Jon Bryant: Fascinating Birds

Fascinating Birds


Jon Bryant has had the utmost respect for bird photographers throughout his entire career as a wildlife photographer. When Panasonic announced the launch of the LUMIX Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens, he knew this was going to be a game-changer: ‘I was even able to photograph the small European birds.’

A male stonechat with distinctive black head and white collar

LUMIX GH4 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 1600 1/250 sec f/5.4

‘Bird photography is an extremely challenging and highly specialized domain. Unlike other forms of wildlife photography where an animal’s movements may be slower and predictable, birds move swiftly and their movements are much less predictable,’ states Jon Bryant, who categorizes himself first and foremost as a wildlife and landscape photographer, not a specialist bird photographer. But last year, something changed when Panasonic announced the launch of the Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens. ‘This lens has a 35mm focal length equivalent to 200-800mm which makes it absolutely ideal for bird photography. The ability to focus on such small subjects and fill the frame meant that for the first time I had the right tool for the job at an unbelievably affordable price point, and with the additional benefit that the lens weighs less than a kilo. It was the perfect companion for my LUMIX GH4 camera.

Jon decided to focus on bird photography, and more precisely on European bird photography, for three main reasons. ‘First, it is such a challenging domain both from a camera craft perspective and the focal lengths required to do it justice. Second, I figured that if I got better at shooting birds my wildlife camera craft and skills would also improve and that had to be a good thing for my own photographic journey. And third, after spending the last three years concentrating mainly on African wildlife, bird photography is so much more accessible, because birds are all around us.’

Little owl, these birds are photographed seasonally in June and July as they fledge their nests

LUMIX GH4 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 1600 1/80 sec f/6.3

Focusing at first on a local lake and the coastal areas of Belgium, Jon experienced working with the LUMIX GH4 and the Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens as liberating, since he could go on photo walks without needing a tripod. ‘Because I shoot aperture priority mode, and I know that by using my ISO setting as a function of the available light, I let the camera choose my shutter speed. I use a general rule of thumb: if my shutter speed is at least twice my focal length I know that my handheld shots will be sharp. With rapidly moving subjects like birds, eliminating the need for a tripod allows me to work faster and take the shots I want.’

As the year progressed, Jon decided to focus his attention on bird hide photography, which allows the photographer to remain concealed while close to the subject without disturbing the environment. ‘With bird hide photography there are four key things to consider getting a superb image: light, subject, composition, and behavior,’ Jon explains. ‘Having great light for bird photography is vital. It is probably the most important element in being able to shoot in aperture priority mode and getting faster shutter speeds to freeze the action. But light also creates atmosphere, contrast and mood in a bird image, especially with portraits.’

Composition is also an important aspect of bird photography. ‘Many of the basic compositional rules apply, such as the rule of thirds. However, one aspect that is essential yet often overlooked in wildlife photography in general is composing for clean backgrounds. Having a clean and soft background makes all the difference to an image. Finally, any time there is a behavior, movement or interaction, you have the potential for a great bird image. The challenge is to anticipate that behavior, which with small, fast-moving subjects can be very difficult.’

A razorbill, one of a large population at the RSPB Bempton Cliffs nature reserve in the UK

LUMIX GX8 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 1000 1/800 sec f/6.3

Looking at his portfolio of bird photographs from the past year, Jon feels very satisfied with his decision to focus on European birdlife photography, and he concludes: ‘Without the addition of the Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens, getting such close insights into the avian world would not have been possible.’

Robin redbreast, an iconic European bird often observed during winter months

LUMIX GH4 with Leica 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 shot at ISO 2000 1/320 sec f/6.3

Jon Bryant is a wildlife and landscape photographer. After working for many years as a videographer, Jon was an early adopter of the new generation of mirrorless hybrid stills/video cameras. Jon regularly travels to Southern Africa to document wildlife and natural history.

[instagram] @jonntybryant