There are many ways to take good photos of birds. But, if you want to take the best photos possible, you should learn more about bird photography. Bird photography is a very interesting hobby and you can learn a lot by just observing the birds.
You should always remember that you should be a silent observer. You should never scare the birds or make them uncomfortable in any way.
There are many factors that you should be aware of. If you are a beginner, you should read this article until the end because there are some very important tips at the end.
Think About The Best Areas In Which To Shoot
Stork on nest with chicks
Veessen, Netherlands – Canon EOS 750D – Focal Length 600mm – Aperture ƒ/8 – Shutter Speed 1/8000s – ISO 1000
The most successful bird photographers think about where the birds are likely to be, rather than where they are at the moment.
They study maps of where the birds are most likely to be found, and then go out and find those places. Sometimes they have to walk for miles and miles in order to get to their chosen shooting locations… but the effort is well worth it, because the photos they take will be among the very best they’ll ever produce.
Research The Species Of Bird You’ll Find In An Area
Bird Great Tit
Canon EOS 7D – Focal Length 240mm – Aperture ƒ/5 – Shutter Speed 1/125s – ISO 800
The first step to becoming a better bird photographer is to learn about the birds you are going to photograph. Are they common or rare? What kind of habitats do they prefer? What are their feeding habits? What are their mating rituals? What time of year are they most likely to be around?
These are all questions you should be able to answer before you even leave home. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’ll probably end up with photos that look like everyone else’s photos – which means no one will remember your photos, and you won’t make any money from them.
Use A Long Lens (Tele Lens)
This is one of the most useful tips I can give you. A tele lens is an ultra-wide angle lens with a focal length of 300mm or more.
They are perfect for bird photography because they let you get close to your subject without losing the ability to take a normal picture. Maintaining some distance will allow the bird to continue its behavior without feeling threatened, resulting in much more natural shots. But a long focal length lens is not needed all the time. For large birds such as pelicans and egrets, and for birds used to having people around, you can get away with shorter focal lengths. You don’t only want head shots of birds. For environmental shots, a shorter lens will do the job.
You can use a 300mm f/2.8 or a 500mm f/4 to shoot birds; both of these lenses will give you the ability to get very close to your subject.
I personally own a Sigma 70-300mm f/3.3 APO DG HSM lens and I use it almost every day for bird photography. It’s the best lens I’ve ever used and I highly recommend it.
Use A Good Tripod
A tripod is an invaluable tool for capturing clear, sharp photos. It keeps your camera level and steady, even when you are moving around a bit. Without it, your chances of getting a great shot will be greatly diminished.
A good tripod will also allow you to use slower shutter speeds which lets in more light. This is important because many birds are very active during the day and they will fly away if they sense you are taking their photo. You will also find that it is simpler to track birds in flight from a tripod, as your panning motion will be smoother.
A good quality tripod will cost you about $60 to $100 and you should invest in one whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro. Tripods come in all sizes and you should get one that fits your camera perfectly. The legs should extend far enough so that you can position your camera at any desired height from ground level.
If you are using a heavy, prime, professional, fixed aperture lens, I would recommend that you use a gimbal head to support your camera.
You should also get one with an anti-vibration feature. If you do a lot of bird photography, then you should get a head-to-toe vibration dampening system which will make a noticeable difference when you are shooting on the move.
Use A Fast Shutter Speed
ZOO Plzeň, Czech republic – Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – Focal Length 300mm – Aperture ƒ/3.2 – Shutter Speed 1/800s – ISO 1600
Birds are very difficult to photograph because they move so fast. By using a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second or faster, you will be able to freeze most of the action and your photos will come out sharp.
Using the auto ISO setting on your camera helps assure you do not dip below a set shutter speed. If the light fades, the camera will automatically bump up the ISO to maintain your minimum shutter speed. If it brightens up again, the camera will lower the ISO back down.
If you are using an older camera that does not have auto ISO, keep your eye on your shutter speeds. If they become too slow, boost your ISO until you are satisfied that the resulting shutter speed will be fast enough to freeze the action.
Settings Aperture Or F-stop
For birds, a smaller aperture will let in more light and give you a more shallow depth of field, which will in turn, allow you to isolate your subject from its background.
