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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 6 of 22

Getting Close To Birds


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 6 of 22

Getting Close To Birds


Lesson Info

Getting Close To Birds

I would like to give you a primer about, you know, the different strategies that I used to get close to birds. Um, on foot. Well, in this case, there's no problem in getting close to birds, right? You just have to get to Antarctica. But once you dare, the locals have no fear. 40 invaders. So this is a one in a lifetime mix of once in a lifetime experience I had when I was able to document the lives of em prepayments. And if there's anything you can do in your lifetime, if you like birches, treat yourself Teoh trip to Antarctica. So but this is an extreme situation. But I like to find places that birds have no fear for human beings because when you can get that close, you can focus all your creative energy own composition, your vantage point, etcetera. Instead of worrying redder, you can get close enough to make the photograph, So I like the work on islands and in other places where birds are innocent. This is an image of ah kakapo, which is the largest parrot in the world. It's flightl...

ess. It lives only in New Zealand, and it is very endangered. It only occurs on a couple of offshore islands and they only come out at night. I have permission to work there. And I went out there with a biologist and we started looking for cock oppose. And the Kaka polls actually are quite curious. So once they hear you shuffling around through the forest, they may come at you and then all you have to do is sit there and go really low so you could be Ideo. And of course, I had to use a flash in that situation. The birth is not afraid. It just wanted to get closer and closer. But what if the birds don't allow you to approach in the open like that? Well, here's a very simple strategy that I've used successfully. You start using contours in the landscape, and this is where Bert photography is a bit like sport. You know, can you out with the birds, or can you find ways in which you can use the lines in the landscape and anything else that exists there to get closer than the birds with ordinarily allow you to be? In this case, we use tumbleweeds. We picked up some reads and then put him in front of us and then be moved very slowly and to the birds in the distance fever still part of the landscape, and we were able to cut the distance to the bird in half. Now, if Burt's really don't allow you to be close at all, you have to use a blind. Or in England, they call them heights. And here's what they look like. These are compact pup tents that collapse and the other, the modern models like this one here, they're made to travel. So the only way a few pounds and I bring them Britney than I go abroad quite often, because you never know. But you run into a situation where they can be applied. So we set up to blinds here. Chris, my wife is very a video camera in one, and I'm next to her and I've got to shooting port. And what will be there to do? We've heard that humpback whale had washed up on that beach along the California coast, and that humpback whale was attracting condors. California condors of under the most endangered birds in North America, and they're huge. If any of you have seen a turkey vulture. They appear quite large compared to most other birds. But next to a condor, this turkey vulture becomes like a sparrow. So this was our reward. But it took several days of sitting in the blinds to let the condors get used to the blinds before we got this picture. So but I love doing this. People say, Don't you get bored when you do that? No, there's always stuff happening around you. So this was the first image made of a California condor scavenging on the humpback whale, something that Spanish explorers have written about centuries ago. But Davis before the era of cameras. So I feel really proud of that picture. Other things you can do, uh, then you have to conceal yourself. Sometimes I use camouflage netting. Here I am in a forest in Ghana to look for a very rare jungle bird, and I didn't have a blind with me, but I managed to get some common flash netting from a friend and we just raped at between two trees, and then I shut behind it and I waited for the bird to come in, and I sat there for two days, the bird came in twice and every time it perched there for maybe 30 seconds. So you have to be patient. But at the same time, you have to be very alert because the action may not last for very long. This bird is a scarlet McCall. It's peeking out from a nesting hole high up in a tree in the Peruvian Amazon, and this took some doing a little extreme. We built a scaffold about 80 feet toll with a very viably platform on top. And then I had to climb up there every morning and do that before dawn so that the birds wouldn't seem even. I got in there. Now you don't do this casually. This is not something you do in a spare weekend, but I was on assignment for National Geographic. We spend months on location, toe overcome the shyness of these birds. But in the end, I was able to do photography like this. That really helped draw a lot of attention to this unique situation of Macaws coming to these riverbanks, but a eat to clay. And here's another image to give you an idea of how extreme it can get. Then you really have to. You see the blind set up on the riverbank down below. And then, in addition, I set up some strokes and a remote camera above the bank so that when the birds with perch in that Liana, I could get a different