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Photographing Birds: Tips, Tricks and Equipment

photographing birds

photographing birds

Whether you’re new to photographing birds or you’ve been doing it for several years, there’s no doubt about it – capturing images of birds in flight is a talent that very few of us have.

Even the best photographers will find themselves struggling at photographing birds in flight, but thankfully, with the right equipment and know-how, this is a technique that you can master.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Photographing Birds Tips, Tricks and Equipment

11 Tips on How to Photograph Birds? 

Here are some tips to help you photograph birds in the most beautiful ways – no filter necessary.

1. Make a Checklist

Before you head out to photograph birds, take some time to evaluate what you want to get out of the experience.

What sorts of shots do you hope to capture? Could you make a list and write it down? That way, you won’t have any remorse if you get home and realize you missed the ideal shot.

2. Start With the Right Equipment

Before you do anything else, make sure you are armed with the right equipment for the job. Bird photography, perhaps more so than any other kind of photography, demands certain gear. Here’s a quick rundown of the basics.

Cameras To Photograph Birds

Obviously, you need a camera, but what kind of camera will be best when it comes to capturing gorgeous images of birds in flight?

Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only) (Renewed)
  • 20.9MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor EXPEED 5 Image Processor
  • 3.2" 2,539k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD 4K UHD Video Recording at 30 fps
  • Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System Native ISO 51200, Extend to ISO 1640000
  • 10 fps Shooting for Up to 200 Frames Built-In Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC
Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR

Look for a professional-level DSLR if you have it within your budget. We recommend a model like the Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR if you can afford it.

This is a pro-grade product that will let you capture magazine-worthy images in each shot paired with the proper lenses and shooting techniques.

Canon EOS-a EF-S 18-55mm is II Kit
  • 18.0 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) image sensor and high-performance DIGIC 4 Image Processor for excellent speed and quality.
  • ISO 100–6400 (expandable to H: 12800) for shooting from bright to dim light.
  • EOS Full HD Movie mode helps you capture brilliant results.
  • Scene Intelligent Auto mode helps deliver expertly optimized photos and offers improved scene detection for amazing results when shooting at night.
  • 9-point AF system (including one center cross-type AF point) and AI Servo AF help provide necessary options for impressive autofocus performance and accurate results.
Canon EOS Rebel T5 Digital SLR

However, Canon is another reputable brand that may have what you’re looking for – check out something like the Canon EOS Rebel T5 Digital SLR.

This camera is more affordable and a bit more basic but will still let you shoot gorgeous images.

Look for a camera with the following attributes:
  • A good frame rate (which will enable you to take more photos per second)
  • Autofocus ability
  • Crop sensor to increase the apparent magnification of your photo
  • A camera that can handle at least 1/2000 of a second shutter speed with 6-9 frames per second
  • A large enough camera buffer to handle large bursts

If you don’t have a camera like this, don’t panic! You don’t have to run out to the store any time soon.

You can capture fantastic photos of birds with more basic, homeowner-style cameras. You’ll just have to work a bit harder at it!

photographing birds

Best Lenses for Photographing Birds

Next, the lens.

Trying to snap a shot of a bird at a far distance away with a wide-angle lens is going to be difficult, if not impossible.

You’ll need a variety of lenses (or at the very least, a super versatile single lens) to capture all ranges and distances.

There’s nothing wrong with buying used lenses or ones that aren’t necessarily made by the same camera manufacturer (you can search for lenses from companies like Tamron and Sigma, which are much more affordable).

Look for lenses made out of quality glass – this factor is more important than length.

Now, lenses can be just as expensive as cameras, but there are various decently-priced options out there. Here are our top two choices:

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L is II USM Lens, Lens Only
  • Compact, high performance L-series super-telephoto zoom makes it ideal for sports and wildlife photography
  • Rotation-type zoom ring allows for more precise composition and excellent balance when handholding.Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • Improved zoom torque adjustment ring allows easy setting of zoom tension, Focal Length & Maximum Aperture:100-400 millimeter 1:4.5-5.6, Closest Focusing Distance-3.2 feet; 0.98 meter
  • New Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps to significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, Highly resistant to dust and water, and amazing durability enabling shooting even in harsh conditions
  • English (Publication Language)
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

