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The 2 Pain Points Of Most Bird Photographers And The Solutions

The 2 Pain Points of Most Bird Photographers And The Solutions

Bird Photography Simplified. Best book or ebook on Bird Photography by Prathap.

It’s a cold winter morning in Bangalore.

It’s been more than 10 days we saw the Sun here. It reminds me of my cold and chilled days of Stockholm and Chicago. This is the first time we are encountering this in South India. Most of the states are in floods and rain continues to create havoc.

I hope this fades away and soon there will be Sun.

You must be wondering why I am telling you this. There’s no reason really. I thought of sharing how I am feeling right now.

So…let’s see what we have for today.

Today I am discussing the pain point of many budding and experienced bird photographers alike. This is based on several bird photographers whom I have interacted with over several years.

You’re probably facing these exact same issues. So, pay ATTENTION. Because, what you are going to learn today will change your viewpoint forever.

The pain point is that most bird photographers do not seem to think beyond the equipment and the settings. That’s very sad.

Pain Point #1: I Don’t Have Good Equipment

Let’s understand what a good equipment mean in terms of bird photography.

A good set of equipment can give you:

  • More reach.
  • More autofocus points.
  • More photographs per second.
  • More dynamic range.
  • Better ISO.
  • And so on.

But, there is no equipment that will automagically give you good photographs. It’s purely in your hands. If you, as a photographer, have not upgraded over the years, how can an upgrade in camera or lens make you a better photographer?


For example: Say you are accustomed to using center autofocus points. In the field, you will always keep your subject in the center. If you take another camera and/or lens, will you use other autofocus points? You will not. You will continue using the center focus point.

So, what is the use of having 61 autofocus points vs 21?

You might say there is no substitute to having a longer lens in bird photography.

I agree.

But, how long is long enough? There’s no end in fact. Birds are always far. There’s always a need for some more reach. There’s always a need for a 2000 mm lens. Not kidding.

The need for longer lens never ends. It’s greed than a need 🙂

There’s always a trade-off between how far your lens can reach vs. how close can you go to the bird. Always, the latter wins. I think the only way to convince you is to wait till you experience this hard truth 🙂

“Bottom line: Aim for greater knowledge and experience than a greater equipment.”

Pain Point #2: I Don’t Know the Exact Settings

I won’t tell you either. Because it’s a secret 🙂

It’s the secret ingredient of the secret soup (Courtesy: Kung Fu Panda movie). And there is no secret ingredient!

Yes. There’s no secret setting that professionals use, which you do not know about.

I know it’s very hard to digest for you. I haven’t been able to convince many photographers that there’s nothing called ideal setting.

That doesn’t mean I will stop telling this truth. It’s the truth that no one can deny. It’s the truth that you have to experience right away.

You know how?

Do this experiment: Consider some photographs of your recent photography trip. Figure out few different photographs that were taken in the same light and same place. Now, carefully check the settings of each of these photographs. Are they same? Do you see the same exact combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and the ISO?

Not at all. If you cannot get the same setting for the photographs taken with same light and place, how can you BELIEVE that some setting that a pro photographer will give you will work magic for you? It simply doesn’t make sense.

You might say “then…what’s the solution?”

The Solution: Strive to Make Your Life Simple

Think Photography. Think Simple.

Solution to the Better Equipment

Always strive to make your life simple. Do you need the best equipment? Go for it.

If you can’t, then there is no point in cribbing. Isn’t it?

As long as you can’t buy a new one, embrace what you have. Work through your limitations. If you don’t have better fps, then practice shooting right at the critical moment. Press the shutter only when it is necessary.

If you don’t have a longer reach, wait for the bird to come closer. Or, use different techniques to approach the bird. Or, chose a location where you can approach the bird. Or, go for habitat photograph instead. Try out something unique. Learn to do stronger composition.

You see, it just DEPENDS ON YOU! You have to take the necessary steps to overcome the limitations. You have to challenge the situation and strive to become a better photographer.

Solution to the Settings

Understand that there is no ideal setting.

If there is no ideal setting, then you are left with no choice but to experiment. There are more than a dozen setting to work with. It’s ridiculously difficult.


I sympathize with you too. Instead of worrying about a dozen setting, how about reducing the variables to a very few which you can easily handle?

Let’s see what you can do. First fix the ones that you don’t need to change often.

