There are so many passionate bird photographers out there trying their best capture pin sharp avian portraits.
Are you a beginner photographer looking to capture amazing photos of birds? While bird photography may seem challenging, it’s easy – once you get the hang of it.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know for stunning bird pictures. We’ve created a quick-fire top guide for 10 bird photography tips that you’ll need to know so you don’t get in a flap!
You don’t need a university degree or years of training to become a bird photographer. All you need is the right training – and we’ve 10 magnificent free bird photography tips waiting for you.
There’s no need to invest thousands into a new camera kit just for bird photography. Though with that said, there are certain lenses and accessories that will make it a little easier to capture the best bird shots.
But for beginner bird photographers there’s no need to splash out so quickly. Why don’t you start off taking shots with your phone if that’s all you’ve got? There will be limitations, but you can still take good photos with an iPhone.
With these 10 bird photography tips that are coming up you’ll be able recognise what will make a wonderful bird photo.
With a good understanding and appreciation for your subject you should be able to capture amazing photos wherever you go. And that’s the key – understanding your subject.
While equipment matters in photography, understanding your subject is a skill that will produce better photos expensive camera kit.
You can spend thousands on amazing kit, but if you don’t know how birds interact, when they are active and the behaviour of breeds you’re shooting in the dark.
If you are photographing birds in your garden, then take time to identify the different breeds. Get yourself a bird spotters’ book and learn about the unique characteristics and behaviour.
This will better inform you when to expect them in your garden. Are the morning or night hunters? Are they aggressive to other birds? What do they like to eat? All these answers will better equip you to take amazing bird photographs.
It doesn’t matter if you have a lens as long as your leg if you don’t know how and where to find your quarry.
Don’t get too close to the bird with your camera. They may decide to attack or flee, it if they see you or the camera as a threat. Instead use a zoom lens to keep your distance. Long lenses allow you to sit back and still get close shots.
Zoom lenses between 200-500mm will cover enough ground to get you close shots as well as zooming back for moments of action.
Invest in a fast Mirrorless or DSLR camera and one or more telephoto lenses. We would recommend a camera that can handle at least 1/2000th shutter speed and the ability to shoot 9fps (frames per second) or more in burst mode.
Given the speed that birds move and how erratic that motion can be you need camera that reacts as fast as you.
DSLR or Mirrorless cameras for bird photography need IBIS (in-built image stabilisation) to help minimise camera shake when shooting at pace. Having a great autofocus tracking system is vital too to keep up with the bird’s motion.
While this may seem like a larger financial investment it can just be something to remember for the future for when you want to upgrade.
If you are shooting bird photography handheld keep in mind the reciprocal rule. The rule states that you will need to select a shutter speed that is equal to or a higher value than your lenses focal length.
For example, shooting at 300mm then shutter speed needs to be 1/300th or faster, and 1/500th for lens around 500mm. This will help avoid motion blur in the image.
You’ll need to take into consideration your camera’s crop factor too. If you’re shooting on an APS-C sensor camera then multiply your focal length by the crop factor to get the effective focal length and then adjust your shutter speed accordingly.
If the bird is watching your movements, stop. Wait for them to be distracted before you take another step.
It’s a game of cat and mouse really. Bird photography requires a large amount of time, as a lot of it is spent standing still without your camera in front of your face.
Proceed slowly and watch the bird as your raise the camera to your face. Ideally, have the camera settings you think you need already dialled in before you take the shot.
This means you can start shooting as soon as the bird is settled.
If you are a beginner bird photographer, try to get out of auto mode. Instead, choose to shoot in Aperture Priority and not Shutter Priority mode when photographing birds outdoors. If you are shooting at high shutter speeds, most likely the aperture will be always set to wide open which will always lose some detail in the final image, due the decreasing focus area.
Worst of all, if the lighting conditions change quickly, the image might come out underexposed – and you might miss the opportunity.
Ideally, shoot in manually mode once you are comfortable with your camera. This will give you full control and quickly react to how the bird appears in the photo.
The best time to photograph birds is either during the early morning or late afternoon. Early morning is typically the best for bird photography, because birds are actively looking for food for themselves and their youngsters.
This is different in larger birds of prey though. Typically, owls hunt later in the evening when its easier for them to fly undetected by their prey. It depends on what type of bird you are photographing. Therefore, doing your research really helps.
Aim to wear muted and dark clothes when going outdoor to photograph birds. Try and blend into the environment – throw on a bit of camouflage – if you’ve got it. Bright clothes are a NO! It will instantly make you stand out to a bird.
You can purchase small bird hides from Amazon that you can pop up in your back garden to disguise yourself. These may seem silly but so many professional bird photographers use them to blend into the scene.
If your camera has an AF (auto focus) beep assist (when the camera locks on focus it makes a little noise to signal to the user) then turn it off.
The noise of the shutter will spook the bird so best to take a few shots at distance and more as you close in. Some mirrorless cameras feature a silent mode or leaf shutter which is quiet when firing – perfect!
Always focus on the nearest (to the camera) eye of the bird.
It is acceptable to have a blurred tail or other parts of the bird, but at least one eye always needs to be sharp. For birds in flight, focus on the bird’s head or chest.
Use a small spot focus mode for bird photography. Move the camera so the focus spot is on the bird’s eye, half press down the shutter to lock focus, recompose the shot and shoot immediately.
If the bird moves forwards or backwards after you’ve locked focus, you’ll need to release the shutter button and refocus.
Shoot lots of images, using burst or continuous mode to help you to freeze moments of take-off or shaking water off wings. These actions are fast moving, don’t miss the opportunity.
A camera with an FPS (frames per second) burst mode of 9FPS and faster is really good for bird photography. You may be able to shoot more FPS in JPG format rather than RAW. But the RAW format will carry more data when it comes to editing your photos.
Have you ever dreamt about photographing wild animals in their natural habitats?
• Birds in your Garden
• Dogs in the Park
• Horses in the Fields
• Cats at Home
• Deer in the Forest
Or would you like just to take better photos of elephants at the zoo? You can learn how to photograph all these animals and more in our online wildlife photography course. This course is led by professional wildlife photographer and conservationist Rachel Sinclair.
Find out more about the wildlife photography course here.
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re well on your way to capturing beautiful bird photography. Focus your time and energy on learning all the core principles outlined above.
Prove to yourself that you have the passion to go out and photograph birds every day (or as often as you can).
Remember that proper techniques will always outperform equipment. Make every attempt to create amazing photographs of the common birds. And enjoy yourself! That is the secret to success.