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Bird Photography for Beginners

Posted on December 15, 2020

Photography is about expressing your true passions and presenting your work in a way that conveys emotion. Everyone has the capacity to see true beauty, but art form comes from crafting these moments in a way to make them live forever.

An adult stands in a winter field, the hood of their black winter jacket up. They hold a camera up to their eye and face the camera.

Bird photography is an amazing way to capture the subjects you care about and share those moments with your loved ones. It can inspire their community to get outside and appreciate nature for themselves. Bird photography can be not only a deeply enriching pastime for the artist, but everyone else it touches. So here are five tips to consider when beginning bird watching.


Your first step is getting outdoors. Like most wildlife photography, capturing that stunning shot means you have to be in the right place at the right time. Although high-end telephoto lenses can capture minute details at a great distance, often the best practice is to get as close as possible. By increasing your proximity, you will be able to better frame your subjects and give yourself the best opportunity for terrific shots.

It is important to keep in mind that although it is important to get close, you mustn’t bait or put unnatural stress onto the birds. These actions can cause severe damage to the birds’ behaviour and cause harm in ways that may not be instantly perceivable, but could be detrimental to their eating, flying, and protective habits. Capturing birds in their natural habitat means precisely that, so try to keep their habitats the way you found them.

For more on bird health and safety when photographing, visit the Audubon Guide for Bird Photography.


Two young owls peer down at the camera from their nest in a tree.


Bird photography is an art form. Rarely can you create a masterpiece by just walking around your neighbourhood with no plan to get your shots. It is important to set yourself up in the most idyllic positions to ensure you get the best opportunities for your birding catalogue. There are three key aspects to consider when planning to capture your subjects:

  • Time of Day – Photographers should always consider the time of day when photographing wildlife. Dawn and dusk often offer the best lighting when capturing birds by providing eloquent shadowing and calm surroundings. These times also tend to be when birds are most active.
  • Wind – Birds will almost always take off into the wind. To get the perfect picture of flight or movement, it will likely benefit you to have your back facing the wind so the birds will fly toward you as opposed to away. It is also a bonus to have the sun at your back for optimal lighting.
  • Background – You should always consider the background when capturing birds. You want to be able to tell a story with your photography, and one of the best ways to do that is to set the scene and paint the entire picture of what you want to convey. For example, including reeds or water while shooting birds in marshy habitats can encapsulate the feeling of what it’s like to be there in person.
A brown and beige bird with a red tuff on its head perches on a tree branch.


If you want to become a great bird photographer, you’re going to need the right gear. Hobbyist equipment can range from National Geographic level technology to the camera on your iPhone. Like most hobbies, you get out of it what you put in, and although having amazing gear is nice, the best camera doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the right pictures. The most important factor is knowing how to use your equipment.

Camera choices can vary depending on your expertise. Many people will recommend full-frame mirrorless cameras when capturing wildlife, but hobbyists just getting started can often get more bang for their buck choosing a crop sensor or DSLR camera. Both options are generally less expensive, and many crop sensors have a magnification effect on their lenses, giving them 50 per cent greater focal length than their full-frame counterparts.

Learn more about some great crop sensor and DSLR options, as well as information on the best lenses and other gear for your photography level.



One of the hardest and most fulfilling challenges when conducting bird photography is capturing the motion of a bird while keeping the image crisp and clear. Consider the challenges of capturing a North American hummingbird, with wings flapping at an average of 53 beats a second. These flaps and the speed of their flight can create unwanted blur in your photo.

The best way to combat this issue is by capturing your images with a high frame per second (FPS). This will enable you to capture images more quickly and with detail, avoiding blurry images or worse, missing the bird in frame completely. You’ll most often shoot your bird photography at an FPS of six or higher, but ultimately it’s about getting comfortable with your camera’s settings.

Check out this YouTube video to learn how to properly set up your camera settings for optimal wildlife photography.

A bird flies from a tree, it's wing's blurred from motion.


There is always a story to tell when capturing wildlife. Having beautiful pictures of birds perched on a branch is great, but it’s often the pictures of birds illustrating a natural behaviour or demonstrating their abilities that conveys emotion. You want to be able to look at one of your photos and be transported to that moment in time, and try to convey the beauty that drove you to take the image in the first place.

When it comes down to it there is only one way to capture the perfect image, and that’s with practice. Bird photography can be difficult, but stay patient. There will be ups and downs on your journey, but it’s the peaks and valleys that make bird photography so rewarding. If you practice all of these techniques, you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to create images you’ll cherish for a lifetime and spread the beauty of your community through your eye.


The great news is there are a ton of resources to help you to get started! Check out the Nature Shop for guides on birding, get inspired by the 2020 Audubon Photo Awards and join the Manitoba Birding Facebook Group!