I am currently using a Canon PowerShot SX20 IS camera. I would like to do a bird photo essay. When I set my shutter speed really fast, the photo turns super dark. So like anyone else I used my flash and turned the lights off to take a few photos. But the problem is how am I going to use flash outside? I'm still new at photography so could somebody help me?
The first step is to open the aperture of your camera wider. If you cut the shutter speed in half (say from 1/100th of a second to 1/200th of a second), you're capturing light for half as long. To compensate, you can open the aperture twice as wide (say, from f/8 to f/5.6). While this works, you'll quickly run out of aperture settings before you run out of faster shutter speeds. Note also that you'll have to deal with a shallower depth-of-field, which means a much narrower area of the scene will be in focus.
You can increase the ISO setting of your camera, too. Doubling the ISO will make the image twice as bright, but it will also increase the amount of noise. How much noise you can stand is a creative decision.
Once you've maxed out your aperture and ISO your other main option is to increase the amount of light on the scene. You can use the flash on your camera. That's a good start, but you have some additional options that might not be obvious. For example, you can also use reflectors of various types. They're relatively inexpensive, but if you can't spend any money, a mirror or large white piece of poster board or sheet will do in a pinch. Try to get as much light on the scene as you can.
Once you have camera settings and lighting that will work, you need to attract the birds and take pictures of them. There are a number of ways to do this depending on what you want to capture them doing. The easiest in my experience is to offer them food. I have captured a number of different types of birds by setting up feeders for them and setting my camera up right next to the feeders. I've captured them flying, perching, eating, fighting, and more!
Some things that help: have a remote trigger for your camera. This allows you to sit somewhere far away or hidden which puts the birds at ease. They don't mind the camera at all (and will sometimes even perch on it!), but they get a little nervous around other animals. Also, learn how the birds think. Get to know their feeding schedules and other habits so you know when they'll be by. Finally, be patient. They'll get used to you and your equipment relatively quickly, but it can take time to figure out the best placement for your camera and lights and figure out all the quirks of your particular local fauna. For example, I've found that hummingbirds don't mind the slap of the camera's mirror, but are a little nervous about the flash. Not so nervous they won't come back to continue feeding a few seconds later, but it startles them at first.
Finally, have fun! It can be both exciting and relaxing to take bird photos. Whether they're perching, primping, feeding, or fighting, there's a lot take in.