Bird Photography Fundamentals

There are four bird photography fundamentals we can keep in mind that help add some interest, action, and drama to our images. Rather than camera gear based fundamentals, they relate to the kinds of behaviours that birds exhibit. To state these four bird photography fundamentals as politely as possible these include flying, feeding, fighting, and fornicating. I like to call these the “four F’s” of bird photography. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should stop photographing perched birds.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2000, full frame capture, subject distance 5.9 metres, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking

Many of us are fascinated by birds, finding special beauty in the multiple colourations found in their plumage.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-2500, subject distance 4.9 Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking

Photographing perched birds yields its own rewards.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 413 mm, efov 826 mm, f/8.8, 1/800, ISO-1250, subject distance 3.1 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI

Even some of the most common birds in our local areas can grace our photographs with their intricate beauty.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 529 mm, efov 1058 mm, 1/2000, f/9, -0.7 EV, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 5034 pixels on the width, subject distance 12.4 metres

Some images of perched birds can capture moments of concentration.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4552 pixels on the width, subject distance 1.6 metres

Inquisitiveness.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-5000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4355 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.9 metres

Or caution and awareness.

OM-D D-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 4184 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.8 metres

Many of us have opportunities to capture images of migratory species that are only visible in our local areas for a limited duration of time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-6400, Bird Detection AI, full frame capture, subject distance 7.1 metres

Capturing images of perched birds is how most of us begin our journey with this genre of photography.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 208 mm, efov 561.6 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

Some people travel specifically to photograph birds in other countries or on other continents.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-3200

Others of us visit captive environments to capture images of non-native bird species. Our fascination with bird photography sometimes evolves into a passion. Sometimes we think of bird photography fundamentals in terms of how we use our camera gear.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with MC-20 teleconverter @ 250 mm, efov 500 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200, FL-700WR flash used, subject distance 4.3 metres

Let’s examine four bird photography fundamentals that can expand our craft by focusing on the actions of subject birds. The first is flying.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2999 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.2 metres

Capturing images of birds-in-flight is often one of the biggest ongoing challenges we face.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3122 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.9 metres

We need to develop good eye/hand coordination to photograph birds-in-flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI, subject distance 33.4 metres, full frame capture

It is also important to develop a sense of timing in order to capture images of birds-in-flight where the subject bird’s wings are in an interesting position.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250 mm, efov 675 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

It can also add drama if we capture a bird banking or stalling in mid-flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, subject distance 7 metres

As we become more committed to photographing birds-in-flight our interest in the capabilities of our camera gear tends to increase.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, cropped to 4320 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, Subject distance 4.7 metres

We investigate auto-focusing capabilities and frame rates.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1250

Many of us choose to invest in longer focal length lenses and/or teleconverters to increase the reach of our camera gear.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3581 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

Computational photography features can become increasingly important in terms of our choice of camera gear. For example, I rely heavily my E-M1X’s Pro Capture technology, and Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 80 mm, efov 160 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H mode

Capturing images of birds-in-flight can extend to our visits of captive environments and create additional drama in resulting photographs. Of the four bird photography fundamentals capturing birds-in-flight is the most common pursuit by many photographers.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 346 mm, efov 692 mm, f/8.6 1/3200, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, cropped to 1807 pixels on the width, subject distance 53.1 metres

After flying, our next stage in the four fundamentals of bird photography is feeding. Often flying and feeding are combined in the same photograph.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 212 mm, efov 424 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250, subject distance 5.6 metres

Photographing birds feeding is not for the faint of heart. Nature can be brutal as the continued life of one bird can come at the expense of the death of another living thing.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 step, 1/1600, ISO-250, subject distance 4.8 metres

Some photographers avoid these types of images as they find them personally disturbing. Some folks are affected more by certain types of prey than others. For example, a bird eating the chick of another species may cause disgust, while a bird feeding on a fish or insect may not.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M. Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 95 mm, efov 190 mm, f/4, + 0.3 step, 1/1000, ISO-6400, subject distance 955 mm

