are a few obvious things you will need. A camera (SLR or Mirrorless is probably best, but I have seen some lovely photos with bridge cameras); A long lens (300mm or above realistically); A tripod, for stability. But what you have is what will work.

That said I use the following in my photography (currently 2021):

  • Canon 70D SLR
  • Canon 400mm f/5.6
  • Tripod
  • Bag hide

As for settings, each image will be dictated by the light and surroundings of the day. I usually photograph kingfishers in the same way I do other birds. I use Aperture priority, usually set one or two stops up from the fastest (depending on light) on my 400mm lens that is 6.3 or 7.1 as they are the lens “sweet spot”. My ISO will be determined by the speed I need. and my shutter is usually set to be no slower than 1/250 ideally much quicker though.

Male Kingfisher
Male Kingfisher

Thank you for reading

Please feel free to share “How to Photograph Kingfisher” with anyone you think may find it useful. And if it has gone some way to help you get a shot I’d love to hear from you, drop a comment below.

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A number of the photos on this page can be purchased from Urban Lake Photography In various sizes and formats.


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