NOTE: These settings are only for bird photography.

  1. Choose one metering mode and stick with it. Evaluative (for Canon) and Matrix (for Nikon).
  2. Choose one focusing mode and stick with it. AI-Servo (for Canon) and AF-C (for Nikon).
  3. Choose highest frames per second that your camera provides.
  4. Choose the Auto-ISO setting and cap the maximum sensitivity to 400 (if you have an entry-level camera) or 800 (if you have a mid-range camera) or 1600 (if you have a pro-level camera)
  5. Choose the Aperture Priority mode so that you can set the Aperture and leave the rest to the Camera.

Note: When you are not getting the desired Shutter Speed, go with Shutter Priority mode.

Do you see how many of the settings are taken care of? You are now left with a handful of settings to work with.

  1. Choosing the right aperture value to get the required Depth of Field.
  2. Choosing the right focal length to get the composition.
  3. Choosing the right autofocus point to focus on the subject.
  4. Exposure compensation to compensate for any under or over exposure.

Isn’t it a piece of cake to select the right focal length? The right autofocus point? It better be.

Then what are you left with?

Select the right aperture value and the exposure compensation. What’s the big deal about it?

Most often, you would need only the bird in sharp focus. This calls for maximum aperture opening.

You are then left with only exposure compensation. How easy it is now. Check the histogram. Is it underexposed? Dial +0.3 to +3 stops of exposure compensation to get the right exposure. Is it overexposed? Dial -0.3 to -3 stops of exposure compensation to get the right exposure.

Now, go and figure out how to do these settings in your camera. Practice it until you are bored to death. Be so fluent that you need not have to think where these settings are. It should be done effortlessly. Just the way you walk effortlessly. Not kidding.

Remember, when you were a kid. Walking was such a great effort. Why walking, standing was like climbing the Himalayas. But you did it. We all did it. We did with practice, patience, and perseverance.

If you have to succeed in bird photography you need the 3 Ps – Practice, Patience, and Perseverance – more than ever.


Make your life simple. Always try to find a way to simplify the settings. It doesn’t really matter what settings you use, what really matters is whether your photograph is evocative or not.

Remember, when you go wow on someone’s bird photograph, you will never say wow he has used manual mode, or he has used pro-equipment, or he has used 51 autofocus points. If you do, I can’t help you.

What really matters is whether your bird photographs are appealing to the viewers or not. The viewers DON’T CARE which camera or lens or settings have you used. All that they care is the photograph and the photographer.

Have you seen the results of some of the major photography competitions? Are the winning photos taken always with the best equipment with an ideal setting? It just doesn’t matter to the judges. What matters is whether that photograph is unique and strongly composed and/or whether it tells a story.

So…stop thinking about I don’t have this or that. Start to THINK LIKE A PRO.

My latest eBook “Bird Photography Simplified – A Virtual Masterclass” is all about steering you in the direction of Think Like a Pro concept. I can guarantee you that your whole point of view of bird photography will change after reading this eBook.

If you apply the concepts in the eBook, you just can’t miss making better photographs. It’s INEVITABLE.

Bird Photography Simplified. Best book or ebook on Bird Photography by Prathap.


Remember, this eBook is NOT a paint-by-numbers eBook. If you expect it to be, then you are bound to be disappointed.


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Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. A most inspiring and interesting article. Always enjoying going to your site and find your photographs out of this world.
    Thank you.

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  2. Prathap, thanks for the article. You have absolutely nailed it in this article. Waiting for your book. Yes bangalore needs some sun shine soon 🙂

  3. LOL – Prathap, you have said it all, and more than all. You are very kind – generous – in the way you share your knowledge. And very wise in telling people who want to emulate your bird photography that they do not need to bankrupt themselves, buying more glass & junk (AKA lenses and cameras).

    There is a reason why Canon, Nikon and all the other manufacturers sell so many half frame cameras, for example, is that those cameras are designed to be “all things for all people”. They are designed with all the features most people will ever want or need or use.

    And then along comes someone who says those cameras “use crop sensors”, or they are “only half frame”, or that some other camera has more mega pixels. So their owners all rush off to the nearest store – for what? – to see how much money it is possible to spend on more cameras and more lenses?

