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Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Lesson 3 of 14


Ben Knoot

Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Ben Knoot

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Lesson Info

3. Gear


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1 Class Introduction Duration:00:25
2 Location Scouting Duration:12:54
3 Gear Duration:07:43
4 Camera Settings Duration:05:54
6 Composition Duration:01:51

Lesson Info


So, now I'm gonna walk you through some of the gear that I have. Let's start off with the Olympus E-M Mark II. This was actually the very first one that I got, and this is what got me into Olympus. It's super light, super compact, and super portable, which is one reason why I really love it. It's got really great ISO performance, super fast, and it's just overall it's a really good body to have. After I got really into it, I moved up to this guy which is their new 1X. This one, as you can see, is a little bigger. And that's just because it's pretty much just got dual batteries in the back. What that gives you essentially is just longer battery life and also for me personally, I like the bigger body just because when I hold this guy here, for me, this one is a little small. But it's still a super good portable option for a lot of travel. This one, though, just feels better and I can shoot all day with it really comfortably with any lens that I have. This one is also really awesome. It's...

been upgraded with more IS, more image stabilization. And so now when I'm shooting with it, I can really really tell the difference and everything can slow way way down, which means my ISO can drop lower and lower, which is awesome. The 1X comes with this cool mode call Pro Capture Mode. And essentially what it does is as soon as you press the focus button halfway down and you start rolling the auto focus, it starts buffering photos. And then when you click the photo after your action has happened, it's taken that first 35 photos that you before you press the button and has recorded those to the card, and then it continues taking photos up until however long you set it for. So for instance, if you had it set for a maximum of 60 frames, then it would take those next 25 frames after you click the shutter. So it's a way to mitigate the human error part of missing a photo. This one also comes with improved AF tracking, which is super super good. This one, the Mark II, was really good, but the 1X is drastically improved and it makes capturing birds in flight a lot easier, tracking them through the dense forest a lot easier. So it's a big improvement and I really really like it. To go along with the 1X, I have this. This is the 300 F4. It's their pro lens, and it's got insane image stabilization. This in combination with the 1X that I shoot with, I can shoot things at about a tenth of a second handheld, and it can be tack sharp. It's actually quite remarkable. Going along with those, I usually put on the 1.4, mostly because I just want a little extra reach. So with the 1.4, the 300, and the 1X, I'm shooting at about an 840 millimeter equivalent. And all together it, I mean it's gotta weigh something about 4.5, five pounds or something like that. It's really really light, really compact, and it's super easy to use. I also just picked up the 2X, which is amazing 'cause if you put it on the 1X and the 300, you're shooting at a 1200 millimeter equivalent. Again, all around five pounds. Insane image stabilization, and you got that wicked speed from the pro capture. So it is really awesome. The newest little addition besides the 2X that I've gotten is this adorable little 40 to 150. This is a 2.8 all the way through, which is just insane. And it literally, I mean it weighs absolutely nothing. It's fantastic. And that is a really good lens for wildlife. I was actually out this morning, I was photographing a deer, nice backlit sun, 2.8, beautiful. Once I've got all of the gear kind of separated like this, I tend to have it all out in the open with me while I'm shooting so that I can quickly change things. So for instance, I told you I normally shoot with the 1X and the 300 with the 1.4. But sometimes if it's a little further, I'll switch the 1.4 out for the 2X. I'll get that extra reach. But then usually, I'm taking the 2X off and going back to the 1.4 because normally, I can kind of get close with things or I can bring things in to me. The Mark II here pretty much always has the 40 to 150 on it. Since I'm shooting mammals, mostly, with the 40 to 150, I don't need a super fast AF tracking. It'll help, I'm sure, but I don't need it. And until I can afford another 1X, I'm sticking with the Mark II for wildlife. So that's got this guy on it. Now that I've covered cameras, first off I gotta find animals. And so I just use a pair of binoculars. They're a 12 by 50, which is pretty big. They're pretty heavy, but they're a really good tool for spotting wildlife. The next thing I use is a speaker. Any portable speaker will work. A Bluetooth speaker is preferred. If you have a chord, it doesn't give you a lot of distance between your speaker, which means when you tape something in you can't get far enough away. It can't be comfortable to come down to check out what the recording is all about. So really you want a Bluetooth one, something with a range of like 30 feet is probably best. So that's a really great tool for bringing things in to a perch that I want it on. That way I can photograph it more easily. This is a little rocket puffer. It's pretty, it's nifty just for light dust and that kind of thing on your lens. Actually, if you get a layer of dust on your lens, it actually gets in between your subject and the camera and it can create a soft layer. So that can actually really affect the sharpness of your photo. So you want to keep the front element clean. I have this really nifty organizer here. This has a whole bunch of stuff ranging from camera chargers, flashlights, cords. Moving onto kind of accessories and what I take out with me on the field, chief among which is this cotton carrier. It is absolutely insane. It's a vest that goes on you, and there's this little clip here. And you can see on this lens here, I actually have the adjustment. And essentially all it does is it slides in horizontally, you twist it, and it locks in place. I can go running with this, I can do anything I want with it and it's key to saving your neck, your biceps, everything like that. It just prevents any kind of soreness from carrying a camera around all day. So it's a real plus. Lastly, pretty much all of this, the camera stuff, and my speaker and the puffer is stored in my Thule backpack here. This side compartment here opens up into a little pod, and all of this fits in this. So again, you have a range of about 80 millimeters all the way up to a possibility of fitting in a backpack with a system that is incredibly stable where you can shoot a tenth of a second, with a system that can shoot up to 60 frames a second on its Pro Capture Mode, which has really really good AF tracking, good enough for birds in flight. And it all fits right here in this backpack that fits very easily in an overhead bin on a plane. Also, I can take that hiking with me. I don't normally, but I can. And it's just really nice to have all of this light stuff so easily packed into a backpack that you can take with you anywhere you go. And if I'm going internationally, I do have a Pelican case that I bring everything in, simply be, I still bring this, but it holds my laptop, documents, headphones, and that kind of thing. I put everything in the Pelican case because some airlines are gonna make you check your bag. And the last thing you want is to check a backpack with a bunch of camera stuff. So I put it in a Pelican case, which has been dropped out of vans and everything like that, and it's been totally find. So that's pretty much what I take with me in the field. I usually only have one setup with me in the field. Usually it's the 300, the 1X, and the 1.4, and the 2X is in my pocket. These guys kinda hang in the car, unless I'm in a very wildlife focused area like Yellowstone, for instance. That way, both of these will be in the car ready to go ready to shoot depending on what I'm shooting. My iPhone is also an extremely important tool. It has all the bird calls I need, it's got the maps so I know where I'm going, it's got places that I've marked so I know how to get back to places, it's got my access to Ebird if I ever want to look up a new place, it's got bird identifications if for some reason I can't identify a bird. This phone has everything. This phone is just as essential as everything else. So it's a really really key key part of my photography.

