Tips for photographing birds?

I can’t seem to ever get good pictures of birds. I can never get smaller birds in frame. I’m also looking to buy a new camera on Black Friday. Anyone got any tips?


large amount of optical zoom, high frame rate, determination, and a quick finger. mostly just takes practice

1 Like

Don’t worry you are not alone :)

I got a camera last summer and tried to practice every day to make it work as best as it can. I’m not a pro photographer - i just started, but i’ll share with you my (brief) experience.

You need lots of zoom, best if it’s optical. Birds see you as an angry monkey trying to kill them everytime, no matter what you think about it, looking at them is menacing xD
One of the most useful settings i use on my camera (canon sx740 hs) is a central autofocus, in this way you can spot the bird and not worry about the standard autofocus focussing random spots of the frame you don’t want.

Another thing i found extremely helpful is that some of them don’t care at all about cars. Sometimes you can just chill on your car driving around and looking throught the windows until you spot a bird. Stop your car on the road side and slowly open the window as little as you need. Of course, be careful to look at the road, better if someone else drives and you look around.

Move slowly. This summer i was able to capture insane cool shots of a kestrel (falco tinnunculus) preaying on a vole. She was perching on a fence in an open field, so i couldn’t get close without her watching me. So i tried to make myself looking interested into grazing the grass and almost digging around until i got close enough and stopped to take the pictures. They way you move and your beahaviour (stay silent!) is very important.

If you need more technical tips about how to shoot, there are plenty of tutorials on youtube you can watch.

Good luck with your observations!


From your pics it’s obvious all you need is another camera, you can buy any bridge camera with big zoom and ability to set manual settings, it would be harder than with dslr where you can focus manually, but otherwise you’ll have almost no problems with birds.

1 Like

One to thing to consider also: cropping pictures can help center the bird in the photo.

When I take pictures for iNat, I also try to take many photos of the organism. Several may come out blurry or only the organism moving away from me. I will post the several photos–even the blurry ones–because often I do capture a field mark that aids in IDing or the combination of “yucky” photos provides enough information for an ID:

Phone cameras can be tricky. There is an accessory that plugs into the headphones port that allows you to press a button–not on the camera–to take the shot. [Maybe someone else knows the correct term.] It helps keep the phone steady.

One last thing, I usually use a tripod. I have found it was a wise investment to improve many of my photos.

Hope this helps!

1 Like

See also


If you’re looking to buy, check out the Nikon Coolpix 950. You might be able to get one used from LensRentals, depends what they have in stock. Put it in the birdwatching mode, and get some practice in. I love mine. Really nice zoom, comes with a mode that has the settings right, not super heavy, not super expensive as zooms go. I haven’t figured out the settings that work well for focusing on birds in midair, but the birdwatching setting will work for just about everything else. It includes point focus, for one thing. The one downside is the battery gauge: it either reads “full” or “very little charge”, no in-between.

You want a camera with a point focus setting. Point focus means that when you tell the camera to focus, it focuses on whatever the dot in the center of the frame is on. This is important for getting between branches to photograph all the little dippy birds moving around.

And yeah, fieldcraft is important. Try not to stare relentlessly at the bird. Lift your camera, get a couple shots, point the camera at something else, poke around. Act like an herbivore, not a predator stalking it. Don’t try to sneak up on birds, they generally notice. Just wander kinda in their direction, preferably not straight at them.

Also, take a lot of pictures. Delete the bad ones later. Carry the largest memory card the camera will accept. Preferably backup your photos onto another memory card.

Buy an external charger and two extra batteries. Trust me on this. Always bring a spare battery when you go birding. One battery stays in the charger, one goes in the camera, one goes in your pocket. Swap as needed, always keeping a battery in the charger so you’ll hopefully have it ready to grab if needed.

Leave your camera wherever in the house you’re most likely to be when you notice birds. I keep mine on the shoe rack by the door, so I can pop outside with it if something’s in the yard.


Nikon’s entry level mirrorless Z50 camera with its 50-250mm zoom is good for wildlife. Photos can be cropped severely and still be useable for iNaturalist. The camera and lens are very light and compact. Other brands may have equivalent cameras. The problem with cameras with fix zoom lens is that at the maximum zoom there is poor light gathering and they may be hard to hold steady. Photos of birds in flight are a special challenge that takes a fast camera and lens plus lots of practice.

