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Follow these 6 easy steps for better bird photography

puffin portrait
(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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).

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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)

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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)

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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.

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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)

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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.

Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)

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.

Read more

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Lauren Scott
Managing Editor

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.