If you have ever taken a photograph of a wild bird, the chances are about 99 percent that you have been frustrated.

Birds are difficult to photograph – extremely difficult most of the time. Just for starters, they seldom stay in one spot for more than a few seconds. And they are wary about letting humans get anywhere near them.

But birds can be photographed.

Charles Mills of Ashdown is one of Arkansas’ more accomplished bird photographers, and the hobby goes along well with his birding, his knowledge of all sorts of resident and migrant, seasonal and year-round Arkansas birds.

“The first thing you need in photographing birds is patience,” Mills said. “They don’t pose for you. Birds and wildlife in general have a tendency to bolt before you can shoot.”

Mills’ photographs have become commonplace on the annual Arkansas Wildlife calendar published by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This takes professional-grade wildlife photographic work.

For the beginner, the nature enthusiast who wants to take bird photos, the first requirement is a camera, of course. Right away, forget the low-priced point-and-shoot cameras, whether digital or film. These won’t do.

Bird photography requires telephoto lenses, “long” lenses in the vernacular of photographers.

“You need a minimum of a 300-millimeter lens for birds. A 400 is better, but 300s are a lot more common and a lot more affordable,” Mills said. He is referring to single lens reflect cameras with interchangeable lenses.

Many amateur bird photographers begin by shooting photos around their homes – the backyard birds that may be common, and that’s an advantage. “One thing you will learn is when you are working a bird and it gets antsy, stop. Stay still. The bird may settle back down,” Mills said.

Approaching a bird on foot is difficult, as the creatures are highly aware, alert and on guard against threats. A human is a threat. Many bird photographs are made from vehicles, and camera mounts that clamp to windows are available for steadier shooting. The telephoto or long lenses are difficult to work by holding them in hand. A mount or a tripod is virtually a necessity. Sometimes, bracing the camera against a wall, tree or fence post will suffice. Keeping low is another necessity, Mills said.

Mills uses blinds of several types. Some are simply camouflaging drapes over the head and body of the photographer. Others are tent types with room inside for a stool and even for more than one person.

“When you are trying to approach a bird, a meandering route is better than walking straight toward the bird,” Mills said. “I have been told that approaching from the water is best for shorebirds and others close to water.”

Early morning and late afternoon are much better for photographing birds than the middle of the day with the sun overhead, Mills said. A low sun, either rising or setting, provides more favorable light and birds are more active these times of the day.

“I am a strong believer in what John Shaw, a prominent nature photographer and naturalist, said. You need to know what your subject is going to do. Sometimes, though, it is just being lucky that produces a good bird photograph. You can reduce the variables by planning, too,” Mills said.

“Feeders in your yard attract birds for photographing, but I like to pick a perch near the feeder and wait for a bird, not shoot the bird when it’s on the feeder.”

Mills is a career employee with the U.S. Postal Service. He is the postmaster at Ogden, a few miles south of Ashdown in Little River County.

“When I was 17, I read a National Geographic (magazine) that had an article and photos by Frederick Ken Truslow of a pair of nesting swallow-tail kites,” Mills said. “That hooked me. I went out and bought a Mamiya camera with a tele-converter, and my first pictures were of a bluebird. All I got was a tiny little image of the bird in the film frame. I had to do better than that.”

He added, “I have gotten into (photographing) dragonflies along with birds now. I hope people enjoy my pictures. I want people to understand about these things we have. Education is the key. My dad taught me to educate yourself so you can educate others.”