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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 20 of 22

Birds and People


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 20 of 22

Birds and People


Lesson Info

Birds and People

I mentioned earlier that birds are everywhere and so are people, and it leads to really interesting juxtapositions. Ostriches are big, but if you put an ostrich in the foreground behind a small car, it looks definitely gigantic. I captured this in Nairobi National Park in Kenya, but you get the idea, especially in places where we come toe look at birds, you're going to see all kinds of things. I made some really interesting pictures of people coming to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in addition to just photographing the birds by themselves. So here's another situation in Brazil where there are flightless Rias, and there's a lot of, um, unfortunate collisions with car. So I made this image of the warning sign, and then I waited for a car to come by and the camera was on the tripe out slow shutter speed and the car becomes a blur back to the albatrosses one more time, which I've covered in gray detail in many different places. The plastic problem. Yeah, we are all aware of it now, b...

ut when I made these images, it wasn't really on people's radar screens, but ever seeing all the plastic that had accumulated in the albatross colonies that was brought back by these birds foraging on the open ocean. And then I started collecting the bits and pieces and put it next to your one family of perch. And then I thought, Well, this looks pretty junky. So I went a step further, and I laid out individual pieces of plastic so that the viewers would b'more able to appreciate the sources Predator of is a G. I. Joe a toothbrush or any of these other things that we throw away and they end up in the oceans. And of course, now we know what a gigantic problem it ISS. So these are the negative connections between birch and people, but they're positive connections is though we know Charles Starving and the Olsen, though, how inspired he was by the Galapagos Islands and the diversity of the finches that he saw there in other called Darwin's Finches. So I brought together the title page of a first edition of Darwin's book The Origin of Species, with some specimens of finches in the museum. Here they are together, and that leads me to this notion. I'm gonna take you back one more time to my beginnings as a bird photographer. Remember those sandal ings on the beach? And yet the time it took me to understand the birds and to be able to photograph them really well, well, that came because I connected with this guy. Pete Myers was an ornithologist who were studying sandal wings, and I wrote him a letter and I said, I would like to come out with you on a field trip and at first he was reluctant, and then he agreed. And it was by hanging out that Pete and understanding Hiss scientific approach to the birds and his field knowledge that I really began to appreciate Shandling's. So I covered him, and I covered the process of science here. He's holding up a bird with colored bands and then all the data sheets that Pete accumulated in order to understand the patterns of behavior of the birds. And it was thanks to Pete that I became a better bird photographer. I like to hang out with people who know more than I do, so I go to scientists and I go to conservationist and I hang out with other artists to mom or albatross. Picture this person Eyes just is in love that these little albatross chicks is I've us and you could just see the relationship there. So think of other people you can associate yourself with. Think of people you can bring into your pictures of birds. Birds are everywhere and so are we. And then as a last yell stimulus for you on I've got a set of pictures here U S Produced is is a Dutch photographer. And, uh, he started photographing one Burt won Flamingo that had been re happed in an island in the Dutch Antilles, Curacao. And it was taken care off by somebody in the Jaspers family. And this flamingo is now used for educational projects. So Odette takes him to schools. And here the Flamingo. His name is Bob. So he's known as Flamingo. Bob is off to yet another school trip, and he's riding along video. That and Jasper photograph this one flamingo in many different settings. Here's Flamingo Bob being operated on on the surgery table, and here he is again interacting. Or actually, it's kids interacting with 10 and then flamingo Bob goes for a swim and then ultimately ya spur photographs himself floating along with Flamingo Bob and these air Just five images, and he's got dozens of other images. And this set of photos is now nominated for a World Press Photo Award, and you have it in a couple of weeks. Yes, Purple learned that, or he will get this this amazing recognition for his talent and for his persistence. So I'm sharing these with you because I think there's no better evidence that I can submit to you that you really don't need to go to Antarctica. I'm not even to Galapagos. All it takes is one bird in a rehab center, and you document it's life and you'll set yourself a challenge that will lead to its own rewards. So with that said, Let's see where we are now on, and I'm going to give it back to the audience. Yeah, friends, I would. We had some questions coming in earlier about photographing at, um at Sanctuary. Not sorry, not sanctuaries, but at rehabilitation centers. And what have you? Is there any issue with that on? Not as far as I'm concerned on it. Yet zoos are places where people have gone for generations to get inspired by animals you know, we take our kids there, so I see absolutely nothing wrong with it now, too. Pass off images that you made in juice and to pretend that they're made in the wild. Now that's another matter. So it all goes back to the Golden Rule, right? Disclose. Feel comfortable disclosing the circumstances under which you made the images. And when it comes to rehab Sanders, people who run these places are always in need of pictures to help publicize their activities so it can go both ways. Yeah, if you give something back, you will get access to situations. I did maybe rather specific question about one of the pictures you showed earlier, which is that remarkable picture of the blue goose feathers. And there's this issue that comes up around lighting in general with trying to deal, especially with darker colored feathers. You get these especially indirect light. You get these rainbow refer actions on them that don't look. They look gorgeous in real life, and they don't look so great in photographs. Since I wonder if you had any thoughts about how to deal with, you know, sort of direct light on feathers and the refractive colors that get generated. Great question. In my experience, when it comes to really delicate pattern surface textures and things like bird feathers, I preferred them to photograph them in open shade. And these days I often in the bouncing some extra light into an open shade situation by using a reflector. So I had a little bit more directionality to delight. And if you look at um, the course that I did previously for Creative Life, the art of she and close up macro photography, you'll learn a lot more about that kind of lighting technique. Awesome and similar to that. And maybe this is in that class two. But in terms of lighting questions, one from Alton Marsh had said, How do you keep that fill flash from blowing out white birds? So are you ever using flash with a weight bird? Um, that's a really good question on. I am trying to think of a better. There's an example in a course. I don't think so, but I've it. Lead it back to my earlier answer that when you're dealing that and with white birch in direct light, yet it is better to reverse the angle to delight and to, in the case of Snow G's, to position yourself so that the body of the snow goose's in shade. And because if you add direct light to that, that doesn't look so good. So and a flash is, of course, another example of direct light. So what I do in situations like that is I underpowered a strope these days. Most of the strokes that combined Vidar DSLR Savitt Amir Lis cameras are capable of being put in a T t l mode, so they are very good at measuring the right output. But then I typically will under power to stroke, and I'll dial it down by wanted to stops. Great, Great. We are calling for bumper stickers that say I heart from and go, Bob. So, uh, let me show you, uh, ya spurs particular contact details. So go to his website. He's really inspiring photographer, in my opinion, he sees the world in different ways, and not just when it comes to a single flamingo, but he's also really good at capturing urban birds, and that is what we've not seen off a lot yet in this course. So check out the Jaspers work and one, or shout out to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for all their dedication around the country.

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!