Fun With Bird Videos

Spotting a Cuban Tody with a digiscope

A washed out shot of a red-breasted nuthatch in low light.

Some Birds are Hard to Photograph

Let’s face it; some birds are hard to photograph. Either they move around too much, or they are in low light, and you can’t get the exposure settings to cooperate on your phone that’s when it’s time to switch to video. I’m a big fan of using video on your smartphone. You can use it to capture behavior and sounds of birds, both of which are helpful for identification and sometimes video does better at catching birds in shady spots than still images. If a bird is moving around a lot, taking video of it might help you get a better shot.

Photographing on a Cloudy Day

Sometimes if it’s a cloudy day or very shady, it’s tough to get a shot of a bird. If they are moving around too much, the shots will all be blurry. Sometimes the phone’s auto exposure will make the photo too bright, washing out the actual color of the birds. When this happens, it can be rewarding to switch over to video. I was having trouble getting decent shots of a Red-breasted Nuthatch nest on a cloudy day and opted to go for video. I even played around with the slow motion video to get shots of the birds going back and forth to their nest. Here’s the same nuthatch but in video form:

The color may not be the best, but it’s more interesting to watch the behaviors than look at a washed out photo.

Using 4K

Most phones have high-definition video, and some even do 4K. Most video is that standard 1080 pixels horizontally by 720 pixels vertically, but 4K is 4000 pixels horizontally. With 4K, this means you can get incredible definition in your video. It’s so good that if your video is in focus and you remove an image, it can be tack sharp. The downside is that 4K video takes up a lot of space on your phone. If you only have 16 gigs of storage on your phone, you are better off not using 4K.

However, even taking some video of a bird in the regular HD mode will still yield some pretty good results. Check out this craptastic video I shot of a Cuban Today last April:

It’s terrible and could cause motion sickness on its own. However, by going through it second by second, I was able to grab a still image that’s not so bad.The easiest and most basic way to do this is to play the video in full-screen mode and when you finally get the exact image you want, take a screenshot. Some movie editing apps will help you with as well like iMovie or Video to Photo Grabber.

Screenshot of a Cuban Today taken with HD video on an iPhone 7.

There are also just enough seconds of good video that I can add it to a movie trailer feature.

Making Movie Trailers from Snippets

Since I have an iPhone, I have access to iMovie which is a video editing app. If you have a Mac computer, you also get access to it as a desktop app. You can make basic videos, or you can use some of their templates to make movie trailers which is one of my favorite things to do after a birding trip. Your video snippets only need to be a 1 to 3 seconds long. And the templates guide you as to what sort of shots to use.

iMovie tells you where to put action or landscape shots and how many seconds you need to fill out a trailer template.

The app is so easy to use that often on flights home, I order a little bourbon and make the trailer on my phone. This is one of the first ones I ever made after attending the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in Texas.

When someone tells me that they think birding is dull or boring, I like to show them this video because this is what birding is like in my head. But watching that video, you can also easily see how only a couple of seconds of an in-focus video can be used to make a fun video from your trip.

Once you get comfortable using your phone with a PhoneSkope case and your scope, your only limit is your imagination.

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