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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 13 of 22

Field Trip 2


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 13 of 22

Field Trip 2


Lesson Info

Field Trip 2

we have one more field trip to share with you. This is the second morning ban beaver in the Colusa Wildlife Refuge. So let's run it. We're out again at some rice. We've done a loop around Colusa. Yesterday we saw thousands of birds in the air, and this morning it's quiet, and that forces me to look differently at the landscape had a vision of seeing thousands of birds in the air and Justus many in the water, and they're simply not here. They've moved off. So after doing another loop, I finally found some stilts, and that provides us with the pattern that at least gives me an anchor in the landscape. Because, after all, over photographing birds and landscapes, the landscape by itself is not enough. The idea is to have enough birds in the scene and enough of a pattern to anchor the foreground in the background to you have beautiful light. Sun isn't up yet, but the bottom part of the frame needs to be organized and still to just getting up there, beginning to forage. I'm closing the apert...

ure because the idea Fionn Virgin landscapes is to create a painterly rendition off the scenery and the birds. We've got them read sticking out of the water, and they need to be sharp to just a sharp as the trees in the background. So I'm ending up at F 22. And because the stilts are moving using shutter speed of on 25 my I s O is now at which is okay. It'll freeze emotion and the birds. And now I can close the aperture all the way to after 32 60th at F 32. I like it is this Deck six will buy in the federal around. This makes let's just move along with the stilts, Matthew. Okay, Because if we let go the landscape of that idea, Then there's a new pattern a foraging stilts among the reeds. And they're becoming beautiful shapes on the nicely spaced out. They're moving all the time. So you've got a rattle off the frames. My just simply won't get the perfect composition. Not holding. Still still, at 1 25 we settled for a small group of stilts and of was still hanging on to the idea to you're framed them a spot of a landscape. And then they started moving. And now we're looking at an ever changing pattern of stilts foraging in shallow water. And it's actually quite nice. The challenge here is to get as many as you can, but in your frame and to create an an interesting pattern. But you're trying now. I'm trying to just get this one stilts right in the foreground. Okay, so I've actually gone up to the 400 millimeter with the two times Tele converter, and he's just poking along, okay? Oh, holy smokes. That tree is full of birds. The birds have been hiding in plain sight. It simply didn't see them. But, yeah, they're not snow geese there. Hundreds of blackbirds. There's other birds flying through the scene because we've got that hot sun in there. It's influencing a bunch of ducks and geese just yet. No, we've got critical mass. Okay, I'm going to a faster shutter speed. I just realized that the movement of those blackbirds is so fast that unless my shutter speed is over, you're faster than 1000. They're not gonna be crisp. Morning rush hour. I was hoping for snow geese, and they weren't here. Then we started looking at a small group of stilts, and that wasn't quite happy. That situation evaporated. And then just when the sun was rising, I noticed there was a three loaded with blackbirds, and that was the scene that made me happy, you know, had to use a very long lens because they're on the other side of the pond. I grabbed my 200 to 400 but the built in extender, So it became a 600 millimeter lens, put it on my window mount. And then, as luck had it, the G started moving in, so it became a more complex. Seen her ducks in the water, the tree loaded that black birds and geese in the sky. Finally, a landscape of birds. We came upon a great white egret foraging in shallow water, and he became our bonus birth. He was unexpected, but we had fun capturing him perfect reflection in the water. And there was a line of weeds in the foreground, and we ended up using those as ah, screen through which to capture the E grit, throwing the lens into a selective focus, smote capturing the bird sharp but shooting through the weeds, keeping the aperture white open created a bit of a veil. The light meters in our cameras render everything as a neutral. Great. So if you're looking at a great white egret and you expose it in a standard way, you'll end up with a gray. A secret. The standard rule is to open up by half a stop to a full stop in order to make it look really white. But you can also go against that rule under exposed, eager it. And what I ended up there to this a slightly under exposed, eager it that is surrounding that became pitch black. It's a creative, contrarian application of the standard exposure rules. All right, Should we move? I spotted a hawk in a tree. The light was great was early morning of Chile, and the Hawk really didn't want to move yet. He was just soaking up that early morning sun, so he was committed to being there, and that made it easy for us to approach him. We got closer and closer, and then I could get closer still by pulling out my long telephoto lens, that 200 to 400 millimeter lens. And then I added an extender so it was perfect. It became a classic portrait. We had so much time at this bird that I was able to run through a whole series of different aperture settings as well. I applied selective focus to blur out the background and the foreground. But then I went in the other direction. I closed my aperture all the way to F 45 then the bird became or part of the tree scape. My take away from this experience is this. Act quickly because you never know how long that bird's gonna be there. And of course, you want that close up. But then start thinking of other ways to apply other lenses and find other perspectives. Don't just leave that bird in the center of your frame took him away in a corner, and if it's a bird sitting in a tall tree, tuck him up high, so you see a lot of space below him. There are always a lot more opportunities than the image. You start off it all right, so we we went straight from birth and flight into another field experience. So should we scroll back a little bit and I would love to hear back from you because we haven't give you an opportunity yet to ask me questions about what to be covered during the bird in flight session. I see several hands go up and get it back. How many focal points? Focus points. Were you using for your bird in flight pictures? Um, you have for my 8 50 I applied 51 focus point. And, um and I know that this varies by camera, make by manufacturer. Actually closely related. I was just curious about the tracking modes that you use for for birds in flight. And you mentioned something about three D tracking and so on that I think that you may recall that very early on, then we went through the main camera settings. I recommend a dynamic area A f as the default. Then I do photography of birch in flight three D tracking. I alternate your that sometimes, but ah, by trial and error, I found out that the dynamic area tracking is is over expressed for me. I noticed when you were doing a lot of birds and flight work, you were hand holding. Do you ever shoot off tripod when you're trying to do flying birds and under what circumstances. Now that's an interesting question. Do you tell yourself to your tripod or do you go free form? What does the tripod accomplished for you when you're doing birch in flight E? I think the question is related to you know, what kind of rig do you have? So if it's a 600 millimeter lens, then you definitely want to stabilize it in some fashion video tripe out, orbit Amman apart, and then you contract the birds better than doing it handle. But as you could see in the video, been mapped the never standing there on the viewing platform tracking the Snow G's. You know, I had a 200 or 500 yet of 100 to 400 those you can handhold very easily. And what you didn't see in the video was how I was able to use that. A mirror lis camera at the 500 millimeter lens, which is very light and compact, perfect for birds in flight without a tripod

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!