Birds can be difficult to capture on film. They’re jittery, they’re busy, and they can flap away instantly just as your thumb reaches the shutter. But don’t worry, it’s not an impossible task, and with the right tools and tips, you can learn to capture your own incredible photos. Check out our camera guide below, then read on to learn our top 6 tips for taking stunning bird pictures.
If you’re starting out, don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Most smartphones have excellent cameras now, which means you may not need to fork over any extra money to get started. But that’s not to say having a high-tech camera isn’t rewarding, and you can certainly get some jaw-dropping stills on a good device.
For bird photography, the most important things to consider are the f-stop functionality and ISO speed of the camera. F-stop is the focal ratio. Without going into too much detail, just keep in mind that the lower the number, the more focus and detail you’ll get from your pictures. The larger the number, the more depth of field you’ll get. For birding, you don’t need an incredibly small f-stop. Most cameras have an f-stop range, so you’ll probably want to aim for something in the mid- to higher-range. ISO speed is the camera’s sensitivity to light. You’ll want to use a lower number for environments with a lot of light, and a higher number for low light (though keep in mind you can get grainy images from too much ISO speed). For ease of bird-capturing, however, a camera with Auto Focus is a godsend.
For a great birding camera, we recommend the Sony Cyber‑Shot RX10 IV. With amazing high-def at 20.1 MP, an Auto Focus speed of 0.03 seconds, an f-stop of f2.4 to f4, as well as a continuous shooting feature, you’ll have everything you need. The price is in the mid-range for quality digital cameras, but it’s well worth the price.
Another way to get great pictures of birds is to keep your distance. You’ll get more natural pictures, and you won’t have to worry about spooking your subject. You can achieve this through the art of digiscoping, a practice in which you mount a camera or smart phone to a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to take magnified pictures. If you don’t own good binoculars or a spotting scope, check out our articles on How to Choose A Pair of Binoculars You’ll Love and How to Choose a Spotting Scope You’ll Love. Then all you’ll need is a good digiscoping mount. we recommend the Gosky Spotting Scope Phone Adapter Mount. It’s billed as a spotting scope mount, but you can use it with most other optics as well.
You’ve read our recommendations about cameras, now it’s time to get snapping. Photography requires some patience and perseverance, but if you follow our 6 tips below, you’ll get a perfect photo every time.
This is the most important step, which is why we’ve got it at the top. Decide what your subject is going to be, find an angle that isolates the subject (keeping any inessential elements out of the frame), and make sure you’ve got a clear shot. Isolating your subject can be a challenge in nature, but if you can find a way to home in on it by itself, you’ll get a better photograph.
Ever notice how the most stunning bird photographs have a clear picture of the bird’s eye? It’s human nature for the brain to seek out the eye first, so if you have a blurry eye, the entire photo feels diminished. Seek out that subtle glint, also known as catch light, in the bird’s eye, then use your focus feature to make that your focal point.
Just kidding. But if you want to get the best photos, you’ll need to learn how to anticipate a bird’s behavior. This is a little like being a psychic, and a lot like being intuitive and understanding bird behavior. Birds move a lot, but this can be to your benefit if you want to capture the perfect in-flight photo. Some cameras even have a continuous shot feature, which can help you nab the perfect posture as the bird is soaring.
If you run into the woods and start chasing birds with your camera, chances are you’ll wind up with a bunch of bird butt shots. While this might be adorable at times, if you want great shots you need to let the birds come to you. Find a spot heavy with bird activity (this could be in your backyard, if you have it set up right), and set up a temporary camp. Be patient and wait for them to behave naturally. Eventually they’ll move close enough for you to get the perfect shot.
Most birds love the half-light of sunrise and sunset. It’s when they’re most active (see our article The Best Time for Bird Watching for more information). It’s also a pristine time to capture great photos. Color saturation is high around these times of the day, which makes for the perfect palette for your pictures. But no matter when you choose to photograph, keeping an eye on the lighting will make all the difference in your image quality. Look for angles in which the sun isn’t directly spotlighting your subject to get more natural highlighting effects and try to avoid photographing in complete shade.
Consider complimentary colors when you’re choosing which angle to use as a backdrop behind your subject. A green bird will look washed out in a background of lush green leaves. A bird with stark colors could look stunning against a backdrop of water or bare blue sky. A red bird will pop out against granite or light-colored wood. Take a moment to think about how the background will influence the sharpness of your subject before you shoot. Then remember to avoid too much business in the background that will deter your viewer from focusing on the bird.
It takes practice and hard work to become a great photographer, not plain talent. Keep snapping photos to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work, and before long you’ll be shipping your prints off to have them mounted on canvas. The world of birds is rich and photographing them can bring endless years of rewarding work into your life. Good luck out there!
Here’s some birding gear we’ve reviewed:
Bird Watching For Beginners: 11 Tips to Get Started
How To Choose a Pair of Binoculars You’ll Love
How To Clean Your Binoculars: 5 Quick Steps
The 10 Best Birding Places to Experience Before You Die
The Best Time For Bird-Watching: Using Daylight & Seasons to Optimize Your Sightings
How Do Binoculars Work? Explained
The 20 Best Birding Blogs of 2019 That You Should Follow
Spotting Scope vs Binoculars: Which To Choose?