Build Blog

Nature photography - tips for photographing birds & wildlife

Story added 24th Nov 2017


Build Photography tutor Rachel Wegh offers her top tips for photographing wildlife...

Learning to take creative nature photographs needs dedication and time to perfect your skills and learn about your subject.

This article takes birds as a starting point.

They can be immensely rewarding and frustrating to photograph in equal measure. Here are 10 tips and tricks to help you make creative images of birds and get the best from your equipment.

1. Camera

I would suggest investing in a DSLR so that you can use interchangeable lenses. Of course, there is an investment to make here but if you want to take bird photography seriously then you will need to get the right equipment to fit the task.

2. Long telephoto lens

If you want to photograph small birds, those at a distance and in flight you will need to use a long telephoto lens. A lens with a focal length of at least 400mm is necessary if you want to get decent shots of birds. If shooting in the conditions of a bird of prey centre, birds often fly closer so a shorter lens may be adequate on occasions and for portrait shots of birds. A stabiliser, that helps steady the lens is helpful, especially when hand-holding the camera. Cradle the camera and lens to ensure it remains as steady as possible.

3. Aperture priority (A)

Different bird photographers have different methods for photographing birds. Some use shutter priority and others aperture priority. I favour using an aperture priority of around f4.5 or f5.6 which will blur the background and keep your subject in focus. It is also good for portrait shots. Make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/500 sec and preferably more like 1/1000 or 1/2000 sec.

4. Learn about your subject

The more you know about birds, or any species and the issues affecting it, you will be able to think about the type of image that would best show the story you want to tell. It may also help inform the use of colour or black & white, what angle to take the subject from, what kind of lighting or weather would help inform your images, the time of day, place and direction you’d like to take the image from.

5. Continuous autofocus

This means that the camera will keep focusing once the shutter button is pressed. This is perfect when shooting pictures of birds, as they'll never stay perfectly still - your camera's focus will track them until you're ready to take the shot. You can try focussing on an area and then taking the camera off auto focus. The bird will be in focus when it enters that space.

6. Continuous Drive mode

By switching to this, you will be able to capture a sequence of images when the bird moves or flies away. So you can hope that at least a few of your images will be how you would like them.

7. Exposure & Metering

Exposure deals with how much light we need and metering deals with measuring how much light is available. For flying birds, like those in the image shown, you can adjust with Exposure Compensation and set metering to Matrix (Nikon), Evaluative (Canon), or Centre Weighted. Spot is best for backlit subjects but beware that only a small portion of the subject is metered.

8. Backgrounds

Always be aware of your backgrounds. Move around to where you will have the best background in your shot. Keep mindful of this the whole time you are shooting.

You may also need to get down lower to help shooting across water and/or being eye level with your subject can help.

9. Lighting

Try to keep the light behind you so that is casts light on the subject. The sun low on the horizon, at the start and end of the day, will always help bring a subject to life. Midday the light tends to flatten. This is the case for any subject. Be aware of shadows too. This can be overcome using an external flash and, if you have one, a Better Beamer (a device used with your flash to fill in the shadows and the range of light).

10. Panning

When your subject is flying from left to right or vice versa, ensure that you pan with your subject. This will blur your background, but may take some practice to get the subject, particularly the eyes, in focus. Small birds are quite a challenge!

Wildlife photography courses

For more tips and tricks for photographing birds, join Rachel’s Birds of Prey workshop or any of her workshops or classes will help you learn to use your camera equipment to make inspiring nature, landscape and environmental images:


Photography day out - Birds of Prey

Red & Fallow Deer with Flora Photography near Hampton Court

Big Cats Photography in Hertfordshire


Rachel teaches a five week Mindful Photography course at Build. On this course students learn the principles and practice of mindfulness and apply them to their photography. It’s amazing how quickly students start to develop your own personal photographic style which in itself boosts confidence and a sense of achievement. 

She also teaches a five week Creative Nature Photography course. This course is designed for students who would like to learn about the skills necessary to take stunning and thought provoking images of nature, the environment and the issues affecting it. It will take the student on a photographic journey into the creative and interpretive methods that can be applied when making images with impact. 

You can find more information, contact details and photographic projects on Rachel’s website at:

F: T:


Build run various photography courses in London.


Browse all photography courses at Build.

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