Simple Bird Photography Settings for Beginners

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Bird Photography DSLR Settings for Beginners, Novice, and Amateurs. Bird Photography Tips and Techniques by Prathap.

I feel I am going off-track here. I have not been able to write a lot these days because I have spent an enormous amount of time in developing the V-BLESSED framework. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as I didn’t receive enough support from our readers.

But, that’s okay. Sometimes, the best of the intentions go wrong.

Enough said. Let’s understand some key bird photography settings that might set you up in the right direction.

In my opinion, “Settings” is all that myriad of bird photographers are looking for. Which is unfortunate.

Let me ask you a simple question: What’s your first reaction when you look at the most beautiful bird photograph?

Do you say “Wow! What an amazing photograph!” and then sink in the beauty of it?

Or do you say “What equipment is the photographer using? What settings have they used? Maybe that photographer has expensive equipment.”

If it’s the latter, you have to turn it around and start appreciating the beauty first. Here’s why.

Suppose you are looking at an extra-ordinary painting of a bird, what are your thoughts?

You would appreciate the painting, and then you would appreciate the painter, and hopefully, you will spend quite some time sinking in the beauty of the bird. Isn’t it? Yes or no?

See…you would never think for a moment about which paper, painting kit, brush, or easel did the painter use to paint this. Right? Why is that? Simply because you know that the equipment cannot make you a great painter. You have tried it and know that for sure.

But, why is that it’s not the same when it comes to photography. Why do you think that it’s about the settings and equipment?

It’s about you. Always, it’s about the photographer not about the equipment he/she uses.

Alright, if I have changed your viewpoint (at least up to an extent), then I can give you a head-start about the necessary settings that you can use for your bird photography. But, remember that settings alone cannot make you a great photographer. It will only set you in the direction.

Let’s make it simple and practical.

Simple Bird Photography Settings for Beginners

  1. Choose a semi-automatic mode like Aperture Priority. If you are well versed with Manual Mode, you can use it. But, I would recommend you to practice Aperture Priority mode too, as it might come handy.

Read about Photography Basics – Aperture [Part V]

  1. Choose the continuous Autofocus Mode like AF-C (for Nikon) or AI-Servo (for Canon) or equivalent for your camera. This helps to track the movements of the bird.

    Bird Photography DSLR Settings for Beginners, Novice, and Amateurs. Bird Photography Tips and Techniques by Prathap.

    You would be able to capture the slight/subtle movements of the bird when you use continuous autofocus mode clubbed with high burst speeds. This photograph is taken in Old Magazine House (OMH) Jungle Lodges in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India.

  2. Set the burst speed to CH (or continuous high speed) mode to utilize the maximum burst speed your camera supports. This is critical as you would want to get the perfect pose of the bird.
  3. Choose Evaluative (for Canon) or Matrix (for Nikon) metering. This metering mode evaluates the entire scene to calculate the required exposure. This means you’ll get a balanced exposure for your subject and the background. If you are choosing Spot metering, make sure that the auto-focus point is tied to the metering. Otherwise, it’s of no use, unless you always shoot with center auto-focus point.

Read DSLR Basics: Understanding Camera Metering Modes

  1. Use Exposure Compensation to adjust the exposure based on the scene. It is usually denoted by +/- and there’ll be a dedicated button in most of the DSLRs. Note that exposure reading from the meter is never the perfect one. It’s usually +/- 0.3 or 0.7 difference that gives you a perfect exposure. Try taking various exposures for the same subject to see what works the best.

    Bird Photography DSLR Settings for Beginners, Novice, and Amateurs. Bird Photography Tips and Techniques by Prathap.

    Most often the perfect exposure is never at 0. It’s +/- of 0.3 to 1 stops. It could be more or less. Always, try to use exposure compensation to understand how it can impact the result. With time, you’d understand it’s significance. This photograph is taken in Old Magazine House (OMH) Jungle Lodges in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India.

