Skip to main content

Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Lesson 8 of 14

Setting Photo Goals - Lewis's Woodpecker

Ben Knoot

Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Ben Knoot

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

8. Setting Photo Goals - Lewis's Woodpecker


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
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

Setting Photo Goals - Lewis's Woodpecker

Today's the day for the shoot. I've gotten up here nice and early. I'm here with the light that I wanted in the morning, so what I'm gonna do is I'm just gonna drive slowly up the road. I'll be listening for a few key things like lazuli bunting, black-headed grosbeak, Lewis's woodpecker. I'm gonna stop into all the spots that I saw yesterday and that I wanted to come back and shoot in the morning, and we're just gonna give it a go and see what we can find. I like to come up here pre-dawn to get some evenly lit photos. But one thing I'm really always looking for are some more artistic things. So, as the sun starts to rise over the mountains, what I'm looking for are those big sun rays. Something I can put a bird in front of, up my f-stop to get some of the sun rays and maybe make a more artistic photo. So this is Lewis's woodpecker area. Yeah yesterday we came at midday and it wasn't great lighting. So for this morning what I'm hoping to get with the Lewis's is, I've determined his favo...

rite perching areas, and what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna set up, I'm just gonna wait, I'm just gonna spend about, just gonna spend a couple hours if needed, waiting at the specific tree that he likes. And we're gonna see if we can get some good shots. He's posing really nicely there. So now basically this is the patience game. You just, you just wait. What I'm most likely gonna do is get back into the car and use the car as a blind. Birds don't necessarily mind cars too much. They usually are a little more afraid of people if you're standing outside. So I'm gonna move the car up to the perch that I like him best on, not necessarily his only perch, but the perch I like him best on. And then just wait, just wait for him to go there. So using the car as a blind, I've driven up to the spot that I want to shoot him from, and that's simply because it's got the best background. It's kinda got this light green, kinda orangy background that I think will look really good with the bird. And depending on what side your subject is on, right now mine's on the right, so I'm just gonna go over to the passenger seat. It means one, I get those few extra feet of focal distance, and also it means I don't have to do any kind of weird maneuvering. While waiting for the bird, I have my camera pre-set. That way when the bird lands on the perch I don't have to fiddle with anything, I'm just ready to go. While I'm waiting for him, I am always constantly looking around at other species that could be photographable. I mean, you know, a hawk could come by and land on a perch. I'm not gonna forget about the hawk just for the woodpecker. I'm always keeping an eye on my main target, but I'm also just staying aware of things that are around me. Before my subject ever arrives, if I know he's gonna land on a specific perch, I usually take a couple of test shots. Just to kinda see what the photo's gonna look like and make sure I'm happy with it. So let's do that now. So I've got my test shot, it looks good. What I've chosen to shoot at, since I can handhold this camera so easily, and get a sharp shot at a low shutter speed, I'm sticking with a 60th of a second. Which for a woodpecker that's on a perch, it's plenty. I have ISO 640, cause it is a little dark and I need some brightness. And then I'm shooting at f/ which is the minimum with the 2X and the 300 f/4. If you're starting to get a little impatient, you might be tempted to call these birds in. It's up to you, but I wouldn't recommend using speakers on nesting birds like this. They're trying to feed their family, and they're usually going back and forth all day just going for food. And the last thing you wanna do is get them into a territorial situation that they weren't ready for. And it's just, it's kinda one of those gray areas that you have to decide what your boundaries are. But my boundary is, I'm not gonna use a playback on these guys. I'm just gonna be patient, wait it out. Here he comes. So what I've noticed is he comes to the nest with the berries, and then hopefully he'll fly to that perch cause that's what he does about 90% of the time. So hopefully this is not a 10% of the time situation. If you're just looking for a shot of the bird, you can shoot him wherever you want. But for me personally, that background's not great. There's a lot of sticks behind him. It's a nice pose actually. Let me just take a couple of shots. Couple of shots anyway, but. (camera shutter clicking) So wait for the eye contact. And let her rip. (camera shutter clicking) After he's flown away I usually like to look at the pictures, see if there's anything different I can do. So let's go ahead and take a look at that. So I got this nice one here. What I wanted, what I was kinda looking at, while he was perched there, was this stick that he was perched on was angling kinda to the right and diagonally. And the tree that he was, the tree that the stick is on, is perfectly straight up. So if I wanted him in a nice composition, I want him looking left. That way his head angle is kinda creating that imaginary line that finishes the triangle. And I was able to actually kinda get something that I liked here. It's pretty good. So if we look, I'm gonna kind of crop it similar to how I've got it blown up here. But essentially what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna take the right portion of this frame off, and then I'm gonna have this stick here in the bottom left corner, coming up to the right corner, and then have his head here, creating the angle for you to look into the frame. Now what I don't like about this image is the sticks in the background, there's this really dark tree here. It's a little distracting. It's not too big of a deal, but it's a little distracting for my taste. But we've got a nice sharp shot, nice well balanced image, good light. I can bring out the light and the colors in post-processing. Right now it's a little dark, so it's a little tricky to do that naturally in the camera. But first and foremost you need to get a shot that you can work with. And a previous shoot with this species I noticed that every time it grabs a berry and comes into the nest, about 90%, 95% of the time, it will go over to this one perch. It's kinda just to the left of the nest. And I was able to get him on that a couple of times. That perch has a lot of really cool features in it. It's kinda twisty and old looking, and looks kinda gnarly. So it makes for a nice interesting piece to look at. But compositionally you always need to challenge yourself and challenge the photo to be better. That was pretty good but I've got a long road, I have a lot of cool birds to find, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna continue on. I didn't get the exact shot I wanted, but I'm gonna continue on, see if I can find some other stuff. And if I can't find anything else, what I'm gonna do is I'm just gonna come back. So, again, you just always, you keep trying, you keep trying, you keep trying until you get that actual shot that you want. So I make my way back down the road and I've stopped again at the Lewis's woodpecker nesting site. And I see him on a different perch than what I was expecting. So just remember that even though you're expecting him on one perch, just be adaptive and make sure to go after the opportunity when it arises. And there's group of Lewis's woodpeckers, so just gonna try to call in the group and see if anyone's responsive. (bird calls chirping) (birds chirping) So if you ever start calling birds in and they start preening, and sitting still, they're not interested. (laughs) That means they could care less about you or what you're doing. They're comfortable enough to start preening so, don't think this one's gonna work out for us. So just have to come back another time, another year. Maybe come back a little earlier. Right before they start breeding, that way the playback is more effective. I did come out to this location last year and I was able, I was here a little earlier than now but probably need to come back even earlier than that next year. But I was able to get a couple of good shots today on the perch with some berries that I was telling you guys about. So it works out, but you need to, again keep that goal that I was telling you about. I want the bird on that perch with the berries. I want a little higher res photo. I didn't have the 2X at the time so now that I have it, I'm gonna come back with the new tech and hopefully get a better shot.

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.