    I recently stood in one of my favorite camera shops, waiting to be served, while an elderly gentleman was asking about the “latest Nikon lenses”. He’d heard they had introduced a new zoom, and he wasn’t sure if it was 200-400 or 200-500. But he wanted to know the price. Of both – of course. Which kind of suggested he has neither, so far. And then he let it slip that he lives on the age pension. I was aghast – of course it was none of my business, so I said nothing. But I couldn’t conceive of anything that a person his age is likely to photograph, where it is critical to have a 500mm maximum focal length on his zoom lens, and why 400mm wouldn’t be more than sufficient. Any cropping that would result would be minimal – and as Ansell Adams showed, most photos aren’t taken on such long lenses anyway.

    Of course it’s different for bird & other wild life photography, and sports photography. But I still wondered if that gentleman would be ringside at the next football match, or out in the wilds before dawn looking for a suitable spot to capture photos of birds at first light. Just exactly WHAT would he EVER use such a lens for?

    I came across a comment from the well known American photographer, Ken Rockwell, whose reviews of new equipment are famous. Someone had obviously asked about cameras with more pixels, and Ken was patiently discussing all the relevant issues. When he suddenly appeared to have become quite exasperated, and said something along the following lines:

    “If you REALLY want to get a sharper picture, go and buy yourself a medium size camera and fit it out with the cheapest lens you can find on eBay. And you’ll find it takes a sharper picture than any full frame DSLR you can ever buy!”

    I apologise to Ken if that’s not 100% accurate, but I think it captures what he meant.

    To me, the point is that it is NOT the camera that takes the photo, it is the photographer who is holding the camera who takes the photo.

    Less experienced amateur photographers need to realise that, and get on with taking better photos, instead of worrying about whether they must buy some other equipment.

    Professional photographers know it already. In fact, you often come across a professional who is trying a new camera aimed at the amateur market, and having a wonderful time discovering what great photos he or she can capture with this gear, instead of lugging a ton of professional gear around all the time.

    1. Richard…Us ‘old’ people actually find many things to photograph. Geesh.

      I don’t know your age but I am in the age group to are so aghast at wanting such a lens and I shoot a 500mm Nikon handheld from a kayak most of the time. With professional results. In my experience it is always us old farts who are out in the mornings set up and ready to shoot before the rest of the crowd shows up hastily searching for the best light etc. As you can tell I take exception to your ageism.

      Just by the fact that you are quoting Ken Rockwell as credible shows to me that this ‘elderly’ gentleman probably was more advanced than you are in this craft. I am not trying to start some flame ware with you, just being honest. Mr.Rockwell actually misleads a lot of young photographers, (ha ha) gotcha back.

      I would also like to point out that a 500mm lens has 25% more reach or magnification than a 400mm lens. Anyone who has ever used these lenses understands that the difference between 400mm and 500mm is enormous.

      And finally, we use long focal lengths primarily to fill the frame with our subject and capture detail, not to shoot from half a kilometer away.


      1. 73, if it matters. And I trust the explanation of the virtues of a 500 mm lens was intended for someone else – I’ve been buried in photography for over 60 years, so none of it is news to me, except the new technologies involved in going head first into digital.

        Like Ken Rockwell, I was merely trying to underscore the point that it is not the camera, the lens or anything else that creates the photo – it is the photographer. And it is simply not essential to buy the biggest, most powerful or most expensive gizmo, to take a good photo.

    1. Hi Monte,
      Thank you for bringing up this point.
      I agree and disagree for a reason. Matrix or evaluative metering mode is evolving rapidly. If you have good dynamic range support by your camera, matrix or evaluative metering combined with exposure compensation can be a boon. You have to also give prominence to the background because as I say “Background makes the picture.”
      Spot metering is definitely a preferred metering mode for many bird photographers. I used it for more than 7 years 🙂 But one thing which many photographers might not know is, in many Canon cameras spot metering is not tied to the autofocus point. This is a serious hindrance because if you want the accurate exposure you want the autofocus point and the spot metering working together. Otherwise, you are essentially metering from the center, always!

  4. Mr Prathap,
    Thanks for giving such important tips for amateurs like me.
    I appreciate the point regarding -its the man behind the camera rather the other way round. It is well understood that one must have good equipment but that should not come in the way of better photography.

    Resham Singh

  5. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of info.
    I am happy that you just shared this helpful info with us.
    Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Re setting highest ISO, I am using Nikon D3300, is this considered an entry level camera or mid range? Great book and great blog; very informative

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