However, many lenses are not as sharp shot wide open as they are at narrower apertures. For this reason, if the light allows, I set my aperture a third or two-thirds of a stop above the lens’s widest aperture. For example, if I’m using a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4, I will set my aperture to f/4.5 or f/5. This setting results in a sharp image with a shallow depth of field and a fast shutter speed.
However, a small aperture also causes your image to be slightly out of focus. To avoid this, stop down the aperture.
On the other hand, a tele has a narrow depth of field. This can be problematic when you are photographing several birds or larger birds, especially when the wind is blowing feathers around. A shallow DOF can result in important areas of your image being out of focus. To avoid this, stop down the aperture will help ensure all the feathers are sharp. I will often shoot at f/6.3 or f/8 when I want to make sure that I get everything in focus.
Use Shootting Burst Mode
Dawn on the Sea of Cortez. Two Great Egrets battle for territorial fishing rights
Baja California Sur, Mexico – NIKON D500 – Focal Length 460mm – Aperture ƒ/8 – Shutter Speed 1/1600s – ISO 200
Most modern point and shoots let you use “shooting burst” mode, where you can take several photos in rapid succession with one press of the button.
This is especially useful when photographing birds, as they often take off or fly away in a flash.
Try using this mode when photographing birds – it will give you several chances to getting a great shot.
Use Shooting “Autofocus Continuous”
An Osprey coming in for a landing
Canon EOS 5D Mark III – Focal Length 600mm – Aperture ƒ/9 – Shutter Speed 1/1250s – ISO 320
Your camera has a mind of its own. It decides what it wants to focus on, and often, that is not what you want it to focus on. If you want your photos to be sharp, you must learn to guide the camera rather than just hope for the best. Read your manual and understand how auto focus (AF) works so you can take control.
Many of the best bird photographers use a technique called “AF-C”, which stands for “Auto Focus Continuous” which is also known as “AI Servo” in the Canon world.
What this means is that the camera will continuously hunt for the subject, and if it finds it, it will keep it in focus for as long as the shutter button is pressed. This gives the photographer a chance to compose the shot without having to worry about whether the subject is in focus or not.
One trick I use quite a bit, especially for birds in flight, is pre-focusing. Focus on a target that is approximately the same distance away as the bird you want to photograph. Now aim your camera at the bird. You should find it much easier to find the bird in the viewfinder now.
Bird Photography Tips And Tricks
Approach Them Slowly And Quietly
Ontario, Canada – OLYMPUS E-M1MarkII – Focal Length 420mm – Aperture ƒ/7.1 – Shutter Speed 1/2500s – ISO 1250
Birds are spooked by anything that moves. They will take off, fly away, or even attack if they think you are a predator. So, when approaching them, move very, approach them slowly and quietly, and when you are close enough to take a “safe shot”.
If you are in a vehicle, stop completely and get out . Then, if the bird isn’t already in flight, you will be able to watch it for a while before it takes off. This gives you the chance to take a “safe shot” – a photograph that you know will not give the bird a reason to attack you.
Isolate The Bird From The Background
Oostvaardersplassen (natuurreservaat), Lelystad, Nederland – NIKON D850 – Focal Length 500mm – Aperture ƒ/6.3 – Shutter Speed 1/1600s – ISO 1000
One of the first rules of bird photography is to isolate your subject from its background. Birds are very sensitive to any movement in their environment, and when you start snapping away they will quickly scatter or become agitated.
However, all this makes them perfect subjects for practice, because if you can learn to successfully isolate your bird from the background and capture it in a pleasing way, then the real challenge of photographing birds will be easy.
To do this, use a wide lens, stand as far back as you can, and make sure there is nothing flammable or eatable within reach of your subject. You should also use a tripod or set your camera on a solid surface to avoid any camera shake.
Focus On The Bird’s Eye
Hungary – Canon EOS 7D Mark II – Focal Length 300mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 1250
Birds have very expressive eyes. They will often lock onto a subject and focus intently on it for long periods. Look for this behavior and use it to your advantage. If you find a bird that is interested in something, like a worm, use this as a way to get closer to it. Move slowly and let the bird do most of the work. Don’t surprise or scare the bird and don’t make any sudden movements.
