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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 17 of 22



The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 17 of 22



Lesson Info


Let's go to boot impressions. I'm gonna take you back to this period. Many years ago, when I was capturing images on film and the effect if I s so of the film stock I was using was less than 100. I s Oh, so you were really limited the times, then fever photographing more recently in Colusa. I could not have done a heck of a lot with that film, and I began to push the boundaries. Driven by the necessity to start experimenting with slower shutter speeds. And through trial and error, I began to realize that there's a certain range of shutter speeds that can render images of waterfowl taking off and landing in a way that it was at that time quite revolutionary. Very few photographers had done that deliberately, and it led to images like thes that were different, more dynamic way to capture images of birch in flight. Now, in this case, it was triggered in part by the necessity of the limitations in the film stock. But it was also inspired by some European wildlife artists, especially a man ...

by the name of Bruno Lilia Force. It was a very influential painter in Sweden, who yo was started capturing birds in a much more impressionistic way. Instead of painting every bird with every feather showing razor sharp, he was mawr into showing the energy of birch in flight. So that is why these images came from. I'll show you another one here, snow geese taken off at sunset. And then I began to apply that to other birds. A brown pelican hovering over the Monterey Bay just before its plunging in into the water. 15th of a second is often the magical shutter speed for capturing things in that fashion, and I still do that today. This is in an IBIs in flight of his tracking with the birth at sunset, or actually passed. Sounds that at 1/15 of a second, and here's another example oven ah, of a martial eagle taken off. That's pretty strong, isn't it? So, no, you have to practice this technique, and you have to find out through trial and error. What works for you? What is your tolerance for the blur on? And the best way to do that is to go to a place there. You can see the same action time and again on. I do that on a local beach. This is not even five minutes from where I live, and there's always girls on the beach because they go for it on the dumpling. It opens. So I know the Bircher there and I know their behavior, and that is how I can come up it. Images like these. This is a different avenue for expressing yourself and to loosen up your eyes to a different way of seeing than just registering everything sharp. So let's open it up to to the audience again. What do you think of these bird impressions? Do you saying this is not for me? These are fatal mistakes. Or do you think there's an opportunity there? Well, I'll start with, um uh, comment that came in on line. That was actually kind of a question, and I'm wondering if this is an answer. This is from an oppose us who had said, I would like to hear your advice when you are in a scene where the background isn't that great and you can't get up close that Can you still get a decent shot? So is this artistic? Is this an opportunity to kind of take an a scene that might not be ideal and create something out of it. Well, I'm trying to imagine what kind of situation she has in mind. Thes impressionistic renderings of birds. Young required a bird to be moving. So in the case of what we were just watching, you're the trees were very well, defiant in the background and the practiced bit tracking with the birches. They were taken off The frames that we didn't show showed the birch against the trees. And that didn't work so well that they looked a lot better against the evening sky. Yeah, so are those Hand held was impressionistic ones. I love them. I think they're great on. And yeah, I'm trying to remember. I think we were on try pot. So I loosened up the Monta ball, and then I track along with the bird and you're a couple of these frames that we just shared with you. I believe there around the 30th of a second, every bird has a different flight pattern. So you really have to experiment and then look at your settings, and then you can zero in on what the sweet spot is. I noticed on the first few photos of the background wasn't blurred. You must have just kept the cameras still and the birds took off. So it has a different impression when you can see the colors of the background that was ever yellow background that was in focus. Basically, are you referring to a specific A much shorter than the first couple of photos and that you know of snow geese or the other examples? I think from the beach. I can't remember now, but anyway, do you have any times that you don't pan or you just let it sit? Yes, that is another technique. So most of the impressions that I just showed, in fact thank you for bringing that up, because this let's go back. So in this case, I'm steady. So because you see these birds or sharp, so the birds are creating their own impression, if you will. In this case, it's the same thing. There's one of my friends there, John, who joins us often during the workshop. In this case, I'm tracking along with the bird. In this case, I'm also tracking along with the bird, but in this case I'm holding steady and it's the pelican that creates its own flight pattern. And in this case, I'm tracking along with the birds and more or less the same thing here. Does that answer your question so both of them can work? All right, let's advance. And, ah, any more questions? We did have one Warren. First of all, lots of folks were saying, Thank you so much. They love this impressionistic photos section and thinking about things in a creative way. So a question had command about Would you ever use a neutral density filter to be able to slow down that shutter speed to get motion? Good suggestion. Neutral density filters take away light that otherwise would come to your sensor. So if you want to experiment with these impressions and there's too much light, that is exactly the kind of filter you use. However, I've yet to see a neutral density filters for millimeter lens. A good point. Good point. But for the shorter lenses, definitely. Yeah. You could use that, you know. Okay, great. 01 more quick question. Have you ever used a situation? Have you had a situation where you've panned? But you've also combined that with a strobe. Ah, I Pan and I use this throw, but well, yeah. In fact, I showed several examples. You did OK. Yeah. The McCall in flight early on, that was an example of it.

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!