Best settings for bird photography

The best settings for bird photography vary depending on whether you’re trying to capture a portrait in a quiet moment or an active bird in flight. There are, of course, all kinds of ways to photograph birds and to capture them you have to adapt your approach from moment to moment. We’ve shown you the best cameras for wildlife photography, but how do you get the most out of your creative tool?

In this guide, we’ve broken down the different types of bird photos one might want to take and provided the best settings for bird photography for every occasion. We’ll show you which exposure settings to use, plus tips on framing, focusing and more.

Best Camera Settings for Basic Bird Photos

The strongest animal portraits are when you frame the subject at eye level, and the same principle applies to bird portraits. Using a medium to long telephoto lens (something around 300mm to 500mm) will give you a suitable distance from your subject and allow you to fill the frame with it.

Go down to ground level at his level and frame the shot. Not only does this provide good eye contact and maximum impact, but it also reduces the amount of background in your image. Plus, that long lens you’re using will help diffuse the background with its limited depth of field.

You’ll want to shoot in your camera’s aperture priority mode and use an aperture of around f/4 or f/5.6. This will provide a good level of background blur but enough depth of field to ensure the bird’s face is in focus.

Depending on light levels, feel free to increase your ISO up to 1600 or 3200. Some of the best cameras for bird photography produce sharp images even at ISO 6400 and above. But as a general rule, keep your ISO as low as possible while still keeping the shutter speed fast enough for the scene.

A good rule of thumb to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to prevent camera shake is to multiply your camera’s crop factor by the effective focal length of the lens. Canon, for example, has a crop factor of 1.6x. So if you were using a 300mm lens, 1.6×300 is 480mm. This means you would need a shutter speed of at least 1/500sec.

Best camera settings for bird portraits

  • Shutter speed: 1/200s
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Focal length: 400-500mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure mode: aperture priority
  • Drive Mode: Continuous
  • Focus mode: Manual

Sharp focus is essential for strong bird portraits, so the best way to ensure your avian subject’s eyes are in focus is to set your camera to manual focus and pre-focus. point to a spot where you expect the bird to land. If you are an owl and falconry center this will be easy to anticipate as there will be perches that they will use. At home, you set it up yourself by placing a food table with a perch in a convenient location so you can shoot from afar.

An average aperture of around f/8 will provide enough depth of field to ensure the bird’s entire head is in focus, while providing enough background blur to keep it from being a distraction.

When thinking about your background, try framing your bird against a simple background that will contract well and help it stand out in the frame. As a general rule, your background should not compete with the bird for the viewer’s attention. The role of the background in a bird portrait is to complement the plumage of the bird.

Using your continuous shooting mode will ensure you get enough frames to work with if your subject only comes to a quick stop.

For more tips on how to photograph bird portraits, check out our guides on how to photograph close-up birds and how to photograph backyard birds.

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Best camera settings for birds in flight

  • Shutter speed: 1/2000sec
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Focal length: 300-500mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority
  • Drive Mode: Continuous
  • Focus Mode: Subject Tracking / Animal AF / Animal Eye AF

The best camera settings for birds in flight depend on the time of day and the brightness of the sky, but in general you’ll want a shutter speed as fast as possible. To that end, using your camera’s Shutter Priority mode will allow you to set the shutter speed you need and then automatically adjust your other exposure settings to help you achieve it. . Sometimes you may want to use a slower shutter speed if you are panning to capture movement or exposing for a sunset to create a silhouette.

Most cameras now have a subject tracking AF mode, ideal for capturing birds in flight. Additionally, some manufacturers offer animal-specific AF modes and Animal Eye AF modes. These Subject Detection AF modes have become one of the best settings for bird photography and make the difficult task of capturing fast-moving animals much easier.

When composing your image, the direction of flight is an important consideration. You will want more space in the frame in the direction the bird is flying. But if you want dramatic eye contact, you’ll need to position yourself so the bird is flying towards you. The closer you can let it get, the bigger and more impactful it will appear in your frame. The continuous shooting mode, again, helps you capture a range of options here.

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Best camera settings for birds on water

  • Shutter speed: 1/500s
  • Aperture: f/5.6 to f/11
  • Focal length: 400-500mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure mode: aperture priority
  • Drive Mode: Continuous
  • Focus mode: manual or subject tracking

The best camera settings for birds on water really depend on whether you’re trying to freeze motion or capture a calmer portrait. To freeze the action, you’ll need a faster shutter speed – probably 1/1000sec or faster. You’ll probably need to use a wider aperture to get more light into the lens to be able to shoot at those speeds. If not, you can increase your ISO.

Metering is also one of the best settings for bird photography and can be especially tricky when exposing birds on water. Using your camera’s spot metering option helps you get more precise exposures that keep the bird nice and bright and your background dark.

You should also pay attention to your composition here. Like birds in flight, you want to give birds on the water space in the frame to move about.

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