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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 14 of 22



The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 14 of 22



Lesson Info


and the first thing I would like to cover is bird behavior because we referred to death from time to time. But now I'd like to plunge into that a little bit more detail. So let's start looking at some pictures and then all the tell you the stories to match with that. And I remember some comments coming from the audience early around about how I pray situations in the field. And indeed, I try to study the birds before I go off and photograph them. You know, I read a lot of specific books, scientific publications and books that are more generally oriented, and I actually study bird behavior field guides, and that'll help me understand the kind of things that otherwise look really mysterious when they happen in front of you. But here's some universal things that birds do. Every bird greens, you know. They got their plume, it's they've got to keep it intact, and then birds come out of the water. You know, they spend half on our show, making sure that the plumage is intact, and that means t...

hat you can focus on particular body positions back to those emperor penguins that I showed before. It's not just a parent doing that, but then humorous. Yeah. Ironically, the baby is doing exactly the same thing. So I have a double pattern there Birds court. And that is when I would like to come back to the importance of studying bird behavior in field guides or in specific books. Because if you know how birch interact with each other in the in the course of courtship, then you have a whole template of possibilities. Now it's really spectacular. In the case of frigate birds, the over males balloon themselves out that these throats acts and then another female will come over and check him out. So you have the opportunity to see him. But you also have the opportunity to anticipate her reaction to him. This is in Galapagos, one more pair of albatrosses. I'm really funded. Those big seabirds albatrosses have a spectacular courtship display, and it involves a very rapid back and forth between males and females, and at a certain points, they clap their bills at each other and already know death. When that happens, I need to be in a certain position. I want to be perpendicular to the birds, so that both male on the right and female on the left are bit in my same depth of field, bit of relatively white open aperture, and you want to have enough space to capture both of them. In the same view, we're still in Galapagos. Galapagos is really a bird haven. That's why we went there together with my colleagues. Tom Angles in an art wolf will tell you more about that. Later on. There's a payment in the Galapagos Silence, the Onley penguin that occurs in warm tropical waters, and they have a courtship ritual as well. And I know when that male starts hovering over two female that they're getting pretty serious about it. And indeed, next thing you know, they're on top of each other. So that's very specific behavior that I'm clued into that help me anticipate the photographic opportunities. But here's something a little bit more general. When you see a birds perched on a branch guaranteed, that's gonna luring other birds. So that gave me the idea to photograph these beaters on the branch in a wide enough setting so that then another bird flu in I would have enough space to accommodate another birdie my composition, and that's exactly what I did with these puffins as well. I talked with you about puffins before I pointed out that there certain rocks in a colony that they like to come down, and that's exactly what this one bird is doing. So I had pre composed for Birch sitting on the rock, one at the bottom, giving a sense of the ocean, which is their true habitat. And then it's just a matter of waiting for another bird to land. And, of course, as we talked about before, birds like the land into the wind. So you know how he's gonna face. So I'm up wind from that one puffin landing there, and I figured everything out beforehand. And then I let the bird complete the composition for me. Corman's fishing, you know, they like to catch their fish. Here we are in the Pantanal in Brazil on you know that after a Corman catches a fish, which is typically, um, you're caught underwater that they surface and then they swing the bird around because they've on a gulp it yo with defense and the bones sticking backwards. So they're reached that moment and the birds surfaces that efficient its mouth. When you can anticipate this kind of action, let me extend this into more of a sequence on to give you another sense of how I look at birds in the context of their environment. You heard me talk about that as we are doing our thing in the in the collusive National Wildlife Refuge, but for stealing Galapagos, there's a single flamingo there. I see it in a distance, and I capture it that in its environment. But I'm already beginning the look for the kind of body postures that are really interesting. There's this with the perfect reflection of the bird and the habitat as it's swinging. It's Bill side to side because that's what flamingos do for a living. Periodically, the head is lifted out of the water. This is a classic flamingo portrait, but because I was watching that bird for quite a while as it was approaching us, I ended up liking this situation the best, because this is a little bit for turd and just a conventional portrait. Release yourself from the fact that this is a flamingo foraging look at it as a composition. Look at it as a shape, and now we have one shape that starts with the reflection and extends into the bird, and it goes out there. And then you have that one leg kind of connecting with the reflection. So it's an abstract composition enabled by a bird and a reflection, so that extends into this image as well. This is a bunch of guinea fowl who are coming to drink out of water hole in Botswana. It's not about the whole birch anymore. It is about the patterns of the birds, which is, you know, amplified by seeing more than one individual and one more example of a duplication of a pattern very in Botswana. Still, there's a bird called a Blackie grit, also referred to as a black hair, and that has a peculiar fishing technique. It likes to create a compound video, but in its own spread wings, and apparently that makes little fish come up to. The surface suddenly becomes darker, the fish, like the lurk in the shadows and they come up to the surface. Then and then the bird fishes within a compound of its own wings. Now, when you know that behavior and you see the bird approach. You can anticipate that and be ready to capture it when it happens. This is not about the birth. This is again in abstract pattern. A bird with no head, if you will, and then to top it off while nor seen from the Galapagos Islands. This is a black, a blue footed booby on its nest, and it's spreading the guano quite generously as it rotates around the nest and you get a perfect circle. But this is not what you see as you're walking past the bird because you're too close to the bird itself. What I ended up doing was putting my camera on Amman a pot and then putting it on self timer and then slowly raising it said. I got Mawr oven aerial view of the birth. And of course, you want to do that carefully. You do not want to disturb