Images of birds feeding can sometimes document the interaction between birds, often with their young.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm @ 220 mm, efov 594 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-450

After chicks are fledged is usually a good time to photograph this type of behaviour.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 192 mm, efov 519 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560

Bird photographers that I know tend to be very open and share their successes with other people in terms of where they were able to capture images of birds feeding. They also can be open to sharing their technique and camera settings that they use.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3238 pixels on the width, subject distance 65 metres

Photographing birds feeding can add a significant amount of drama to images. Shutter release timing, as well as good eye/hand coordination are required. Of the four bird photography fundamentals some photographers will spend the bulk of their time trying to capture this type of action.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 152 mm, efov 410 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1000, cropped to 4365 pixels on the width
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 VR @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1100, cropped to 4048 pixels on the width

The third area in the four fundaments of bird photography is fighting. These moments usually occur very quickly and are more akin to brief skirmishes rather than full fledged fights most of the time. If fights do break out they can result in serious injury or death.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3966 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres

I’ve found that images of fighting/skirmishes are often some of the most difficult to capture given their brevity. It can be very helpful to learn to recognize bird threat behaviours.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-640. Pro Capture L

Fighting is often not much more than a threat display from one bird to another that then erupts into a short chase or confrontation.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/6400, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2486 pixels on the width, subject distance 30.5 metres
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-6400
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/6400, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2997 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2497 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3408 pixels on the height, subject distance 4.6 metres
OM-D E-M`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, -0.3 EV, 1/1600, ISO-4000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2736 pixels on the height, subject distance 136.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3216 pixels on the height, subject distance 33.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/7.1, 1/2500, ISO-1000, full frame capture, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, subject distance 17.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/2500, ISO-1000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4365 pixels on the width, subject distance 58.4 metres

Our final area of the four bird photography fundamentals is fornicating or mating. The act of mating is often very brief and usually involves the momentary mounting of a male bird on the back of a female.

Computational photography technologies such as Pro Capture can allow us to capture this mounting action as it occurs, as depicted in the following six images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres

The actual mating time can vary quite a bit with smaller birds tending to have very brief couplings. Larger birds, like swans, can have more extended interludes.

OM-D E-M`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, -0.3 EV, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3813 pixels on the width, subject distance 143.2 metres
OM-D E-M`X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, -0.3 EV, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3885 pixels on the width, subject distance 147 metres

Many species of birds have unique courtship displays which can also make very interesting photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

Remembering the four bird photography fundamentals can help add some interest, action and drama to our images. Focusing on the “four F’s” of flying, feeding, fighting and fornicating can also make our time spent with our camera a more creative and enjoyable experience when out photographing birds.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post.  Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,183 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

How you can help keep this site advertising free

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to support my work, you can purchase an eBook, or make a donation through PayPal. Both are most appreciated.

If you click on the Donate button below you will find that there are three donation options: $7.50, $10.00 and $20.00. All are in Canadian funds. Plus, you can choose a different amount if you want. You can also increase your donation amount to help offset our costs associated with accepting your donation through PayPal. An ongoing, monthly contribution to support our work can also be done through the PayPal Donate button below.

You can make your donation through your PayPal account, or by using a number of credit card options.



 As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store. Be sure to use my discount code when you make your purchase.

Word of mouth is the best form of endorsement. If you like our website please let your friends and associates know about our work. Linking to this site or to specific articles is allowed with proper acknowledgement. Reproducing articles, or any of the images contained in them, on another website or in any social media posting is a Copyright infringement.

Article is Copyright 2022 Thomas Stirr. Images are Copyright 2017-2022 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

2 thoughts on “Bird Photography Fundamentals”

  1. A most interesting article as I find this my favorite type of photography. My wife & I both love wildlife photography & have done it for many years, but small fast birds challenge us the most.
    Yes, Pro Capture gives us the best chance to get the image we want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *