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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 12 of 22

Birds in Flight


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 12 of 22

Birds in Flight


Lesson Info

Birds in Flight

Virgin flight flight makes Burt's unique for bird photographers and makes it uniquely challenging and ultimately, uniquely rewarding. Right. There is nothing like coming home with an image of a bird in flight, and you feel so accomplished. You feel so excited that you are actually able to capture that now. I started photographing Burton flight long before there were cameras with autofocus lenses, and I'll share this image with you. This is a landing albatross on a lonely little island off Hawaii. This image took me a week. It took me a week to figure out the circumstances under which I could anticipate albatrosses landing. Of course, they will land into the wind and but no autofocus on the lens. So imagine a bird flying at you, and you had to manually intersect yourself with the bird approaching you at 30 miles an hour. So there were not many frames that survived from that experiment, so but one is all it takes, right? So I just wanted to share that with you because for those of you wh...

o started photographing, But all these wonderful new tools auto everything, it's almost incomprehensible to think back of how you can do that manually. So these days, capturing an albatross and flight perfectly sharp. Even when it's coming straight at you and you're standing on the moving boat that does this, I won't say it's a piece of cake, but the opportunities are so much greater now than they used to be. So let's talk about Birch in flight. We're gonna look at flocks of snow geese in the next video as they come wheeling around. And how do you intersect yourself it that how do you make choices when you see a flock approach? What I like to do is I like to study the patterns before I put the camera in front of my eye. Because if you got 1000 birds who are all going toe, lend in the same place, you have some opportunities to study the patterns. And very you can best intersect yourself with the movement of the birds and you start paying attention to light. You know what is the best way to see them in this case? I really like that light coming at the birds and creating a highlight on the front end of their wings, and there's a little bit of shading under damn. And I start looking for the patterns. Of course, birds always like toe land into the light into the wind. So you want to try and be up, wind from very anticipate them landing. And then I start looking for individual patterns on the landing flaps come out that's universal in waterfowl and in sea birds as well. And that really shows you that the bird is cleared for landing. And this is, I think, in my opinion, a perfect example of how our snow goose likes the Lent. It's perfectly in control of its own body, and it looks graceful, but then this is not looking quite as graceful, but this gives you a different perspective on the same kind of birth. Yet geese are actually kind of chunky, and they're heavily body birds. They need to fly fairly rapidly and on Lee at the last moment that they begin to Beck paddle, and that is when they come straight down. And I was interested in capturing some of that flight action as well. And you see, this movement in the wings is actually kind of interesting. Now we're gonna look at the video, but before I do that. I just want to assert again that the modern sensors in our cameras you have a lot of possibilities to give you some extra margin. The old rule of thumb for birds and flight used to be. Keep your shutter speed at 1 500 of a second or 1000 if you can. But these days I say move it to 3000 of a second and give yourself an extra margin but your depth of field as well, Because as these birds come towards you, your lens may not be totally tack sharp on their you want it to be so. In this case, my settings were 1 of a second at F 11. So margin vit the shutter speed in a margin with my depth of field. Let's see, but what we encountered when we were looking at birth and flight in Colusa, we went to a spot for snow geese for gathering, and we were on our viewing platform that gave us a nice overlook. I showed how the wind direction you creates a predictable pattern of how the birds come in because they always like toe land into the wind. And as it turns out, that also meant that the sun was behind us. So that illuminated the birds very nicely against that blue sky. So we chose a setting that gave us a high shutter speed more than 1000 of a second. In fact, we went up to 1 2000 of a second so that every frame is tack sharp. And because there was so much light, we were also able to increase our depth of field. We chose a very small aperture of F 16 and F 22 the I S O was floating along with shutter speed and the aperture because we were all in auto ISO settings and then it was just a matter of working with the birds. Of course, not every frame turns out the way you want it to be, but with a high burst rate, whenever there was a nice flock approaching, we would get not just five frames, but 10 to 20 frames. And in the end, I'm very happy to see that somebody's frames show the birds nicely spaced nice wing patterns. I'm really excited to see what we ended up. Let's optimize the settings for Birch and flight. We're applying auto I s O. And now we're going to dial in a shutter speed off 2000 2002 thousands fast enough. And that gives me a lot of room for decreasing my aperture. Making its making it smaller than these are higher f stop and them dialing in f 16. And that brings my I s O to about 2000 which is well, but in the range of capturing a really high quality image. And it gives us a lot of margin. Both go for capturing the Burt Crisp, because the shutter speed is fast and we have an increased depth of field. So if the birds are not all in the same plane for still gonna have them sharp. So now we all we have to do is wait for them to come. So, you know, if there are king around like that, I like it when they're facing into the sun. And