Bird Photography

Wherever you live, you can enjoy bird photography – whether it’s a small songbird on a perch or fantastic falcon flight shots. If you don’t have a national geographic budget to spend on blinds and camouflage gear, there’s still plenty of field craft to get you closer to birds.

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If you’re anything like me you may have received a not so subtle message from family that you’re out photographing birds all the time – why not have the birds come to you in your own backyard?

You’ll find that every bird photograph you take is always different, whether it’s a new bird, a new behaviour, or a new environment that you haven’t photographed them in before.

It’s easy to take a technically correct shot of a bird but something else to turn it into a work of art.
By reading and  acting on the advice below, you can do this!

Photographing birds is challenging because…


  • They’re usually moving, rarely stay still and when they do it’s never for long.
  • They’re shy and difficult to approach.
  • If you’re not close enough then the bird is too small in the picture.
  • Too close and they fly away!


So, where do you start?


Equipment you’ll need to get started

When I first started in Bird Photography I bought a Canon 350D DSLR camera and a cheap zoom lens – both bought second hand for under $500.

Sure, I eventually bought better cameras and better lenses, but this was enough to ignite my passion and provide me with years of thorough enjoyment of nature and bird photography.

To get started you’ll just need a decent camera body and lens. You can buy plenty of other equipment but this is all you really need to get started.

Click here for a detailed discussion of bird photography equipment.


The direction and type of light that is shining onto the bird you’re photographing can make or break your image!

Its important that you make sure you appreciate the different types of light otherwise you could easily be missing a trick:

Front lighting for clarity.

Side lighting for drama.

And my personal favourite – back lighting for beautiful Silhouettes.


There are a number of things that make this shot of a grey heron a well composed shot.

Canon 1D Mk II, Canon 400mm f/5.6 L, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO-400


In an ideal world, the heron would have been looking to the right into the space but you can’t have everything. To move the viewfinder to the left would have introduced a distracting branch in the water. Sometimes it’s about compromise.


Tack Sharp Shots

When you’ve mastered the basics covered above its essential to learn how to take tack sharp well-focused shots. When you can take a photo of a bird with pin sharp focus on the eye, it goes a long way towards getting a shot that will impress.

Click here to discover the exact steps to shoot with pin sharp focus.

Birds in Flight

Birds In Flight


Flock of Waxwings taken during the beautiful golden light at sunrise. Exposure: 1/1250s at f/8, ISO 50, Focal Length: 500mm, Lens: Canon EF500mm f/4 IS USM, Camera: Canon EOS 1D mkII

Many photography skills will need to come together at the same time, so take a look at our birds in flight section and you’ll soon have some great images of them framed and hanging on your wall.

Field Craft

OK, so you know how to take the picture but where and when do you take it?

Good field craft skills will help you to get closer to wild birds. There are three ways to get close to birds …

  1. Attract them.
  2. Stalk them.
  3. Hiding from them.

I use all three methods all of the time. If you don’t know where to go to find them or don’t know how they behave then you won’t get a good shot.






Basics of Bird Photography

It doesn’t matter whether you have budget equipment or the top DSLRs and lenses, you can master the basics of bird photography.

What are the basics?

Take a look at the photos below and see if you can identify the two common features, then click here to discover the two basics of bird photography that every photographer should know.

Smew showing the eye brought to life with a catchlight. The smew is the smallest sawbill duck – the bill has a serrated edge to help it catch and hold invertebrates and fish.


If you build it, backyard birds will come…

You don’t have to travel far to do bird photography. Sometimes nothing beats a nice cup of coffee whilst photographing birds in your backyard. Put out food for birds and attract them to you. Setup some natural perches with clean backgrounds. It’s also very good practice for when you’re out photographing some of the more exotic birds further afield.

This blue tit is waiting for its turn to feed. The perch is put there with the food out of shot and nothing behind to appear in the background.

Canon 1D Mk II, Canon 500mm f/4 IS L + Canon 1.4x extender, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO-400


To see more woodpecker images check out photographing birds in your back yard.

For many birds the only way to get close enough is use a hide or blind. This kingfisher is an example.

Getting close

Canon 1D Mk II, Canon 500mm f/4 IS L, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO-500

The longer you can sit in a blind the more you will see and be able to photograph. Blinds can be semi-permanent like a small wooden building. They can also be portable pop ups that can be setup in a few seconds. An overlooked mobile blind is your car. A bean bag on the window sill and you can point a lens out the window (not while driving I should add)!I photographed these mute swans on a misty sunrise from my car window

Canon 1D Mk II, Canon 500mm f/4 IS L, f/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO-400

Bird Photography Ethics

Take Only Photographs … Leave Only Footprints“.

“Birds were flying from continent to continent long before we were. They reached the coldest place on Earth, Antarctica, long before we did. They can survive in the hottest of deserts. Some can remain on the wing for years at a time. They can girdle the globe.

Now, we have taken over the earth and the sea and the sky, but with skill and care and knowledge, we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety — if we want to… And surely, we should.”

— David Attenborough

Related Articles

Did you enjoy this page about bird photography? Then check out the following related articles:

Basics of Bird Photography

Taking sharp, well exposed photographs of birds

Lighting, Composition and Exposure – Discover how to make the best use of lighting, achieve perfect composition and expose your images correctly on this page of bird photography tips.

Photographing Birds in Flight is one of the most challenging parts of wildlife photography. Here you will discover everything you need to know to take stunning flight shots of birds – how to focus and expose correctly, what makes good composition, how birds behave in flight and the importance of wing position.

Field Craft – No matter how big a lens you have, you will always need to get closer! Discover exactly how to do this.

Photographing birds in your back yard– A great way to get some amazing shots of wild birds!