Here are a few challenges and tips to truly shooting wildlife. Small birds are one of the biggest challenges to capture properly. I should be specific and say that certain groups of birds are harder than other. First of all, park and backyard fed birds isn’t true wildlife shooting. Sure the subjects are wildlife but the technique is very different.
The best birds to test your skills on are not the seed eating finches and sparrows. These birds sit still for a period and allow you to frame a shot a bit easier. Try the small insect eaters such as warblers or in this case, gnatcatchers. These birds are very active and almost never sit still for much more than a half second. Because of this, you need a camera with good AF but more importantly, a good lens that can keep up with the action in a split second. 300mm is the absolute minimum for small birds. The 70-300mm is a great lens within it’s limits. However, this type of shooting is beyond it’s normal limits. It’s focus is not only too slow but is not terribly accurate (compared to a prime). Also at 300mm with an open aperture that you may very well need, it’s pretty soft. This in combination with the slower less accurate focus makes this lens unsuitable for true wildlife shooting. It’s a great lens; it’s just not designed for this type of precise shooting. For this type of work one needs a minimum of a 300mmF4. A 300mm2.8 or better a 400mm2.8 would be best but I cannot afford either of these. These primes focus not only fast but more accurately than a consumer zoom. Why is this important? Because with birds like this you often have to try to anticipate where the bird may land for the split second it does. Focus on that spot and if the bird goes there, fire off the shutter. This is not often the case as the bird frequently lands just outside of your focus area and buy the time you shift to where it is, it has moved on.