How To Photograph Birds? Camera Settings and Tips for Bird Photography

Have you heard of Salim Ali? Well, known as the ‘Birdman of India’, he was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist. His landmark creation ‘The Book of Indian Birds’ helped spark popular interest in the birds of India.

One of the popular genres of Nature Photography, Bird Photography requires a lot of patience and determination; it’s both – interesting and challenging.

Bird Photography

For Bird Photography, pay attention to the sound of birds – it will alert you of their arrival. Having sharp eyes will help you spot birds who camouflage/blend with their surroundings. You can photograph resting birds as well as birds in action.

Pro tips for Bird Photography

  • To photograph from a long distance, you need telephoto lens/zoom lens of at least 100 mm; 400 mm is ideal for close-ups and bird photography
  • Set your focus on the eyes of the bird
  • You can buy a bird feeder and attach to your window to attract birds
  • To shoot moving or flying birds, set a Fast Shutter Speed to freeze their action & avoid motion blur; go for 1/1000 sec or higher depending on your subject’s speed
  • You can use the Setting – Continuous Shooting so that you don’t miss out on any action/movement/motion of your subject; also you’ll get multiple shots so that you can pick the best shot – a sharp image
  • A Tripod is highly recommended to avoid camera shake or hold your camera closer to your body to support your arms & elbows for stability or find a surface to support your elbows or lean against a wall
  • Research your subject’s feeding/active time; be quiet & slow while approaching your subject

Well, personally – I prefer to use Aperture Priority mode for bird photography. I use single focus point to set focus on the eye of the bird.

Widest aperture: f/5.6 (in my Canon DSLR 250mm zoom lens), ISO 800 (ISO 1600 if it’s cloudy or less lighting available in the scene). With these settings, more light will enter the camera sensor. To arrive at a correct exposure, camera won’t need more light now, so it will set a fast shutter speed. It’ll be to our advantage as fast shutter speed will freeze the motion/action of the bird.

Fast shutter speed is essential for bird photography since the birds will constantly keep moving and even fly away once it sees you.

Check the below photograph of Fantails bird

Bird Photography
Fantails bird

Camera Settings used: Center-Weighted Metering, Aperture Priority mode: f/5.6, ISO 1600, camera set the shutter speed to fast shutter speed of 1/640 secs that helped in freezing the action of the bird

Zoom lens and widest aperture will create Shallow Depth of Field which means it will blur the background and make the bird stand out in your photograph.

Take a look at the below pictures and Camera Settings that were used to photograph birds. In some cases, post processing was done in Lightroom to adjust exposure (brightness), contrast and sharpness:

Pigeon walking on the roof

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec, ISO 800

Pigeon landing on the roof

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/ 5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/4000 sec, ISO: 800

Black Drongo sitting on the wire  

Camera SettingsAperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/3200 sec, ISO 800

Common Tailorbird resting on the branch of the tree

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec, ISO 800

Kite bird on the lookout for its prey

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1000 sec, ISO 800

Curious Myna looking into my camera

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1000 sec, ISO 800

When the Myna turned its head 180 degrees

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec, ISO 800

Robin singing and posing for me 

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec, ISO 800

Male Kite obeying the orders of his partner

Camera Settings – Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec, ISO 800

Kite bird in Flight

wildlife photography

Stood and took this photo from my window to capture the bird at eye level. Took support of my body to prevent motion blur. Shutter Priority mode is recommended to freeze the motion of birds in flight.

Camera Settings – Shutter Priority mode: Shutter speed:1/2000 secs (to freeze the motion), ISO 800, Aperture F8, Focal length/Telephoto lens: 250mm.

Low Light Wildlife Photography/Bird Photography Settings

If you’re photography a bird in low light (at evenings after 6pm or later or maybe early mornings before 8am) and the bird is constantly moving – you will need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and avoid motion blur.

But fast shutter speed will allow less light to enter the camera sensor that’ll result in an underexposed image. So, for correct exposure – you will have to go for a high ISO and wide aperture. Instead of using very fast shutter speed like 1/1000 sec, you can set your Shutter speed to 1/250 sec or 1/125 sec so that it can freeze the action while allowing more light to enter the camera sensor. (You’ll have to experiment with the shutter speed settings depending upon your lighting conditions and the speed of your subject).

Also use Center-Weighted Metering or Spot Metering so that the subject in focus appears bright.

The below photograph of the constantly moving Red-whiskered Bulbul was shot after 6pm using Center-Weighted Metering and Shutter Speed of 1/125 sec, ISO 1600.

low light wildlife photography

The above photo was processed in Lightroom to enhance it. (Below is the image post processing in Lightroom)

bird photography

We bring you ‘Jo & His Camera’ Comic Strips wherein a Magical Camera gives DSLR photography tutorials to Jo.

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo, the concept  of Bird Photography with the help of practical examples.

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo, how to capture birds in action with the help of practical examples.

When you do photography: Remember the 5E’s – Explore, Experiment, Experience, Enjoy & Express to develop your own style as a photographer.

Do Share The Learning – Like It, Post It, Pin It, Tweet It!

So, what’s your favorite type of photography? Is it Bird Photography?

Did this blog help you with some ideas to improve your bird photography? For more useful photography tips, examples, ideas & inspiration, please subscribe below to receive notifications of new blog posts by email. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.