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Photographing birds

Bob Hartmann


Photographing birds can be really frustrating. They never seem to sit still for even just a second, and if you get too close, they’ll just fly away or move quickly.

It may also seem like you always need a longer lens and more patients.

But, luckily, there are a few tips you can use to increase your chances of getting a good bird photo:


1. Photograph them in direct sunlight

Photographing birds in direct sunlight helps for two reasons: it gets you a faster shutter speed and it creates even lighting on the bird. The faster shutter will help you freeze the action of the bird (since they don’t sit still for long), and the even lighting will help you avoid getting those harsh shadows that hide detail in the bird’s feathers. Direct sunlight is sometime a challenge on white birds such as Great Egrets, ibises, and American White Pelicans. Their bright white feathers tend to wash out the image. In these situations it may be best to underexpose your images and correct them later in the editing software of your choice.


2. Wait patiently for them to fly to you

Birds will almost always fly away if you get too close to them, so instead wait for them to come to you. If you wait patiently long enough, then birds will often land just a few feet away from you, once they realize you’re not a threat (and if you stand somewhat still).Towards sunset birds return to their roost. When you find these roosting locations, observe the direction the birds are approaching and move to a vantage point very slowly to get head-on and side on shots.

3. Use your car as a blind

One way to mask your movement from a bird is to use a blind, and your car can be perfect for that. When you’re on your way to a trail head, keep your camera close by just in case you see a bird. Then, just roll down the window and take a few shots. Birds will rarely fly away from a car (unless of course you’re about to hit them!).


4. Enable continuous shooting and take lots of shots

Since birds like to move around so much, it’s helpful to take a lot of shots to ensure you photograph the bird when they’re standing still in a nice pose. Make sure you enable continuous shooting on your camera, so you can rapidly shoot photos.If you camera has auto-focus predictive tracking try it out however continuous-servo AF presents tracking problems.

5. Focus on their eyes

The viewer of your photograph will first look at the eyes of the bird, so it’s important to get the eyes tack sharp. To help you do this, set your camera’s auto-focus point to the center spot. If possible try to get catch lights from the sun in the birds eyes.


6. Avoid sudden movements

Birds have been fleeing human hunters for many millennia and are genetically predisposed take flight when sensing danger. . Birds are very sensitive to your movement, so to avoid scaring them away, don’t make any sudden movements. Even slow and steady movements will often scare them away too, so again, the best thing to do is wait for them to fly to you.


7. Set your lens to auto-focus on farther objects

Most longer lenses have a switch that controls the distance that the auto-focus will search at (near or far). So, with birds, since you’re photographing something far away, make sure this switch is set to focus on far objects. This will speed up your lens’ auto-focus and prevent it from “searching” for something to focus on, which could cost you the shot.

8. Always be ready for a shot

Sometimes the most perfect bird photo opportunities happen at the most random moments, so it’s important to always be ready for a wildlife shot. When you’re hiking on a trail, always keep your telephoto lens on your camera, and have everything set up for a wildlife shot (exposure, aperture, ISO). That way, if a bird just happens to land on a branch right in front of you, you’ll be ready.

If you have any tips of photographing birds, please share. If you passing along any tips, I will publish them here. Please send them to Bob at

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