Birds are a majestic and wondrous group of species, capable of inciting awe and emotion wherever they fly. They can be notoriously tricky to capture on camera, though, because of their high speed and their small size. Many birds also have seasonal migratory patterns, so you’ll need to know your stuff if you want a chance of sighting them.
That being said, there’s birding potential to be found wherever you live. Your own garden or local park is a likely haven for bird life, providing a variety of feathered subjects to hone your skills on.
Here, we'll share some general tips for capturing birds big and small (in a range of habitats), while hopefully inspiring you to get out in the field yourself.
As bird photography is a genre that requires specialist kit, make sure you also check out the best lenses for bird photography and wildlife (opens in new tab) and the best professional cameras (opens in new tab).
1. Continuous shooting
When you use a high-speed drive rate, it improves your chances of getting the perfect shot of a speedy bird. The camera will keep firing while the shutter button is held, giving you several frames to choose from. Read more: what are burst modes? (opens in new tab)
2. Continuous focus
AI Servo, or continuous focus on some models, suits most bird photography. With this setting, the camera continues to focus on your subject as you move. It holds focus as long as the focus button is pressed. Read more: what is autofocus? (opens in new tab)
3. Back-button focus
On Canon and Nikon DSLRs (opens in new tab), you can set your camera to focus by using a button on the back of the camera. Focus is controlled with your thumb, and the shutter button is then used purely for taking the picture.
4. Set up your lens
Advanced telephoto lenses have two or three image stabilization modes to choose from, including for panning. Set the right option for the picture you’re taking, and turn the lens to quiet. Read more: what is lens stabilization? (opens in new tab)
5. Use a focus limiter
Some of the best telephoto lenses (opens in new tab) have a focus limiter switch, designed to lock off the closest part of the range and prevent ‘hunting’ while focusing on distant birds. Limit the focus range if your subject is close.
6. Go wide and low
Approach bird profiles as you would any typical wildlife portrait. Focus on the eyes, get down low and shoot with the lens wide open, so that the background and habitat around them slip into a beautiful bokeh blur.
Best trail cameras (opens in new tab)
Best portable hides and camouflage gear (opens in new tab)
Full frame vs cropped sensor for bird photography – which is better? (opens in new tab)
Best teleconverters (opens in new tab)