Stuff Photography Beginners Need to Know When Shooting Birds


1/1250 f8 ISO 400

While I am in Maui, I wrote this helpful post on photographing birds. Each year I offer more information to those just starting out. Photographing birds may look easy but not so without a few tips on setting your camera for the greatest success.

Bird photography is addicting too. It is a continual learning process where each new species and weather condition presents its own set of things to consider. I recently learned a few new things while photographing eagles.


1/1250 f8 ISO 400

The first tip is having the right equipment. If you are just shooting perched birds, most cameras work fine. Photographing eagles I learned just how important having the right equipment is for success.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

If going for fast flying birds, equipment matters.


1/1250 f5.6 ISO 250

And if you shoot raptors, it matters even more.


1/2000 f8 ISO 1000

You need advanced autofocus for both camera and lenses. Otherwise, the camera will not key in on your subject. Vibration Reduction on the lens can be helpful as well. I did not really use it much before I was shooting eagles handheld. It did make for better focused pictures.


1/1250 f5.6 ISO 250

I am working on getting a faster, longer lens, but 300mm and up is a good place to start for many bird subjects. The equipment can often make the difference between getting a shot or not.

Shoot in Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes when first learning to shoot birds in flight. It helps you get the hang of optimal exposure settings. It is also useful for action too. But you will find it does not work for all species of birds equally as well. Speed matters, so make sure the shutter speed is 1/1000 and above depending on the species. Eagles should have 1/2000, but Great Blue Herons can be 1/1000.


1/1000 f9 ISO 320

Find the sweet spot of your lenses. You will have your sharpest image. I use f8 on my telephoto lens because it keeps birds sharp and usually has sufficient DOF.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

Use single point focus to focus on the eye of the bird. If blurry, it throws off the whole image.


1/250 f5.6 ISO 320 Too slow a shutter speed for action shots for a 300mm lens.

Shutter speed should be the equivalent or greater to the focal length of your lens. This is really important and where many make their mistakes. If you have a 400mm like me, make sure the shutter speed is higher than that number. I almost always have it higher for birds in flight, and I even keep it fast when birds are just swimming around, just in case they take off.

Shutter speed can be increased by increasing the ISO. Famous wildlife photographers will increase ISO because they often shoot flying birds early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the prettiest light. Adjusting the exposure compensation down or up works on the fly too. I overexposed the eagles so I could bring up the shadows in their dark plumage. The problem then becomes the white head. It is a balancing act for sure.

When learning, start with plentiful birds like gulls, or with big birds like herons.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

I know this is one of opportunity, but shoot with the sun at your back. When shooting eagles the place was sited perfectly with the sun at our backs. Blue skies are a nice background. Birds tend to take off and land into the wind, so having the wind at your back is also preferable.


1/80 f10 ISO 200 Handheld

Take lots and lots of photos, especially when photographing a bird in flight. Set the camera to Continuous to click off multiple frames per second. The more photos you take, the likelihood of keepers increases.


1/1600 f8 ISO 640

When reviewing your images, delete the ones that you don’t like immediately so you are not revisiting them later.

Don’t be timid, ask for assistance. I learned so much from the helpful pro photographers in Maryland. I changed a few things on my camera settings at their suggestion. But long before shooting eagles, I learned how to photograph birds from a few others, including this famous photographer. I have his books, took his online courses and one day hope to take one of his classes on location. I even spoke to him on the phone. Really nice guy. I wrote this post before he posted his post, but here it is so you can learn from him too. Go see of whom I am speaking.


1/320 f5.6 ISO 320 The shutter speed was just barely enough for the 300mm lens. 1/400 sec. would have been better.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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19 Responses to Stuff Photography Beginners Need to Know When Shooting Birds

  1. Charlotte House says:

    These photos are gorgeous Donna! Hope you arrived safely and will have a wonderful vacation!

  2. Jet Eliot says:

    Aloha Donna. Excellent photos! 🙂

  3. Brian Comeau says:

    You have some really amazing photographs Donna. Very informative article as well.

  4. You photos are magnificent! As you pointed out, photography is a lot of work, and there is so much to learn before you get pictures like these.

  5. aussiebirder says:

    Great pointers Donna, thanks again for sharing, your pics are the proof of the pudding…. stunning!

  6. aussiebirder says:

    Yes, to capture the gleam in the eye of the bird in focus is the birders aim, and so important for a good shot!

  7. Amazing photos. Any tips on a good smaller camera, pocket sized, that could at least take pics of birds in my garden and perhaps close-ups of insects and plants (ferns, fungi, mosses etc)? I can get to within 2-3m of the birds, but my phone camera is not up to the job…

  8. Mike Powell says:

    Lots of good advice and awesome photos in the posting. I definitely need the reminders (and always have to remember to return some of my camera settings to a more neutral position when I have shot a particular subject).

  9. Those are great tips. Thanks for saying that sometimes equipment matters. You can’t get a shot of a bird in the sky without a long lens.

  10. Brilliant photos and helpful hints. I am looking at selling my engagement ring to get a better camera. 😀

  11. Sue Link The Northern New York Gardenerh says:

    There is so much information in here that I’m sure I’ll refer to it several times. And you’re photos are awesome. Thanks for all the tips.

  12. This is my favourite post this week Donna! I particularly like, and appreciate, that you included settings for the duck sitting on sparkling ice. I’m always trying to capture sparkles in ice or sunlight twinkles on water, so this is very helpful. I have a standard kit lens and a zoom lens (which I don’t use much), do you find different manual settings are needed for different lenses?

  13. Ah yes, the right equipment! And remembering to take along the right equipment when you go for a hike. 😉 Although, even with the right equipment, I won’t even begin to be able to photograph birds in flight this well! And so, I will be content to visit your blog for the best bird photos around. Honestly, you are the best bird photographer I know. I hope you’re enjoying the islands!

  14. Definitely need the right equipment which is not the P510 as I have found…but I can still catch some birds sitting close up and that will do for now. And like Beth will be content to see your amazing shots here.

  15. I’m embarrassed to say I’m still at the ‘perched birds’ stage, Donna, as you can see by my latest posting. I have the right equipment, but need the confidence to use it. Your advice helps. Wish me luck! P. x

  16. Amazing, amazing pictures. Forwarding this to Judy. She has a new zoom lens with vibration reduction but not sure about the advanced focus.

  17. debsgarden says:

    Lots of great information! You always spur me on to learn more about how to my camera !

  18. alesiablogs says:

    I did not comment on this post…WHAT? Why didn’t i? I think I know why! It was too hard for me to follow…..I understand it a little more now. Thanks for your patience with me and truly teaching me at my snail pace.

  19. lorieb says:

    amazing photography, thanks for the tips

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