This lens can capture everything from insects to flowers to birds and landscapes. Close focusing is a selling point, this lens will focus to 3 feet, even at 400mm. You won’t have to deal with a teleconverter and it’s a very durable lens.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Compact super telephoto zoom lens for birding, wildlife, motorsports, events and more
  • 500 millimeter of zoom power on fx format DSLR; 750 millimeter equivalent on dx format DSLRs, minimum focus distance: 7.2 feet ( 2.2 meter), focal length range: 200 500 millimeter
  • Fast f/5.6 constant aperture for beautiful out of focus backgrounds and low light performance
  • 4.5 stops of vibration reduction with sports mode. Approx. Weight 81.2 ounce. Approx. Dimensions (diameter x length) 4.2 inch x 10.5 inch( based on CIPA guidelines)
  • Af compatible with optional TC 14e series tele converters and DSLRs that offer f/8 support. Mount type: Nikon f bayonet
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras

This is a reasonably priced good performing long tele lens. It’s relatively lightweight and VR makes hand-holding very practical. Continuous autofocus is fast and accurate for all directions.

photographing birds

Tripods to Use for Photographing Birds

A tripod is another basic piece of equipment you’ll want to have on hand for photographing birds. Look for a tripod that’s sturdy and has a smooth head that can lock down tightly.

Benro Travel Angel 2 Series Carbon Fiber Tripod w/ V1E Ball Head (FTA28CV1)
  • Designed to offer compact and lightweight camera support. Weighing just 4 lbs. and able to hold up to 22 lbs., the FTA28CV1 can extend from a minimum height of 18.7" up to 66.9".
  • The 4-section legs are held in place by twist locks and can be adjusted independently.
  • Equipped with interchangeable screw-in rubber feet and stainless steel spiked feet for increased stability. In addition, a removable leg can be combined with the center column to create a full-size monopod.
  • Constructed from 9 layers of carbon fiber, these legs maximize the strength to weight ratio of the tripod legs.
  • The V1E Ball Head has separate pan and ball locks, and an Arca-type compatible clamp with a quick-release plate.
Benro Travel Angel 2 Series Carbon Fiber Tripod w/ V1E Ball Head (FTA28CV1)
Our choice is the Benro Travel Angel. It’s compact, lightweight, and durable. The top leg is thicker for better stability and it converts to a monopod.
photographing birds

3. Research and Locate the Birds

Second, only to invest in the right camera and other gear, knowing the ins and outs of bird behavior is key if you want to be able to capture gorgeous photos.

Start by shooting birds in your local area – even those in your backyard. Then, start doing some research to figure out more about how you can get the best possible shots.

Look into the habitat, the times of day the birds are most active, and when they are most likely to exhibit interesting behaviors.

By studying a bird, you’ll be able to anticipate its behavior so that you can snap the perfect shot at the ideal moment.

4. Approach the Birds

When you’re photographing birds, taking the picture is only half the battle! It would help if you also got close enough to them without scaring them away.

Wear clothes that do not have bright colors. Try to blend in with your environment as much as you can.

If you’re hiking and walking quickly before you spot a bird, you want to photograph, slow down but do so gradually.

The change in speed can startle a bird, as can any other sudden moves.

Silence your cell phone. That one should be obvious!

Don’t walk directly toward the bird you want to photograph but instead walk slowly in zig zags, which will keep it calmer.

If the bird stops what it is doing to look at you, stop walking. Keep noise to a minimum and avoid staring down the bird, which can intimidate it.

If you can, take continuous photos of the bird as you walk toward it so that it gets used to the shutter sound.

photographing birds

5. Focus on the Eye

When you’re taking a picture, focus on the eye of the bird. If you’re photographing multiple birds, select the bird closest to you (the viewer).

The bird’s tail or other parts of the bird can be blurry, but at least one eye should always be sharp and in focus.

That’s true regardless of the type of bird you’re photographing, be it a cockatoo or a cardinal.

If you’re photographing <ahref=”https://cescos.fau.edu/jay/eps/articles/flightpart01.html”>birds in flight, this might be more challenging. In that case, you can focus on the head or chest for the best contrast.

6. Be Patient When Photographing Birds

When you’re photographing birds, be patient. Wait for the bird to act naturally.

Although you can probably get some good shots of a bird sitting on a branch, your images will be far more interesting if you can catch them in action!

photographing birds

7. Watch the Lighting

Whether you’re photographing hummingbirds, chickens, or anything in between, in general, you’re going to capture better images on days that aren’t super sunny.

The sun can affect the lighting in your photo and make it hard to get a good photograph.

If you must photograph in the sun, position yourself with your back to it. It can sometimes work if the sun is to the far left or the right, but the sun behind you will always provide a better image.

There’s one exception to this sunlight rule, and that is if you are photographing birds in flight on a cloudy day.