Class Description


  • Learn the habitat and behaviors of a variety of birds
  • How to make the best light choices based off your subject
  • Turn the ordinary into the extraordinary using color, shadows, and symmetry
  • Fast post-processing techniques to take your images to the highest level


Make the most of your wildlife adventures with Ben Knoot in this beginners guide to bird Photography course. Ben Knoot has a background in environmental policy and education as well as a keen eye and love for birds. He has honed his skill into becoming a professional photographer guiding tours around the world to help enthusiasts understand their cameras and their subjects. In this course- Ben will walk through the importance of researching and understanding your subject and the habitat they dwell in. He’ll discuss how to interact and engage a variety of birds so you have a stronger opportunity to capture them while out. He’ll walk through camera fundamentals, how to set your camera, think about composition and work with a variety of lighting. Ben will even talk through his switch to an Olympus mirrorless camera to help improve his ability to make and craft the artistic images he does.


  • Bird Enthusiasts
  • Beginner Photographers
  • Wildlife Photographers


Adobe Lightroom CC 2019




Ben is a 23-year-old nature photographer originally from California. Before graduating in 2018, he studied Environmental Policy and Environmental Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham Washington State. Ben now leads educational and instructive photography tours and workshops for Tropical Birding Tours; Ben’s goal while guiding is to provide a memorable, exciting and successful experience so that other people can enjoy photographing earths beauty as much as he does. Ben has been published by several organizations including, Natures Best Photography, Audubon, Ranger Rick, NANPA, Wildlife Photo Magazine, and the BBC. His deep love and passion for nature has guided and will continue to guide the way he chooses to live his life, with a sense of wonder and curiosity of all things new and exciting.



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.