Digital Photography .... continuedWhen the young girl opened the door and climbed into the yellow Checker Cab in New York City she asked the cabbie: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"
"Practice practice practice," said the cabbie.
To make good bird photographs you have to know how find the birds at the right time of day, how to recognize good lighting, how to use the camera and you have to learn how to use photo editing software. How do you learn those things? Most important is practice. If your goal is to improve you have to work at it. You don't even have to go birding. You can learn a lot by photographing beer cans on your back porch, at different times of day. And by processing the photographs with software.
What Software to use?Most professional photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop from Adobe. Other new proprietary image editing products appear every year. Good freely-available open source products exist too. The open source alternatives are perhaps a bit clunkier but the price is hard to argue with and make no mistake: you can do high-end professional quality work with open source software.
You'll need a good RAW image format editor and the Gimp editor for final-touches. RawTherapee is a very good free open source RAW image editor that is relatively quick and easy to learn. Darktable is a more complex RAW image editor that is both more powerful and harder to learn. They are both excellent products. I use Darktable and sometimes finish up with Gimp. RawTherapee Darktable and Gimp are free and available for all systems: Windows Mac and Linux.
Digital ComplexityWhile image quality differences between film and memory chip technology are essentially already gone, there is a dark side to digital cameras. Digital cameras are complex machines and the more you spend the more complex they become.
My current camera is so complex it took me a year or so to finally get my sea legs with it. Expensive professional-level cameras all have point-and-shoot modes the beginner can take advantage of. But the minute you start to work with more advanced features like manual exposure, aperture priority metering or automatic rapid-fire exposure bracketing you have to embrace complexity, because it is all to easy to manually set the camera into two or more mutually incompatible modes.
The only way to master complexity is to read about your camera and to practice practice practice. Reading is important but practice is critical. I can read technical manuals until I'm blue in the face. But if I don't turn the camera on and try everything out none of it sticks.
For nearly all good cameras you can buy third party paper technology manuals describing your camera's modes functions and dials in detail. A better learning choice for many are the myriad video tutorials available on YouTube.