Read Photography Basics – Understanding Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

  1. Turn ON the overexposed highlights indicator (In some cameras, referred to as Enable Highlights. Generic name for this is ). It’s usually found in the Playback menu of your DSLR. When enabled, it’ll blink wherever the image is overexposed. Test it by intentionally overexposing an image. It should blink while reviewing your image on the LCD monitor. Whenever there’s blinkies, you should compensate for the exposure using exposure compensation technique by underexposing the scene.

    Bird Photography DSLR Settings for Beginners, Novice, and Amateurs. Bird Photography Tips and Techniques by Prathap.

    Turning ON highlight indicator (blinkies) is a must for every photographer. Remember you should “Always Expose for the Highlights.” Which means, there shouldn’t be any overexposed areas in your image. This photograph is taken in Old Magazine House (OMH) Jungle Lodges in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India.

  2. Keep the ISO between 400 and 800 (or less if there’s enough light) if you are using a cropped-sensor DSLR (APS-C or DX format camera). Try sticking to a smaller ISO value so that you get a clean image. Cropped-sensor DSLRs are notoriously noisy in higher ISO range. Test it. For full-frame DSLRs, you can keep the ISO at 400 to 1600.

    Bird Photography DSLR Settings for Beginners, Novice, and Amateurs. Bird Photography Tips and Techniques by Prathap.

    Work with the ISO range that you can accept. Because, the noise is subjective and you need to decide how much is acceptable by you. Most often, it’s better to keep the ISO as low as possible. This photograph is taken in Old Magazine House (OMH) Jungle Lodges in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India.

Read Choosing the Camera Body for Bird Photography & Photography Basics – ISO [Part VIII].

  1. Aim to get the shutter speeds of at least 1/500th of a second to freeze the action as well as to avoid any camera shake. The higher the shutter speed, better it is. However, don’t sacrifice the image quality by bumping up the ISO. If you are using a tripod or beanbag, you can choose the slower shutter speeds as needed.

Read Photography Basics – Shutter Speed [Part VII]

Don’t forget to test your lens to see if it’s sharp enough.

Note: Use a Class 10 memory card of at least 95 MB/s and above to make the best of your camera. A slow memory card will ruin the burst speeds that your DSLRs support.

Conclusion

I think if you follow the above settings, you would be able to kick start your bird photography in a better way.

Just remember that all the above settings have just ONE GOAL – to get the proper EXPOSURE. No matter what you do, don’t forget to check the histogram every single time. See if it’s underexposed or overexposed if so, use exposure compensation to correct it.

Always check the histogram. I see a lot many photographers not doing it. It’s a mistake. The histogram is your best friend. Make use of it. If you know that an action would unfold in a particular location, take a test shot beforehand. Check the exposure, if it’s not okay; try compensating it until you are satisfied with the exposure. Then, when the action unfolds, you don’t have to worry!

Read Understanding Histogram: The Easiest Way to Achieve Proper Exposure

To make it super easy for you, I have written an article called 10 Must-Use Bird Photography Camera Settings for Beginners for Digital Photography School. It’s very elaborate and has information about all these settings.

Let me know how it goes, in your comments. I am not seeing a lot of comments these days. Is it because my articles are not good? Or, is it because you don’t feel like sharing your thoughts?

Let me tell you that your comments are important—small or big.

Talk to you soon.

Cheers,

Prathap

P.S. May I ask you a favor? Would you be able to articulate why you didn’t opt for the V-BLESSED membership site? Please be honest. If you don’t want to say it here, you can at least mail me and share your thoughts.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to check out my article 10 Must-Use Bird Photography Camera Settings for Beginners that I wrote for Digital Photography School. It’s very elaborate and has information about all these settings.

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15 Responses to Simple Bird Photography Settings for Beginners

  1. Katherine April 7, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    Hi Prathap, I read your newsletters/emails and I also view/read many of the links you provide. I do think that what you write is insightful and I enjoy reading what you write. The reason I have not signed up with V-Blessed is that I have subscribed to many photography sites and rarely have the time to read them all. I like your emails because they are simple, short, easy to read and contains good information……everything I like! Plus you don’t inundate my inbox with sales and promotions which is a big turnoff for me. I wouldn’t say I am a beginner but it sure is nice to be reminded of things!