the bird. Those are some examples of how I interpret bird behavior. Let's go back to our field trip setting and see what happens when we are going around, not collusive. This time. There's another wildlife refuge there called the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and we're finding some new things that we hadn't spotted before in Colusa. So let's go watch the video. We are in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California, where more than a 1,000,000 birds passed through every year. Their migratory waterfowl that come from places as far away a Siberia to overwinter in the mild better of California. I first came here almost 40 years ago, and I could not believe my eyes. There are so many birds here, and it is such a testimonial to div italics I, e of wildlife will North America that I became a fan forever. We just entered the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. There's half a dozen units in this system, and every one of these refugees has something different to offer. I haven't been here in a couple of days, so I'm curious to see where the birds are. Okay, I'm gonna turn right again to give Candice a better view, all right? Really? Oh, bold eagle. That's why Dem is exciting. A bald eagle flew by and flushed to snow geese to duck to their go to ducks again. Who? A little bit of actionable of a sudden, huh? Yeah. Okay. When every position, the car, so we get a better look at those snow bees that are flying over snow geese air coming out of the water to forage on the new grass in that field. They need to fatten up there getting ready to migrate north. And they need the energy. Sometimes you just sit there and watch and the other pictures will come some other time. Okay? You're going to go. Uh, I was just thinking, this situation isn't good enough to photograph, and then they all took off straight towards us. Now, let's hope that they come back and settle back in the same spot. You can't take anything for granted. That's what I learned from this. And you always have to be prepared to act. So be ready. Check the settings on your camera and make sure that you're not keeping them in the same setting as for your last shot. But in anticipate what may happen next. This is promising. Oh, look on the right to boy. Even better snow geese on the left and snow. He's on the right. What's the better situation to photograph right now? On the right hand side, the birds are illuminated by the sun from the front a bright white on the other side. It's more like a backlit situation. So the front of the snow geese are reflecting the blue of the sky, and we're seeing a little bit of a rim light on them. And that's actually more interesting, at least to my eye right now. The birds were taken off just a minute ago, so let's learn a lesson from that. Let's let's get ready just in case they do that again, OK, Que? Watch it, watch it, watch it. You're there to go. There they go. This time I think I got it just in time. Now let's go over to the other side. Because most of them are resettling in the other pump birch of wrestlers. I think they're gonna could go again. Okay, there you go. Knowing a place and what to expect and what to look for in different kinds of light is a really valuable principle. That's why I like to come back to the same place time and again. You may not get everything the first time, but you start building up a memory bank of possible shots and then you can apply them and the conditions are right. I like capturing the beauty of birds, but it's just it's important to me to show that birds are not living there by themselves, that they live in modified landscapes. And this is a perfect illustration of that idea. We've got thick rain silos behind the Snuggies that they're ready to migrate north, and I'm aiming. Ah, long lens, Adam. There's an opportunity is wide open, and that gives me a blurred foreground. Then I've got a second layer of blue water and then the snow geese and then a field. And then the composition culminates in those grain silos. Got it? This refuge attracts hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese, but they, in turn attract virtue of prey. Eagles and hawks there are looking for opportunities, and that, in turn, gives us opportunities to photograph them. I think we have another opportunity here. 00 he's calling his calling. Do you not tell? Yeah, that's okay. He's calling for another eagle. So we better be quick. So now I'm going back to that pick 200 or 400 switching it. Switching the extender on show. Now, toe. Here we go. Here we go. she is throwing his head back and calling. So this needs to be another vertical I'm not. That's close, is I would like to be. So instead of making the most of the treaty sitting in, Yeah, going for a very fast shutter speed now of a second F seven. Yeah, calling again. So there's a number of ways in which you can composed this. I'm going for a vertical composition to make the most of the diagonal shapes of all these branches. The other way is to compose it to eagle at the bottom of your frame, but I like it better than he's in the top. It just seems more appropriate. He's sitting in a big tree and the looking up at him that at. So I'm gonna increase my margin and I'm going for 3000 of a second. Come on, Mr Eagles, could you call your friends on my time? Mm. Many photographers tend to want to get closer and closer, and when they do portrait's, they're not happy unless the bird is filling the frame. But they're more artistic ways to capture birds in their environment. So you back off a little bit and you make the most use of the treat you're sitting in, and then it becomes a more artistic statement. And that's what we're trying to do here. That Eagle shape is so strong and that Whitehead is so distinctive that you don't have to be super close to make a statement that this is a bold eagle. Yeah, there are a couple things going on in his previous video. You know, there were some unanticipated things happening, and I pointed out that it's really good to have settings that enable you to quickly capture the action of Birch taken off in flight. I pointed out that when you have a subject like a bold eagle, which has been photographed many, many times before, that instead of replicating the same portrait of a Neagle close up that you can start to think of how to incorporated within the landscape. So we'll talk more about that. And I also mentioned the fact that this is not a pristine situation. You know that wildlife refuges chockablock full of birds, but it is surrounded by farmland. Sacramento Valley is really largely a farm landscape. It used to be a giant flat land But now there's half a dozen refugees that have to accommodate these millions of birds. And that's actually a pretty the pressing situation when you think about it. And it's only because the U. S Fish and Wildlife Service and all its dedicated people in there careful management of these refugees that they're still as many birds as the half today. And I just want to thank here on the record people of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for taking care of the birds and also for allowing us to operate there. And I'll just make one more personal comment about that river dare during the time of the government shutdown. And even though these people were laid off and they were not getting paid, they were still showing up a six oclock in the morning. So thank you guys appreciate it.