Most bird photographers agree that the eyes are the most important feature to capture when photographing birds.
This is especially true for species such as hummingbirds and parrots, where the bright colors of the eyes really stand out. However, many other birds (such as pigeons and doves) have brown or black eyes, and it is these features that draw the viewer’s attention.
Capture Their Magnificent Flight
Barn Owl in flight with prey, a freshly caught vole
Chichester, West Sussex – Sony ILCE-9 – Focal Length 600mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/2000s – ISO 1250
Birds are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. They are endlessly fascinating to watch in flight, and they have a unique beauty all their own. In fact, I believe that no other animal compares to the bird in terms of pure aesthetic appeal.
However, it is their flight that is so spectacular, it is also the element of flight that photographers find most challenging to capture. The best way to learn how to do this is to get out into the wild and watch birds in their natural habitat. Note their flight patterns, learn to anticipate their moves, and then, when you are ready, go out and capture the magic.
Pelicans fighting for fish
Kerkini-See, Kerkini, Griechenland – NIKON Z 7 – Focal Length 35mm – Aperture ƒ/4.5 – Shutter Speed 1/640s – ISO 1000
Most people who love bird watching want to see more than just pretty birds. They want to see the context in which the birds live, such as how they interact with each other and their environment.
This is where behavior comes in. Observe what the birds are doing and concentrate on how they behave rather than how they look. Are the birds feeding voraciously or are they skulking around in the underbrush looking for a place to hide? Are they building their nests or are they searching for a place to roost?
Watch a bird for minutes at a time and you will soon discover what it likes to do, what it dislikes, and you will learn to anticipate these things. You will find it is much easier to capture interesting images.
The Background Makes The Picture
Wild Kea at the peak of the Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand – Fujifilm X-T2 – Focal Length 35mm – Aperture ƒ/1.4 – Shutter Speed 1/4000s – ISO 200
A cluttered background will detract from your subject, no matter how great the subject itself. A blank background, on the other hand, gives the viewer something to look at, which in turn draws his attention to your subject.
Make sure your background is as uncluttered as possible. If you use a telephoto lens, the background will be quite far away from you, so you should not have to worry about it too much. However, if you use a wide angle lens, the background will be quite close to you and can quite easily overpower your subject.
Create Interesting Compositions
Sewell, Washington Township, New Jersey, United States – NIKON D4S – Focal Length 500mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/500s – ISO 12800
Interesting composition is one of the main reasons people buy prints, and it is often more satisfying to create an interesting photo than to take a great photo.
When you are photographing birds, it is especially important to think about your composition. Try to position your subject in such a way that it draws the viewer’s eye to it. Try shooting from above to show the context of the bird in its environment and how it fits into that context.
Use movement to capture a momentary flash of speed as the bird takes off or flutters from a perch.
Transport The Viewer Into The Bird’s World
Canon EOS 600D – Focal Length 100mm – Aperture ƒ/2.8 – Shutter Speed 1/160s – ISO 500
The best images of birds are those that transport us into the bird’s world. The way to do this is to make the bird the main subject. What I mean is, don’t let the background distract us.
Use natural elements to frame the shot, like a branch against a blue sky, or a rock formation, or a tree line. Don’t use man-made elements, like a fence post or a telephone pole. In general, if you see a picture of a bird and it looks “flat,” the photographer has used too many man-made elements.
Not all your shots have to be tight portraits. Try to include habitat in some of your images to give a sense of the environment. For environmental shots, you can usually get away with a shorter focal length lens. Select an aperture that produces enough depth of field to tell your story.
Cape Range National Park, Australia – NIKON D7100 – Focal Length 110mm – Aperture ƒ/11 – Shutter Speed 1/2000s – ISO 800
If you want to become a good bird photographer, you need to have a lot of patience. Don’t be in a hurry. Instead, take your time and observe the birds carefully. The way to become a good bird photographer is by doing a lot of practice and by being patient.
Once you finish reading this article, we suggest that you go out and start shooting birds. You will soon discover that there is a magical feeling that comes with capturing the beauty of birds. It is a great experience and one that you will always remember.