If you go to an area where birds hang out, such a pond, lake or thickets; take a stool or chair and sit still. The birds will come closer. Fishkeeper has good advice. I don’t carry an extra battery when going out for a few hours but make sure the camera battery is fully charged.


I’m not a birder and all of my bird photos are “spray and pray” haha. I don’t know the actual capture rates of my cameras but I just hold down the button and hope one of the photos is clear (and then delete the other 50-100). On my Canon I can set custom settings so although I normally don’t use them I do have one for birds (with shutter priority, auto ISO and the maximum capture rate). The auto ISO is sometimes a problem regarding noise but I usually get something usable and I’d rather noise than a completely blurry photo. I also intentionally “overexpose” when photographing birds against a sky and because I leave the shutterspeed alone and let the camera compensate using auto ISO this is probably why lots of my bird photos (not that I have a whole heap) are at high ISO and noisy. I’m definitely not a birder, but I’ve got some usable shots with my spray and pray method.

1 Like

Wear mosquito repellant. :)

May sound insignificant, but it’s not. This changes everything :)

1 Like

I’ve got a Cannon EOS Rebel T5 (DSLR) with a 55-250 zoom. It suits all my needs. The zoom helps for longer shots, but it’s still relatively compact. It works well with smaller stuff too. Most of the comments above cover what I would say.
A couple of things, though. Post photo processing is important, but I only use cropping and light adjustments. I don’t fiddle around with the colours. Cropping and magnifying can really enhance the bird. In this observation ( Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) from Kingston Crescent, Winnipeg, MB, Canada I shot the bird from about 150m away, after it landed on a boat. It was invisible on the full frame, but cropping brought it into something not great, but recognisable. Won’t win any awards, but it’s evidence!
When taking photos of birds against a grey sky, I often set my exposure by pointing down at the base of the trees, and using that. Otherwise, the sky renders the bird very dark. Autofocus is great, but can also get hung up on small branches so the bird is slightly out of focus. I prefer a lower ISO, but sometimes need to go much higher than I would like.
A person also needs a lot of luck. As sure as eggs is eggs, when I get a small bird all set to photograph, it flies away! And soaring birds move faster than they appear to, and can seemingly vanish at will.
Oh, I bought a UV filter for my lens, not so much for the filter, but as a protection. Cheaper to replace that than a damaged lens.

1 Like

If you want to photograph birds, it is good to equip yourself with a camera with a silent shutter and a lens with a sufficiently long focal length (the so-called telephoto lens). It is good to take photos from the right hiding place and from the distance that the length of the lens and the planned shot allows. This will minimize disturbance and scaring the birds. When photographing, let’s also pay attention to whether we are not destroying valuable vegetation.


Don’t feel too bad. By having a small tree right outside a window, and watching through the window from inside the house, I was eventually able to get this picture of a Palmchat. Notice that the picture is a little blurry and the bird’s face is hidden behind leaves. This is not a picture that would be chosen for a book of nature photography, but for iNat, all that matters is that there is enough information here for an ID – note that it is Research Grade.

1 Like

Independent of equipment (buy the best you can afford) and technical expertise, you might consider erecting a bird blind. I placed feeders, bird baths, and a few small shrubs just outside my walk-out garage door, sit in the garage, and shoot through the open door. If shooting in the field, wearing camouflaged clothing and moving slowly helps.


If you would like flying birds, use quick shutter speeds. An example would be this photo taken on a Huawei Y6II smartphone with a 14mp camera. Actually I dunno how to change the shutter speed, it is likely automatic.

Absolutely true! Or four, so you have a spare for your spare, in case you find something really exciting or you’re shooting in low light or long zoom.

Ok. The shutter speed is quite high by default. Unlike the Camera I sometimes uses (a Canon Rebel of… Some number), which by default has a low shutter speed.

The golden hour is a great time to be shooting. Cloudy days are usually the worst. You have to take a hundred pictures to get a couple of good ones on any day! Zoom lenses are great for skittish birds but can get pricey pretty quick. Photoshop is excellent for post processing. But if you go overboard on the processing, your pix may look grainy or over saturated. Just keep on going!! Audubon’s website is a treasure trove of ideas for better pictures.

1 Like

Instead of taking a bunch of shots, watch a bird through your lens to try and find the unique photos. Preening of feathers, catching prey or eating seed, feeding young, interacting with a mate or other birds, flying, calling, things that give life to the photo.

1 Like