    • Prathap April 12, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

      Hi Katherine, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It helps me a lot to understand the dynamics. Yes, I think many of the other readers agree with your viewpoints.
      Thank you for your kind words about my work.

    • Gaynor May 29, 2017 at 7:13 pm #

      Well said Katherine I agree with you 100%. Your writings are very good Prathap – simple to understand and very, very helpful. I’ve really learnt a lot from what you publish. A big thank you!!

  2. Devendra April 7, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Prathap, I read and enjoy all your mails and newsletters and had thought of opting for V-Blessed. However, to be truthful,the monthly recurring expenditure of 20/40 USD (non-concessional membership fee) appeared a bit too steep for Indians. I understand you went for the model of adobe CC but I am sure other than professionals/business users, there are not very many takers of Adobe CC too.

    • Prathap April 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

      Hi Devendra, Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your honest thoughts.

  3. Sandi April 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    Hello Prathap,
    I very much enjoy reading your informative newsletters. I have learned a lot!
    I ditto everything said by the previous commenters. I currently don’t have time for much photography nor to read all my email subscriptions, but I look forward to when I will be able to catch up. Thank you so much!

    • Prathap April 12, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Sandi, Thank you for your kind words. I see that most of my readers have the same issue. In fact, I can relate to this too.

  4. Rupa April 12, 2017 at 1:21 am #

    Prathap, you have a beautiful blog and have excellent, well written articles. Like others, I don’t have enough time to follow different sites I have already either paid for or have subscribed to. No point I figured, without enough time to actually practice photography…so I refrained from subscribing to V-Blessed. Price was reasonable in $ I felt. Best wishes.

    • Prathap April 12, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

      Hi Rupa, Thank you so much for your kind words. Information overload is definitely an issue I always thought of. But, I somehow ended up giving too much information as part of V-BLESSED 🙂

  5. Wendy April 12, 2017 at 11:16 am #

    Prathap, I really enjoy your articles, and appreciate you not inundating my inbox trying to sell things, like other sites do. I also don’t get time to read all the emails I receive, but always try to read yours. I really can’t afford the extra cost of V-Blesses on top of CC & other monthly fees.
    Kind regards, Wendy.

    • Prathap April 12, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

      Hi Wendy, Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad to have known that you and other readers give so much importance to my emails.

  6. Judy Lundquist April 12, 2017 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi Prathap

    Like many of your readers, I enjoy, and benefit from, your practical and to-the-point posts, etc. However, also like many, I have to be careful of my money. If I opt for some subscription such as yours, I always have to weigh carefully whether I will have enough time to keep up and really get the full impact of what’s offered.

    Just afraid of commitment, I guess!

    Another thing I like about the information I have seen from you is that it is always positive, and without assumptions that everyone has the latest and greatest photo gear.

  7. donna April 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    hi,
    thank you so much for simplifying things, as a beginner there is so much to learn. I browse through your photographs and they are magnificent.

    i just have to reread on aperture again, and again and tweak on my camera. i also like no .10-making histogram a photographer’s bestfriend.

    thank you much! do yo have a hard copy book on sale? I’m an old soul, so i still prefer browsing thru pages. what i did while reading the key points was write the key note down.

  8. dotun55 April 20, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    Easy to follow tips with beautiful sample photos

  9. Sudipta Bhattacharya April 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

    This is a good article but for little bit advanced photographer. I am a regular reader of your articles. But I have been in serious enthousiast bird photographer for past two years , so I need a little advance article. For example how to increase number of success rate , or new equipment like Nikon d500 type of camera over existing 7xxx series or ff cameras for bird photography over d500 etc. So that those like us using d7xxx series of old camera take a knowledge how to improve success rate.

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