Class Description


  • Photograph birds in a variety of scenarios

  • Understand bird behavior to get closer to birds

  • Build the ideal gar kit for photographing birds

  • Set the proper shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for birds

  • Know where to find birds to photograph

  • Capture birds in different types of light

  • Develop a better eye for bird photography


Love birds, but can't quite capture their colorful personality on camera? Join nature photographer Frans Lanting on a journey in start-to-finish bird photography. Master photography basics for photographing birds, from the best camera settings to tactics for getting up close and personal to different bird species.

With a mix of on-site shooting and in-class lectures, learn the ins and outs of bird photography. Build the skills to operate a camera and long lens as well as an understanding of basic bird behavior. Learn to capture more than the boring, obvious photo and dive into categories like bird portraiture, flying birds, flocks of birds, and detailed close-ups for your best bird photos yet.

Whether you are a beginner or intermediate bird photographer, craft better photos of birds with tips and insight from a National Geographic photographer with three decades of experience capturing wildlife across the globe.


  • Beginners new to bird photography

  • Intermediate bird photographers

  • Experienced photographers new to capturing birds

  • Beginner wildlife photographers


Frans Lanting has spent more than three decades traveling the world capturing nature and wildlife. For the wildlife photographer, birds often capture his attention, from penguins and endangered species to birds common to North America. Frans worked as a photographer-in-residence with National Geographic, a position that opened rare opportunities for photographing little known species. His nature photography has also appeared in his own books and exhibitions. Born in the Netherlands, he moved to the U.S. to study environmental planning before embarking on his photography career.


  1. Introduction

    See how Frans went from a boring bird snapshot to intimate images of birds. Meet the instructor and learn what to expect during the course, including an overview of the different types of bird photography from flying birds to close-ups of feathered friends.

  2. Introduction to Location Shoot

    Jump right into the on-site lessons with this quick intro lesson. Learn the three essentials you need to photograph birds.

  3. Camera and Lenses

    Getting up close to birds often requires long lenses and heavy tripods to stabilize them -- but other shots are better with a wide angle lens. See the best lenses for photographing birds, like the 600mm focal length or a 180-400mm super telephoto lens. Find handy accessories for when you can't hand-hold that long lens. Learn about camera gear from telephoto converters to tripods in this lesson, from high-end pro gear to more budget-friendly alternatives

  4. DSLR vs Mirrorless

    Frans shoots with Nikon, but says brand isn't the biggest thing to consider when working with gear. And while DSLRs may be the more traditional option, mirrorless has some perks too, like the smaller size. Weigh the pros and cons of both systems in this lesson.

  5. Field Trip 1

    Visit a national wildlife refuge with Frans and go behind the scenes with a professional bird photographer. Gain bird photography tips from choosing an ISO and using aperture to control the depth of field. See the process from evaluating the gear to seeing the composition.

