Friday, June 21, 2013

Professional Grade Bird Photography – Tips From a Photo Pro

Birds are beautiful animals, especially when in their natural habitats. I see many great photos on other blogs of all types of birds and have even tried my hand at capturing a few of them on camera myself. Of course, I'm no pro. For those who really want to take bird photography to the next level, here are some tips on bird photography from a professional photographer. 

Photo by Patrik Panda

While bird photography and bird watching is a hobby for many, serious bird photography has many aspects that you must take care of to produce useful images. Birds are a subject suiting fine art best, but bird images are also in good demand for commercial purposes if you’re looking to possibly sell your images. Here is a checklist to keep in mind when photographing birds to get technically perfect shots:

  1. Recommended “default” settings: You really need a set of default settings that work most of the time. This ensures that you spend a minimum amount of time setting the camera up. I prefer having a 400mm lens attached open to maximum aperture (lowest f-stop). While some people prefer Tv (time value mode), I prefer Av (aperture value). It depends on your habit. ISO should be 400 for normal daylight photos. Multiple shots mode should be set with a centr- weighed average metering mode (most effective with backlit subjects).
  2. Deciding shutter speeds: Shutter speed is critical when photographing birds. Here’s a breakdown of recommended shutter speeds for specific situations.                             -Perched birds (medium or big birds)  – 1/100 or faster
    - Perched birds (very small birds) - 1/250 or faster
    - Birds in flight  (big birds) - 1/1000 or faster to freeze wing tips
    - Birds in flight  (big birds) - 1/250 for blurred wings
    - Birds in flight  (small birds) - 1/2000 or faster to be on the safe side         
  3. Deciding aperture values: Aperture value is simple to decide – set the widest aperture (smallest f-number) available on your lens. f/11 or f/5.6 wouldn’t really make much difference in depth of field when shooting at 800mm. But they sure would make a huge difference in the shutter speed available. Your first priority should be to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed. Second priority is setting the lowest ISO speed possible for that shutter speed. Last priority is adjusting the aperture to suit the other two settings.
  4.  Setting exposure compensation: Assuming that you are shooting with evaluative metering (entire scene based exposure), you will need to step up EV by +2/3 or sometimes even +2 stops if you have a dark bird against a bright background. For birds with bright white feathers, set EV to -1/3 or -2/3 to avoid overexposing the whites. EV settings will be necessary when photographing on a cloudy day. On brightly sunlit days, setting EV at 0 works best on all subjects types.
  5. Additional equipment: There is a range of accessories available to help you with bird photography. Teleconverters help you multiply your lens focal length to achieve a longer focal length and hence better magnification. Beamers can be used to illuminate long distance subjects when ambient light isn’t sufficient.
  6.  Focusing methods:  Focusing birds in flight is very difficult if you aren’t experienced with flight photography. Set your camera to tracking or servo AF mode and enable all focus points when shooting birds in flight. The more cross type AF points you have, greater are the chances of getting a proper focus. Birds flying towards the camera are hardest for the AF to track. Those flying past the camera are easiest to focus. For perched birds, it is best to have the center AF point enabled, lock the focus on the eye of the bird, recompose and shoot.
  7. Lenses you should use:  I think that a 100-400mm zoom lens with a 2x teleconverter is the most flexible for bird photography. On an APS-C crop sensor, it is the best option to have. It is also extremely important to have IS on your telephoto lens so that you can shoot handheld. An ultrasonic or hypersonic focus motor also helps enhance focusing speed.
  8. Getting steady shots:  Remember to switch off image stabilization features of your lens when shooting on a tripod. That makes sure you get extremely sharp images. Your posture is also very important while shooting handheld with long lenses.

These are some of the basic points that should always be on your mind when you are out in the field photographing birds. Post processing is an art too, but it is impossible to achieve professional results unless you have technically sound shots to begin with. Good luck and have fun!

Photo by Patrik Panda
      About the Author: Patrik Panda is a professional stock photographer who contributes regularly to Dreamstime, a leader in stock photos and images since 2000. You can view and download bird stock photos from Patrik’s portfolio by visiting:


  1. Some of our Blogville pals are keen bird watchers and take great pictures. Maybe we should give it a go? Thanks for the tips. Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Oh we are crap at taking photo's LOL we could have the most expensive gear and it would still come out rubbish :) Have a wonderful weekend xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  3. Oh my! Maybe if I had more free time to digest those great tips, I could follow them! LOL. Great post!

  4. it take patience to take photos' like that and time and I'm lacking in both after everything else I do...hehehe oh well never mind,xx

  5. Great tips - our photos are always more "moderate" in quality - THANKS

  6. ok then, how bout if we pree tend we dinna see thiz post N just say hope everee one haza grate week oh end !!


    1. Hey kitties - this could come in handy for spying on the enemy! ;)

  7. Now that was impressive butmI think we need more practice...and more birds!

  8. When you talk about apertures and shutter speeds, I just glaze over. I so admire the pros. Love watching birds, though Austin prefers eating them!

  9. Whoa! When did you start writing your blog in Greek? TW worked in an art department once and learned all that stuff only she has no idea what those terms are.

  10. Great advice. I am still learning my camera.

  11. Great tips. We have a nice camera but mummy only has it on the auto setting as she doesn't know it works bol

  12. We have to learn one thing: patience... Thanks for the tips Ann :)

  13. very helpful, hopefully the photos that I take will be great


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