perspective. This took a lot of time, but ultimately the images you helped contribute to a new sense of conservation in that area. Now, if you're not on assignment for National Geographic and you have a weekend and you do want a practice bird photography, you've already heard me talk about all these wonderful places for birds. Scatter and typically your car is your best opportunity to get close to birds, and this is pretty typical here again, you can see that car door or that window mount that we've spoken about previously, and here, on top of this card, it has a roof rack. I've bolted. Another tripod had been a clamp onto the roof rack, and I recommend that as another solution, especially if you're thinking to go to Africa or to any other place for youth, may be operating from terrain vehicles, uh, ask beforehand from your travel agent or from the local outfitter What kind of vehicles you may end up in. Ask him to send you some pictures and then you could make your preparations accordingly. It really is good to figure that out. Before you board your long flight to India or to Africa and this situation from that vehicle, I was able to make this image of a large eagle. So questions about the approach of birch Haider in the open from blinds or by car. That's great. So I'm curious. Um, do you ever have you ever sort of leave the camera? I mean, uh, that is you could get the camera close to the bird without getting yourself close to the bird and then remote trigger, For example, Leave a camera somewhere, step away and let the bird approach it. So, in other words, sending up remote cameras. Yes, I do that quite regularly. I use camera traps, which can be left alone for quite a long period, and sometimes you know, I do it more opportunistically. And, for instance, in in the Antarctic over I lied photo tours, periodic leave, and they go ashore in places like south Georgia Island. You may be assured for a couple of hours. And if you have a GoPro, another kind of point of view camera. You can set one up on the beach and just leave it alone and CEO approaches. It could be a lot of fun. Yeah, friends, we have a question from online. And that was Do you ever use a camouflage cover on your lens on? Ah, no, I do not. Um, I've often wondered why people do that so much because, um, it it may be useful in situations. Very. You're working bit very shy, Bert. But then you have to calm a flaws yourself totally. But the idea of camouflaging your lens and your tripod legs I don't believe in that town. I believe mawr in being attuned to the birds in front of you and letting the birds tell you better. You're getting too close and you adapt your behavior accordingly. I like to I prefer to give myself away than to hide myself. The the image that you had with the camera mounted on the railing with a car. Did you have, like, a remote trigger on that? We're out tablet or Simpson s. So the question is, did I use a remote release in order to reduce the camera shake or of overs your question. Johan, you had two cameras set up young. One was on top of the car, huh? Ok, Uh, yes. Thank you for asking that you had It. Looks a little odd, right? To see that camera there on the river in a stationary position we were looking at at Bert. And there was actually devastate a uh yeah, there was an opening in the roof of the car so I could go very quickly from between the doot. The two different perspectives. Yeah. So we were stationary. Now we wouldn't drive along like that. Not that better rig like that on the roof. So we have a question from our win. Karp, who attended one of your workshops in Santa Cruz a couple of years ago. Any says any suggestions for approaching shorebirds on an open beach Other than laying down on a mat? Um, good question. I love shorebirds and show shorebirds, like most birds are very habitual. So they move it the tights and I've I would keep that in mind, and that is actually that was behind my strategy When I showed you that technique of lying down on the open beach because what I would do is I would take a position as the tight was coming in, and then I wouldn't have to move. And as the sandal ings were getting pushed up the beach by the advancing tight David come closer and closer to me. So I would just watch the behavior of the birds and let them tell you what you can do. The central ings with alternate between feeding. And then they would go to places for David rest during the high tight. And if you pay attention to where they go during high tight, you'll find, but they like to be. And then the next time, perhaps you can put yourself in a position very blind or out in the open. Great. Yes, please. Do you ever shoot from small boats? And if you do, what sort of equipment do you use? Ah, do I work from small boat? Yes, I do. From time to time. And then ah, different set of accessories comes into play. Obviously. Ah, car door mount doesn't apply on small boats. Try parts. Not so good. Monta pots are the answer and Monta parts are very useful when you're kayaking, for instance, which I will do next week. Are there other uses for Monta pods and bird photography? Yes, there are glad you brought that up because that's one other tool that you can apply venue operating from a vehicle, especially when there's mawr of you in the car, because you know the wiggle factor, especially if there's two people in the back seat and you're in the front seat of vice versa. So if you really careful, you can plant Amman upon outside the car and operated from inside a vehicle, and then you reduce that wiggle factor very useful in Africa.

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!