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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 7 of 22

Camera Settings


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 7 of 22

Camera Settings


Lesson Info

Camera Settings

Let's talk a little bit more about technique. We've talked about the gear we've taken you into the field, but the worst from questions early around about camera settings. And that's what we're going to talk about now in this pre recorded video. So let's roll the video. Let's talk about camera settings. Some of them are fundamental and apply to landscape as well as to wildlife photography, and others are a bit more specific to bird photography. Let's start to it your image quality. I capture images in raw moat. I know that some photographers capture J packs along with raw images, but I think that's a waste of pixels. Amateur. Sometimes I prefer to capture J pecs because the other easier to export, but I couldn't do much more of it. Arroyo image. It's really the equivalent of a digital negative, but it requires more work after the fact, so that's a little bit of a drawback. But for me to default is raw meeting moat. My default is matrix, which means that the meter automatically can have ...

captures points throughout the viewfinder and imbalances. Theo exposure for bird photography. Some people I prefer to use spot metering especially when you use a long lens. But I prefer matrix throughout and then I'll adjust my exposure of it Exposure, compensation if need be. And that's important to think about when you're looking at white birds. Sometimes you need to under expose. Sometimes you need to over expose It depends on the quality of light. How do you set your I s so in the days of film, your I s over is governed by your film stock and you didn't have a lot of options. It was Kodachrome at 64 then the receptor chrome at 100. And sometimes you could use actor chrome at 200 but these days disguised the limit The sensors in our cameras today are unbelievable. You can crank up the I s o all the way to 100, if you need be. It's a dizzy and concept to wrap your head around. But how do you deal with the flexibility in your I S O settings? Well, most manufacturers have come up with an amazing tool called Auto I s O. For many years, I was used to setting my SLR camera and eider aperture priority, or in shutter speed priority depending on better. I wanted to pay attention to the shutter release or to the aperture for technical, for creative controls. But now I apply auto sensitivity. And that means that with the two dial's on my camera, I can simultaneously kind of change the aperture as well as the shutter speed and the I s O becomes a floater. And that is the magic of the camera Stutts we have in our hands today. When I first heard about auto, I s so I was a little bit puzzled by it. But now I think it's one of the greatest functions on my camera, and we're gonna follow up on that as we are practicing. Made it in the field. My balance. My default is auto white balance. The meters are so good that they can adjust for different kinds of light. And if I need to make any adjustment, I do that after the fact in light room, no need to fiddle bit value in the field. Let the camera do the heavy lifting that it is designed for and you focus on the creative controls where it matters. Release Moz in bird photography, you want to be prepared for action, so my default is continues. Low release. I can shoot a couple of frames a second that this camera, when I want to get ready for riel action. Then it goes into continues. Hi for portrait. When not much is changing, I switch it back to a single release because I don't want to waste too many frames that are nearly identical that give me Mawr work after the fact when I have to edit the best frame image stabilizers. I mentioned that some muralist cameras have that built into the bodies, but in my DSLR it's relegated to the lenses. So it's on all the time as a default, and I put it in sport mode because bird photography is very much like sport photography, a lot of action, and it's unpredictable. Focus. Control. I started photographing birds back in the days when auto focus didn't exist. Him and I think back it's almost incomprehensible that I got any bird in flight sharp these days. It's so easy with the amazing capabilities off cameras and lenses to track birch in flight and to get them razor sharp as they fly into your viewfinder. but it can be a little bit bewildering to look at all the different autofocus settings. Let me cut to the chase for bird photography. I prefer dynamic area A F. You might try three D tracking mid Burton flight against the blue sky. And we're going to talk Maura, about those details. Member of practicing in the field. That's a lot of information, right? And, uh, we're not even done yet, but there's an extension to this technical video. Now comfort out in a minute. I just want to emphasize the holy Trinity of Shutter speed aperture and I s O I s O is a term that goes back to the film days. As you heard me explain, in Europe, they refer to it as a s a ah animus. Based on the sensitivity of the film stock these days, it's really it's a measure of your sensor sensitivity, and the crucial thing that that we can do now is instead of having I s so as a limiting factor on what you can do, it's becoming an enabling factor. And that is what auto I s O allows you to do. I can pick any combination of shutter speed and aperture that is optimal for whatever I want to achieve, but in a range of ISO settings. And the camera makes the isso float up or down, depending on the shutter speed and the opportunity I select. And you can set the limit for your I S O depending on what you feel comfortable with it in terms of a tolerance for digital noise. So that's a really eye opener.

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!