  6. Getting Close To Birds

    Some birds aren't skittish around people, but most of the time, wild birds are cautious around people. Master strategies to get close to the birds for better photos, from blending with the surroundings to using a blind.

  7. Camera Settings

    Nail the camera settings for bird photography, from the file settings to metering and frame rate or burst mode. Understand the modes on the camera, like aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual mode.

  8. Settings For Creativity

    Pinpoint the best shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for capturing images of birds. Learn creative techniques to freeze birds in flight with a fast shutter for sharp images or at slow speeds to create creative blur. Work with aperture to control depth of field. Then, pick up creative techniques for composition.

  9. Point of View

    While the bird may be the star of the photograph, the background and foreground matter too. In this lesson, Frans explains how to use perspective to go from snapshots to great bird photos that draw the eye.

  10. Bird Portraits

    Bird photography is a subset of wildlife photography, but treat the genre like a portrait, and you'll capture stunning images that stand out. In this lesson, Frans explains how to create an intimate bird portrait by considering perspective, background, and more.

  11. Birds in Flocks

    While a portrait of a single bird is stunning, flocks of birds create excellent photo opportunities too. In this on-site lesson, learn to look for patterns created by groups of birds.

  12. Birds in Flight

    Capturing flying birds is much different than photographing birds at rest. Learn where to set your exposure settings to capture birds in flight. Gain tips on capturing birds in action as Frans continues the shoot at the wildlife preserve.

  13. Field Trip 2

    After the morning shoot, return back to the wildlife refuge in the late afternoon for more opportunities to capture birds. In this behind-the-scenes video, gain additional insight from exposure to composition. Gain specifics like learning how to properly expose white birds like the egret.

  14. Behavior

    A bird photographer that doesn't understand bird behavior is like a sports photographer that doesn't understand the rules of the game. Dive into bird behavior basics to help you better anticipate the bird's actions and how they interact with other birds.

  15. Birds in Landscapes

    Opposite of the bird portrait, bird landscapes show the bird in its natural environment to tell a story. Find inspiration from Frans' images and tips for including the landscape in bird photography. Gain insight from questions from students like you, including tips for photographing elusive bald eagles and other endangered birds.

  16. Field Trip at Sunset

    Take a final field trip back to the refuge at the end of the day. Build the skills to work with limited light at different angles. Work with tricky scenarios, such as high-contrast scenes.

  17. Impressions

    Using a slow shutter speed on birds in flight creates a look similar to an impressionist painting. In this lesson, Frans shares tips for getting that look and finding a shutter speed that's just right.

  18. Qualities of Light

    In this quick primer, Frans explains how different types of light influences bird photography. Learn to work with backlight, front light, sidelight, flat light, and spotlight and the different looks the types of light create.

  19. Birds as Designs

    Continuing the dive beyond the obvious bird photo, learn how to spot the designs created by birds. Develop an eye for bird patterns, using close-ups and beyond.

  20. Birds and People

    Mixing birds and people in the same shot helps create a sense of scale or tell a story. Learn how to mix people and birds, like how Frans used photography to tell a story about birds and plastic pollution.

  21. Locations

    Where do you find birds to photograph? In this lesson, learn where to find hotspots to photograph birds. You don't even have to go far -- something as simple as a bird feeder in your backyard can create plenty of photo opportunities. Then, gain insight into travel bird photography.

  22. Student Critique

    Gain specific tips to improve your bird photography using Frans' critiques of work from students like you. Build an eye for better photographs by learning to see potential improvements, both that you could make as you shoot and adjustments in post-processing.


Carl Bergstrom

I was privileged to be in the studio audience for Frans Lanting's Art of Photographing Birds course, and it was amazing. The morning was a perfectly pitched lesson on the technical aspects of bird photography, intermixed with Frans's own photographs and excellent videos of him working in the field. The afternoon focused more on bird behavior, composition, and artistry, and was even more delightful. If you know Lanting's photography you already know about his ability to find unusual perspectives on the world. What really shone through in the class was his love for wildlife and especially for birds. His knowledge of natural history is as amazing as his photography, and I loved the message that to take great photographs of birds, one needs to understand them and their behaviors. I've admired Lanting as a photographer for decades. Today I learned that he is an equally talented teacher. I'll be purchasing all of his CreativeLive courses. Thank you, Carl Bergstrom

Marie Gessle

Amazing class! Mr Lanting is charming and full of knowledge about birds and of course photography. In every moment of this course you can see his great passion and love for these flying creatures. The course is full of tips for photographers who want to start capturing moments of birds life. Awesome!!!

André Audet

Great class, very inspiring. Packed with great tips and beautiful imagery. Frans is a great instructor. I enjoyed watching this class a lot, and will watch it again!