I recently put out a request for your questions under the premise that no inquiry was too basic or advanced. Here are three which I thought would be helpful for everyone to read.
Q: No matter what I do I can't seem to get close-ups of birds, from my patio to a hill in backyard about 20 feet away. I have a Nikon D40X with a 100-300m lens.
A: I do a great deal of bird photography and you are correct, it's not easy. Birds are skittish, and you often need to use a lens of 400mm or longer mounted to a tripod. Like most wildlife photography, it's helpful to remain patient and wait for the right moments while observing quietly through the viewfinder. You may also want to consider looking into a portable blind. This will allow you to get closer without scaring them away. Finally, be sure to wear muted colors, and refrain from making any sudden movements. Once the birds understand you are not a threat, you'll have a better chance of photographing their natural behavior.
Q: I recently got an umbrella but don't know where to find the right brackets to attach it to a stand.
A: The piece you are looking for is called an "Umbrella Bracket Adapter". It will fit on almost any light stand, tilts and swivels to make aiming the light or flash easy. At just under $20, it's an inexpensive, but extremely helpful accessory. Here's a link for your convenience.
Q: I have a quick question. Do you have any suggestions for factors to consider when selecting compact flash cards? Are some brands more reliable or better quality than others?
A: Memory cards are an important consideration as it's essentially your "film", and needs to be 100% reliable. I have always used Lexar, and haven’t had a single issue so I only purchase their cards. Several photographers I know also speak very highly of SanDisk. Any other brand is a gamble. Considering how the price of memory has come down dramatically in the last 12-24 months, you are much better off with the name brands I mentioned. Also, I prefer the 32GB and 64GB sized cards, but don't usually recommend anything larger. Remember the old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. If a card should get damaged, lost or stolen, you won’t lose all of your work.