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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 8 of 22

Settings For Creativity


The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 8 of 22

Settings For Creativity


Lesson Info

Settings For Creativity

When I photograph birds, I want to focus all my energy on the creative opportunities. So I program in the default settings in my camera. And then there are three main variables to consider. Shutter speed aperture and I s O. With my shutter speed, I can photograph birds very sharply. My shutter speeds air now as fast as 1 4000 of a second. And that enables me to cover even a humming bird in flight crisply. But I can also push the shutter speed to half a second and then I can create motion blurs of birds taken off their wings, flapping with the aperture. I could do something similar. I can create a very detailed seen by closing the aperture rolled away down. And that is important when I'm thinking about birch in landscapes where everything needs to be sharp from the foreground to infinity, Or I can open up my aperture and apply selective focus. And then the foreground becomes smooth and the background becomes blurred out. And that is important when you want to do very nice. Portrait of b...

irds in the I S O setting isn't really important enabler for both of those in the old days of film. The Iess over is governed by a few film stocks. But these days I can stretch the I S O settings from 100 to 100,000. Another creative decision is your vantage point and that is not contained by your camera, nor your lens. It is determined by where you want to be relative to your subject. The classic view off a bird photographer is someone who walks around with a long lens mounted on a tripod. Nothing wrong with that. But it leads to your one point of view five feet off the ground. And I like to very my perspective. And if I want to capture intimate portrait of birds and their low to the ground, I like to get down low. Israel. I like to get up close and personal. I do. I you may get down and dirty, but you may come home, but something you never thought of before. They're two different strategies for photographing birds, and both of them are valid. You can flutter around like a butterfly, going from one spot to the other, seeing new things all the time. The other strategy is to go back to the same location time and again. And then you start noticing that the same bird is perched in the same three every morning and once you know that, you can anticipate when to be there and where to position yourself. And that often leads to much more intimate and more creative portrayals than if you're just coming in for the first time and you never come back again. Well, that's a lot of information, right? So towards the end of this video, we were drifting into some more philosophical notions about how you move yourself. Do you go back to the same place, or do you keep finding new discoveries? But let's back up to the technical things that the that be explained in the video earlier on, because this is really this is the nuts and bolts of the course. So I think we shared a lot of information about camera settings, and then he extended it into the crucial nature of thinking about shutter speeds and apertures as your main creative controls. And if those I would say aperture is your critical creative control, whereas your shutter speed really is a technical control, you have to keep it fast enough so that your images stay sharp if you want him to be sharp. So I just want to emphasize that and think of your I s o setting as your best friend. Now, I would like to hear back from you. Yes, please. You kind of talked about the wonders of modern sensors and how we can shoot it quite high. Esos and of course, that generates a lot of can generate a reasonable amount of green. What is your philosophy on dealing with that grain Using noise reduction in light room or photo shop or FX pro or something like that? Uh, first of all, I'm not afraid of some some digital noise, especially if you're not photographing professionally. And the application of your images is to share the mid friends over the Internet. Why should you be worried about this, then? Ultimately, people are gonna be looking at your images only on the screen or even on the mobile phone. So and as you mentioned, you know there's abilities to apply. Adobe light rooms wonder full creative controls to suppress digital noise as well. So I think digital noise as a fear factor, is overrated. And your for professional cameras. Like the ones that I showed early around that I'm using today. It really is not a factor until you get beyond I s 0 6400 If you using consumer models, you have to start being careful and really paying attention to digital noise when you exceed in Iess off 1600. But compared to the old days, yeah, over still in a whole new world of possibilities. All right, great. We have similar questions coming in from the folks who are watching online. So thank you for those a question from Ross Hubbard. Can the auto I s o b set toe an upper limit? Stop. I know in some cameras, they can. But do you do that? That auto, I s So give it a limit that you don't want to go beyond. Yes, that's Ah, that's a good thing to keep in mind, especially considering the specific ceilings that I just talked about. So in answer to your question, yo, you can set your own tolerance and lock it in, and then you can still apply your optimum combination of shutter speed and aperture. But in that range, great Thank you. Oh, right. Lots of great questions coming in one A Specifically I'm not sure if you mentioned this. Do you use back button Focus? Yes. You personally? Yes, I do. And one and pardon And why? It allows me to, you know, in the in the right situation, it allows me to very quickly lock into a certain focus setting and then release.

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!