then the other moment is in the beginning to kind of backpedal. Ready for landing. Okay, you come the 1st A couple more. Here's a formation. Yes. Say this is not too bad, but it's really just the beginning that settings are good. You know, nothing is over exposed in the snow Goose. Take a look at yours. That looks good. Is just the wing position isn't so great yet. But you can't. You can't predict that. I think we're doing well. We just need more birch. Okay. Right. Okay. Come on. Nice. You know, let's take a look. Nice. Nice. We can crop that in that TV. See, that is that is nice and clean. I like, Yeah, Sharp tech, Sharman. All right. So, um, perhaps before we handed over to you in the studio and two people in the chat room, I'd like to show some more examples of how I work with Birch in flight, and then we'll we'll give it back to you. Well, so that was a very specific situation in this wildlife refuge. We were standing in one spot than the birds were gathering in front of us on the water. So there were plenty of opportunities to figure out the patterns of how the birds moved in. Any intersect yourselves going to show you another example. I was in Brazil. I was leading a photo to every had a small group with us of six people, and we went to this sinkhole there. McCall's like to gather. It's a big hole in the ground viewing platform set up, and, ah, there was a challenge. It's your in the tropics, the lights gonna harsh its way overhead and the background looks like this. It's very harsh, and you've already learned for me how I think about the backgrounds as much as I think about the subject. So McCall's air great to see. But it doesn't really work for me. And, you know, in most of the range of our these birds were flying through, the backgrounds were not that interesting, and I was really limiting most of my flight shops, but a couple of specific angles. This is smooth enough, and this was also very nice. So the backgrounds determined where I wanted to any my camera, and then sometimes the birds would dive deep into the sinkhole, where delighted it's much darker and that was actually perfect. See, the bird is illuminated from above and there's no distracting background. So look for your background before your aim, your camera at a bird in flight. Now that those snow geese in flight. There was no problem because they're reeling around in a blue sky. So you're always good to go now. Here's another example. Seibert. Ah, this is a giant petrel photographed from a moving ship. The birds are going back and forth behind the ship. There, like albatrosses, she other quartering back and forth, looking for any food that is churned up by the boat. Is it dis moving along? It gives you a lot of opportunities to photograph them in flight. But the background again is a little bit disturbed because you have the wake of the ship, and in this instance I experimented with a relatively slow shutter speed. I was tracking along with the patrol as it was moving past and with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second. If you can track the bird effectively, the background will blew out. So instead of seeing the details of all the waves, it's becoming very smooth. And here I did something similar with an albatross in flight. But in this case of a sitting on the shoreline and there were albatrosses coming by periodically of is doing the same thing. I recall my shutter speed here was 1 25th of a second. So it's a slow shutter speed sufficient to blur out the background as I'm moving with the bird. But I want to keep the bird sharp. More birds in flight. Hummingbirds, ello, coming birds. I'm really happy to live in California, where we have so many of them. But this hummingbird I photographed in Argentina in the in the garden of a lady who loves hummingbirds to, and she invites people to come and photograph them there. And there were certain flowers in bloom. And, of course, those become the magnets. And I set myself up with my camera on the tripod, and I had a flash Phil because I wanted to add a little bit of a touch of light eso justice with these other situations that took some time to figure out the patterns, how the birds were coming in going, and then I had to determine the right settings. Now, when you using Flash Phil yo, the strobe determines the cut off off your fastest shutter speed, it cannot go beyond 250th of a second on. That means that the wings of the hummingbirds are getting blurred because they're moving so fast. But that actually adds a nice little bit of a creative touch. And then the setting for the aperture was governed by the need to keep the eye eso at a manageable level and not to show too much detail in the background. So my opportunity said it F eight. So those are the reasons have been into the particular settings. And then it was just a matter of waiting for hummingbirds to come and only had from a morning session. I had two or three frames that I felt really good about. But that's all you need, right? So then the last example on back to seabirds Storm petrels are abundant on the open oceans of the world. Yeah, there are millions and millions of them, but we're not that familiar with them because they never comma lent. So you really need to be a researcher or you need to be a sailor on a mission from one continent to the other before you see many of them but the Verena Galapagos during one of our photo tours. And I hope some of you will join us on the next tour there of and we saw the storm patrols. The ship had released some things from the kitchen from the galley on board some oils that came from the food preparation. And that is what attracted the storm petrels and never coming closer and closer. And after a while they were coming right down right to the edge of the ship. And I ran up to the highest stick and I was looking straight down on them. And then using ah, hyper fast shutter speed of 1 4/ of a second in combination with an extended depth of field enabled me to make thes two unusual images off a storm patrol, which I've never been able to do like that before.

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!