Introduction to Bird Photography 101

Bird photography is a captivating and rewarding endeavor that allows us to capture the beauty and grace of these avian wonders. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned photographer, there are several steps you can take to enhance your skills and produce stunning bird photographs worthy of showcasing on your wall or entering into prestigious contests. In this chapter, we will guide you through improving your bird photography step by step.

Section 1: Mastering the Basics

1.1. Know Your Gear

Before diving into bird photography, it’s essential to understand your equipment thoroughly. It’s critical to your mission to understand your gear’s capabilities and limitations, whether using a smartphone, a point-and-shoot camera, or a high-end DSLR.

1.2. Study Your Subjects

Take the time to learn about the birds you want to photograph. Understanding their behavior, habitat, and feeding patterns will help you anticipate their movements and get closer to them without causing distress. You cannot take this lightly! The more you know, the better you’ll be! I guarantee it!

1.3. Perfect Your Composition

Compose your shots carefully, considering elements like the rule of thirds, leading lines, and balance. Experiment with different angles and framing techniques to create visually compelling images.

Section 2: Essential Techniques

2.1. Patience and Persistence

Bird photography often requires long hours of waiting and multiple attempts to get the perfect shot. Patience is vital, as is persistence in returning to the exact location and trying again.

2.2. Use the Right Settings

Understanding camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is crucial. Adjust these settings to control exposure, freeze motion, and create the desired depth of field in your images.

2.2.1 Using Manual Mode

Setting up the camera to fully manual mode can be daunting and discouraging. Let your camera help with the settings. Try shooting in Manual with Auto ISO. Your images will be right more often than not.

2.2.2 Shutter Speed – Remember 1, 2, 4

  • 1/1000 for static subjects
  • 1/2000 for windy days, shooting from boats or other hectic conditions
  • 1/4000 for birds in flight or other chaotic movement.

2.2.3 Auto Focus Settings

Start by setting autofocus to continuous. Then, experiment/practice with other group or tracking settings that may be available on your camera.

2.3. Get Close Without Disturbing

Use camouflage, blinds, and slow, deliberate movements to approach birds without scaring them away. Telephoto lenses and cropping can also help you get closer during post-processing.

Section 3: The Art of Lighting

3.1. Golden Hours

Photographing birds during sunrise and sunset golden hours provides soft, warm, and directional light that enhances colors and textures, making your images more appealing.

3.2. Mastering Backlighting

Experiment with backlighting to create silhouettes and rim lighting, which can add drama and depth to your bird photographs.

3.3. Sky

I prefer a cloud full of soft clouds with character over a clear blue sky any day of the week. A pure blue sky is a more colorful gray sky. In other words, it may not produce the results you are looking for!

Cloudy skies also usually mean I can stay out longer for more opportunities for that once-in-a-lifetime shot!

Section 4: Post-Processing Magic

4.1. Raw Editing

Shoot in RAW format to maximize post-processing potential. Adjust exposure, contrast, color, and sharpness to bring out the best in your bird images.

4.2. Selective Editing

Use masking tools like dodging and burning to selectively enhance or darken areas of your photo, drawing the viewer’s attention to the bird and minimizing distractions.

4.3. Experiment With Edits

One thing I notice during group edits is most photographers use the same editing techniques without considering alternatives. You can’t ruin an image with non-destructive editors like Adobe’s Lightroom, but you may find a gem when you play!

Section 5: The Wow Factor

5.1. Unique Perspectives

Experiment with different angles and perspectives to capture birds in an atypical way that will stand out among your peers. Shoot from as close to their eye level as possible, use reflections from a wide-angle lens, or incorporate environmental elements.

5.1. The Sticky Wiki Question

When evaluating your image, ask yourself if your image looks like something from Wikipedia; if so, try another approach.

5.2. Action Shots

Try capturing birds in flight, hunting, or other dynamic activities. These action shots can add excitement and energy to your portfolio.

Section 6: Developing Your Style

6.1. Consistency

Developing a consistent style in your bird photography can help your work stand out. Experiment, but strive for a signature look that separates your images.

6.2. Tell a Story

Create a narrative with your bird photos. Showcase behavior, interactions, or the bird’s environment to engage the viewer’s interest.

Section 7: Sharing Your Work

7.1. Seek Feedback

Share your photographs with fellow photographers and online communities to receive constructive criticism and insights for improvement.

7.2. Enter Contests

Participate in bird photography contests and exhibitions to gain exposure and recognition in the photography community.

Section 8: Putting it All Together


The next step in the process is to practice! You need to be able to breeze through your camera settings without thought. You need to know what settings are best for your shooting style and subjects, which also means practice. 

8.2 Where to Practice

You don’t have to fly off to some exotic hotspot to practice. Your backyard might be your best bet! Try a local park or wetlands. Your city’s water reclamation plant can be productive.

Make friends with a birder! They know where the birds can also help you with your bird knowledge.

Online sites like eBird can lead to local spots that host birds that are interesting to you.

Join a photography workshop! Learning from a pro that has gone through the process is invaluable. Productive Feedback rarely comes from social media or friends and family. A proper workshop instructor can give unbiased Feedback AND show you how to find the issue. You can search for them online or click this link for my workshops!

Let us Wrap This One Up

Improving your bird photography, from capturing simple shots to creating wall-worthy masterpieces, is a journey that requires dedication, practice, and a deep appreciation for these magnificent creatures. By mastering the basics, honing essential techniques, harnessing the power of lighting, perfecting post-processing, and developing your unique style, you can elevate your bird photography to new heights. With patience, persistence, and a passion for storytelling, you’ll be on your way to producing bird images that you can proudly display on your wall and confidently enter prestigious contests.

There are about 398 more things, give or take a few hundred, about bird photography that I could have chatted about. Check back here for future updates. You can also register for my non-spammy emails with another button click. Finally, I answer all the comments left here or on my social media. 

Now stop reading and go practice!