Try to avoid this. Images of birds with gray or white backgrounds can be hard to deal with during post-processing.

If it’s a solitary bird sitting still, the editing shouldn’t be too challenging – but it can be a nightmare if the bird is on the move.

8. Check the Time of Day

Timing is everything when it comes to bird photography. Suppose you can shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon, close to the evening.

This not only provides the best opportunities to catch birds in action since this is when they are most active, but the lighting will also be better too.

photographing birds

What is the Best Setting for Photographing Birds?

There are a few settings you can choose for bird photography, depending on your goals.

Some people prefer to capture images of birds in their natural environment. This is a great way to profile the beautiful landscape in which an animal lives.

You can use a spot metering focus mode to do this, which will make the bird the central and most important element in the picture while also highlighting the beauty of the landscape.

You can also take photographs of birds in flight. Photographing birds in flight is not for the faint of heart – it will take some practice to get used to this technique.

For a sharp flight shot, you’ll need a camera with a fast shutter speed, but you can also do intentional flight blurs that look pretty cool too.

Whichever setting you choose, try to select your background carefully. Images shot with other objects behind the bird won’t look as attractive as those with a smooth background.

photographing birds

9. Take Lots of Photos

Be patient and allow the bird to act naturally. Shoot as many images as possible, even if you think you captured the perfect shot the first time.

Take a single picture, then check to make sure the image is sharp and in focus. Then, shoot in bursts of five to ten frames at once.

Remember, you can always delete the images you don’t want later on!

10. Post-Photo Processing

Snapping the perfect picture is only half the battle! You still have work waiting for you at home.

You can use any photo processing software you’d like to edit your pictures, but many professionals use Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Cropping is the main thing you will want to do to your photos. Birds don’t sit and pose, so filling an entire frame with just one bird is not always possible.

If you’re photographing a bird from a distance and try to resize it, the bird is going to look oddly tiny, so cropping is essential.

You may also need to crop unwanted objects out of the photo. Just keep in mind that, while cropping works for the web in most cases, if the bird only takes up five or ten percent of the frame, it might look odd even when cropped.

Play around with it to figure out the right style and orientation of your image!

11. Other Tips for Bird Photography

Beyond the basic tips we’ve given you above, here are a few more to help you become a master at capturing the perfect shot.

Learn Technical Settings

If you’ve been taking pictures for a long time, you’re probably already quite familiar with all the settings on your camera.

However, if you’re new to photography as a whole, and not just bird photography, it will take some time to learn the technical settings on your camera.

Each camera is different, so it’s hard to give specific advice. However, be sure to play around with the various settings for exposure, aperture or F-stop, ISO, and shutter speed on your camera.

Practice Bird Photography Ethics

When you’re photographing birds, be polite. This should go without saying, but your priority should always be the safety and wellbeing of the animals you photograph.

Please don’t throw things at them or feed them to entice them to come closer.

If the birds flush, move away from you, or appear agitated, you’re too close. Step back and sit quietly. Don’t threaten them. They shouldn’t know you are there.

If there are other people photographing birds near you, remember that they likely want to get the best possible shots, too.

Don’t block one another, and do your best not to frighten the birds.

Understand Field Techniques and Composition

If you’re taking pictures of birds in your backyard, you probably don’t really need to understand field techniques.

However, if you’re interested in more advanced photography, you may want to look into things like using blinds, stalking techniques, and camouflage to help you get a better shot.

Do your best to achieve a “clean” portrait regardless of the type of bird you’re snapping pictures of.

Whether it’s a cockatiel or canary, cleanliness is key.

You’ll need to use a long lens with a quick aperture, which will help you isolate the subject (the bird) from its surroundings while narrowing your field depth.

Again, pay attention to the photo’s composition in terms of lighting, the focus point (always focus on the eye of the bird), depth of field, background, and placement.

photographing birds

How Can I Take Sharp Pictures of Birds?

Depending on the type of camera you have and what kinds of birds you are interested in photographing, you’ll find all kinds of tips for how to take the clearest, most beautiful photographs of birds.

Shoot with an auto ISO. Shoot in bursts. Avoid distracting elements like foliage. Shoot in raw. Don’t use live view. Photograph nests. Take advantage of the golden hour. Use image stabilization.

There are countless ways to make the most of the camera and other equipment you have, along with the subject you are trying to photograph.

As you spend more time playing around with your camera and getting used to the art of photographing birds, you’ll find a style and technique that works for you.

Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to try new things!

READ NEXT: The Hummingbird: Beautiful and Symbolic

Photographing Birds



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