How to Photograph Birds

Bird photography is one of the most enjoyable types of photography, however, it can be quite challenging. Just like all other types, it takes time to build skills specific to this field. Let this article be your guide into the realm of bird photography so that you can learn how to photograph birds majestically. The following quote summarizes the true essence of learning a new type of photography:

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

Let’s jump into it.

Bird Photography Equipment

Equipment plays a big role in bird photography. An important thing that you should know at this point is that although the camera matters, the lens is of more importance. For the camera, you only need to check two things. First, it should have fast auto-focus and second, the frame rate should also be good. Another thing that you can look for is a crop sensor that can increase the magnification of your telephoto lens. The thing about lenses is that you either need different lenses or a single versatile lens to cover varying distances. A telephoto lens is a must-have for bird photography but they too come in various lengths. However, you need to know that quality of glass matters more than the length. Lastly, the importance of a reliable tripod cannot be emphasized enough. Holding a long lens can be very tiring, not to mention the motion blur that can occur while holding the camera. The tripod will take the weight off your shoulders and provide you with a stable base for taking pictures.

Camera Settings

Understanding which settings will work best in different scenarios is an important part of learning how to photograph birds. These settings mostly depend on the specific conditions but here are some general guidelines. You need to be aware of three settings when adjusting the exposure of the image: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Aperture represents the f-stop and it is the opening through which light enters the camera. As a thumb rule, lenses do not produce the sharpest photos when they are wide open. Therefore, two stops closed from that wide open is your best shot. The thing about birds is they are fast and, in some cases, too fast. You need to match their speed with a fast shutter speed. One of the most important bird photography tips is to remember that shutter speed should be equal to the focal length of your lens. For instance, you can use 1/300th of a second for a 300mm lens. Lastly, we use ISO to increase the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The important thing here is that using a higher ISO can allow you to use higher values of aperture and shutter speed but it will also add digital noise to your images. The key is to balance the noise so that you can get sharp images.
Flock of flamingos - How to photograph birds

Priority Modes

If you do not want to mess with all the settings described above, you can use the priority modes: Aperture Priority Mode and Shutter Priority Mode. Out of these two, Aperture Priority Mode is more recommended. In this mode, you can set the Auto-ISO to a minimum, use maximum aperture, and a minimum shutter speed to get the best results.


Focus is an integral part of bird photography. It is easy to photograph a resting bird. But how to capture a moving or flying bird? The best answer is to either use continuous focus or to use AI Servo. This is the method that will track the bird in its flight and keep it in focus to produce sharp images.

Study the Birds

Studying the birds is one of the most important steps of learning how to photograph birds and unfortunately, it is not emphasized enough. Although, equipment matters a lot but what use is the equipment if you cannot even locate the birds or get near them. Try to learn about the habitats of different birds and the times of the day when they are most likely to be found in a certain location. Moreover, before rushing in, try to observe the birds. Spend some time learning their behaviors. Having an understanding of the birds will help you predict when they will exhibit interesting behavior such as flying or calling.
Two birds playing - How to photograph birds

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Compositional Techniques

Almost all of the compositional techniques that apply in general photography can also be used in bird photography. But our main goal is not just general photos, here are some compositional techniques that will teach you how to photograph birds in a better way. 

First of all, a clean portrait that can be created by isolating the bird by blurring its surroundings is a standard for a good bird photograph. It is clean and beautiful, but if you want something more interactive, you can include their habitat. Additionally, sharp photos of birds in flight also make for great photos. But you can also add some blur to the flight to emphasize motion and life.

Conclusion - How to Photograph Birds

To sum it all up, learning how to photograph birds is challenging but once you understand the fundamentals, it becomes really enjoyable as well as rewarding. These bird photography tips will be enough to help you start in this field but remember, like all other types of photography, it will take time and passion to hone your skills. Keep learning and keep improving.

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Have a nice photoshoot! 

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