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Camera Settings

Lesson 4 from: Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Ben Knoot

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Lesson Info

4. Camera Settings

Lesson Info

Camera Settings

Now let's go over some of the settings that I use when I'm in the field. Generally for beginners, I like to work with them on aperture, which is AV or A on your camera. When you're going in aperture mode, what I would recommend to start is just leave your aperture wide open. Usually that's around five, six, four or eight. This is gonna let in the most light to you camera and it's gonna give you the best shot for that part of the camera settings. The next thing I'd recommend is a medium to high ISO, that way you can capture everything without having too slow of a shutter speed. Medium to high ISO is somewhere around 640 or depending on your camera. Once you've gotten that, the next thing you really need to look at is the light that you're shooting in. So, if you're shooting a white bird with direct sunlight on it, you need to underexpose a little bit for the whites. So generally white birds are underexposed, which is your exposure compensation, and then black birds are overexposed, aga...

in your exposure compensation. Overexposure is to the right, which is positive, underexposure is to the left, which is negative. Doing this is gonna keep the light balance in your image and it's gonna give you an overall a very pleasing look. As you advance, I would switch into manual, especially if you have a mirror-less. The advantage to mirror-less is, once you know the shutter speed you wanna use, you dial in the ISO and the F stop, and then you can see exactly how your image is gonna turn out. You can't really do that on a DSLR so shooting in manual's a little harder there. One thing that I would recommend is when you go into a certain area and if you know the birds you're gonna be shooting, preset your camera before you go in. So, for instance, out here on this lake, I know I'm shooting swallows that are dipping in for flies over the water surface, so I need at least a 1/2000th, even maybe even a 1/2500th of a second. So that's already dialed in on my camera. I've already looked through the camera before even looking at a swallow on the water. I've got the proper ISO set and I've got my proper aperture set. So now I'm just ready to shoot. Diving a little further into your settings and what they mean, F stop is the value that your aperture is open and closed. So, four, five, six, eight, these are all numbers that relate to how big the diaphragm is in your camera. Four and five, six are usually like the biggest ones that most people have so that's as wide as your aperture is gonna go. It's gonna let in the most light, gonna give you the fastest shutter speed, the softest background and then the shallowest depth of field. Apertures like 16, 22, these are very, very small, and these are gonna give you slower shutter speeds, a lot more of your photo's gonna be in focus, and also it means essentially your depth of field is very, very large. So for instance, if you have two birds that are not side by side but kind of slightly one in front of the other, and you focus on the one in the front, an aperture of F/4 is gonna just keep this front bird in focus, whereas an aperture of 22 or is gonna get 'em both in focus. So for instance, when I'm out here with these swallows, when they go down on the water, if I want a lot of the rings to be in focus when they hit the water, I'm gonna choose a higher aperture. Now this means I'm gonna get a lower shutter speed because of that, so that means I have to raise my ISO. Now ISO is your sensor's sensitivity to light. So essentially, the lower your ISO, the darker your image, the higher your ISO, the lighter your image. So if I have a swallow with a high aperture, I need a higher ISO to get a faster shutter speed so that I can freeze the wings and then also so that the image is light enough, because if my ISO is too low the image is gonna be dark and I can't bring out any of the detail. Another thing you can do is use exposure compensation. Exposure compensation is a way of controlling the brightness of your image. So when you move it to the positive value, this is brighter, when you move it to the negative value, this is darker. Moving it darker also increases your shutter speed and then the opposite, moving it lighter decreases your shutter speed. So you use all three of these in combination to affect your shutter speed. Shutter speed essentially is just how fast the shutter closes after you click the shutter. So essentially 1/2000th of a second, it's closing in 1/2000th of a second, two seconds, it takes two seconds to fully close and open. So for instance, when I'm shooting these swallows that are flying around and catching bugs on the water, I'm gonna need a pretty fast shutter speed, at least 1/2500th of a second. So I'm gonna set that camera up before I get to the shoot. That way I'm ready to go when I get there so I don't miss anything. A really helpful tip is to set your camera up with its custom settings. Each camera should have a custom setting mode so what you wanna do is you wanna set one of 'em for birds not moving, and one of 'em for birds in flight or action type shots. For your birds not moving, what I would recommend is a lower F stop, four, five, six, something you can get down low, a shutter speed that is gonna be controlled by the camera but it should come out to something like 1/400th of a second and how you would get that is about a high-ish to low ISO something like 500, 640, I would cap it about 800. That way you don't see too much green. And then also your exposure compensation, this is a tricky one to preset. So I would keep it at neutral but just be really good and really fast on how to change it. Usually with most cameras, it's just a dial that you move one way or the other, but you can set that up in your camera. For the birds in flight or for action, the first thing I would do for this camera specifically is I would adjust your sensitivity to plus one. This is your CAF sensitivity. Plus one gives the camera a little extra juice to track that bird but not too much to where it starts getting kinda jittery. The next thing I would do is have kind of more of a low to medium F stop, something around eight. Usually things that are flying or in a blue sky and you can afford not to lose any kinda background softness. You can keep it at five six or four, but eight will give you that total focus from beak tip to tail tip. The other thing I would do is have a relatively higher ISO maybe 1250, 1600, that way you keep your shutter speed nice and high. Again, for most birds, you're gonna need at least 1/2000th of a second, 25 for flappers, for quick flappers. Hummingbirds, if you're ever shooting hummingbirds without multi-flash, you'll need at least 1/4000th of a second unless you're going down for the Amethyst Woodstar. That one I know you need 1/5000th of a second, has fastest wing beat. So keep those in mind when you go and you shoot. You can preset those custom settings so that you're ready to shoot whenever you need it. Remember that these are all general settings. Your situation's gonna depend on the bird, the light and the background.

Ratings and Reviews


I liked this class. It gives beginners a great place to start photographing birds. I especially liked his lesson on post-processing. Too many classes skip that part. The use of bird calls is what it is. To be competitive in bird photography you probably have to use them. I personally won't; it's just not worth it to me. So nice to see a young person active in this field!

Colleen Church

This class is wonderful. Ben give you some very helpful information to starting your photo birding adventures. The apps he suggested are very helpful. The tips for scouting and what to look get you going. I will definitely be watching it again.

a Creativelive Student

I really enjoyed this course. The instructor doesn't beat around the bush. He gives you useful information that you can implement. I especially loved that he talks about apps on your phone that could be used to make your experience more fruitful. The only thing I didn't like was the advertisement for Olympus, but you can just skip that part.

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