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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 15 of 22

Birds in Landscapes


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 15 of 22

Birds in Landscapes


Lesson Info

Birds in Landscapes

how the think of birds as part of an environment. Here's an extreme example. This is a weird bird. We don't have this one in the United States. It's called a put to its ah, found in South America. It looks a bit like an owl, but it is not, and it tries to look like a stick. It becomes an extension of the three branch that it sits on. So in order to do justice to Dilbert, you really want to find a way that is a compromise between letting it hide itself and making it visible. So forget about what I said about the bird portrait earlier on everything really smooth so that the only emphasis is on the bird itself. No, I want to make sure that the bird is complemented by that branch and look at it. It's a perfect, complementary pattern. We can take that a step further on. When you look at this Nightjar on these birds nest on the ground there, perfectly camouflaged their photograph, this one in beliefs, and it let me approach quite closely. There really were lying on their camouflage, and they...

'll only take off when you're about to step on them. So I decided to make this Burt as comma flossed as it could be, and that concept led me to closing my aperture all the way down. So it's an inverse of what I shared with you earlier about bird portraiture with your bitter limited up the field, and that this McCall perched on a branch in the Pantanal in Brazil. I did something similar. Opportunities closed old away. And now this becomes a study in texture, the texture of Iraq, the texture, the three branches and then that one splash of color with the McCall in the lower left of the composition pigments. We've seen a few of those before, but these are figment payments who nest in a forest in an island south of New Zealand. It's quite remarkable. I wanted to get there for many years, and then finally I had an opportunity. These are snares, crested penguins, and they live in the ocean. But their nesting colony is on an island that is largely vegetated by these gnarly trees. So and they come through the forest along this forest path, and it looked like a scene out of middle earth. So I studied a trail, I found a nice position. Where I could hide myself of is in a bit of a hollow so that I wasn't as imposing for the payments. And then I waited for them to come back a little bit of a kick from a fill flash, and that helped illuminate them a little bit of highlighting their eyes. It'll help create more personality in the birds and back to the albatrosses, something similar here birch in their nesting colony in the Falkland Islands. And by moving close towards the bird step at a time, giving them a lot of opportunities to accept me there. I was able to apply a wide angle lens and close the aperture down to F 16 and then I waited for the magical moment and another bird appeared in the sky. And now we have a subject. We have a secondary subject, and we have a counterpoint of a bird in the air, and that really lures you into the distance. So there's a lot of things to look at here. After a while, I started simplifying the composition. The essence of albatrosses is to live in a world made off water and sky to them, the existence of ah, life on land is peripheral to what I spend most of their time. And that idea was translated into this view. One day I was on a nice breaker in Antarctica's Vettel see and became upon this gigantic iceberg, the famous blue iceberg. And you don't have to see these payments up close in order to appreciate the grandeur of the scene. In fact, the smaller the penguins are, the larger the iceberg becomes. So I'd like to give it back to you. Now, what are the comments that there are coming in? Awesome Will start in the studio audience, right. We'll go back to the folks at home. Um, we didn't have this my beginning a little bit, um, specific. But, um, question to come in about special. Any special insights for photographing owls, Photographing owls? Yes. First of all, I'm not easy to find right. I always like to stay hidden, so they tend to be really habitual. I know of some places in Santa Cruz, California, where I live. In fact, there's a place very close to our studio where great horn owls come back to the same trees every day. so a, I would say, start looking very carefully Else do not want to be seen. So they will not spend the day on the outer branches of a tree. They're more likely. Do you'll sit in very dense foliage? And, um, of course, if you do find an AL during the daytime, that is when they need to sleep. So you've got to give him respect and make sure that you don't disturb him. And then it comes to photographing owls at night. It's the opposite, you know? That is when they're active. And, yeah, we talked about flash photography early around and the ethics of flash photography. I've become really leery about applying flash to nocturnal animals because imagine yourself in their position. You're trying to hunt. You're trying to make a living, and suddenly somebody flashes you into your eyes in your days to and it takes a while to get your night vision back. So just be careful. Videos. Thank you for mentioning that. Yeah, go ahead. So you mentioned walking up upon that bird with the wide angle lens About how long do you stop? Wait. That's a good question, Johan. Um, in that case, with those albatrosses. I spent a week in a converted shipping container, and I would walk out to that same stretch of coastline every day. And I found a couple of birds in particularly photogenic positions, and they really were quite used to be after a while. So albatrosses by nature are not that fearful of human beings because they're oceanic creatures in their lives. They hardly ever encounter people, but when they come ashore, of course, they become more vulnerable. But I really am very keen on understanding their body language. So if I see any sign of a version than just, I hold back because I do not want to capture doubting my images. And if you look closely at the body language of the albatrosses will knows n'est. In my opinion, there's no sign that they're feeling distressed. I think you know, you mentioned the ethics behind, um, using flash for owls at night. Um, we have some other questions coming in. I don't know. Now is the best time to talk about ethics or any any re sources that you could point people towards. But we had a question about the ethics of getting close to bold eagles. Oh, um, bold eagles were very rare, you know. They were covered under the Endangered Species Act. And this is another pitch that I can make about the importance of protecting our birds. And if it weren't for the Endangered Species Act, we would not have any more bold eagles today. So kudos to the people who secured a future for Dell Spirit. Um, so bold Eagles are now actually quite widespread, and they're quite tolerant when we saw them in that in that refuge in California, never pretty blase, we drove straight on the need to tree next to the tour road wherever sitting, and they didn't blink an eye as far as I could tell. Now, when it comes to nesting situations, that is a different matter. And you have to be extremely careful if you want to do any photography with burgeoning illness, and that is if it's legally possible, that is where you may want to consider putting up a blind and carefully hiding yourself. One more thing about ethics, and I really take that seriously. I saw a comment combining the chat room of somebody who recommended on by an ethics guy to burning and bird photography. I don't know if we have the specifics about that, but could be passed that alone back again. I think it was perhaps from the Audubon Society, but we can try to go back. That was quite some ways ago and see if we could buy that or folks at home are watching online. If you do have any other suggestions, feel free to drop those in. But certainly by Googling of ethics and all of that, you should definitely be able Teoh to find that perhaps I can extend that comment. If you're new to Burke photography, and you don't know that much about the behavior of Birch yet. Yeah, a really good a tip is to find other birds. You know more than you do and go out into the field together. And there's definitely a camaraderie. And, you know, there's something nice as you saw us to to head out in the morning together and you learn from other people who know more than you do. And every part of the United States has its own local Audubon chapter, so check them out and we're going to show some or resource is that you can tap into later on the intercourse

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!