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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 16 of 22

Field Trip at Sunset

Frans Lanting

The Art of Photographing Birds

Frans Lanting

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Lesson Info

16. Field Trip at Sunset
Take a final field trip back to the refuge at the end of the day. Build the skills to work with limited light at different angles. Work with tricky scenarios, such as high-contrast scenes.

Lesson Info

Field Trip at Sunset

I think we're going to go into one more field trip. We've seen two sunrises. The last field trip showed situation in midday, and now we're going to go into another field Chechen at sunset. We're gonna walk down this trail and try toe get close to the birds, looking against the light. Yeah, we need to be really careful because the birds are not used to seeing people from this direction. And they also if we show the try pots, they might think their guns because there's a hunting area nearby. So we need to be really careful and I'll lead away. And if I see that the birds are getting spooked, then we're going to stop. We don't have much time because the sun is setting as we speak, but the light is really nice. Some of them took off, but there's still enough of them left here. So let's not go any further right now. Who hope? Here they go. There's still a lot of them left, and what I want to show you is how we can look at the light from a different direction than we've done before. We're see...

ing the deep blue of the distant hills, and that's a very nice combination. But that golden glow on the water, the tricky thing is that the exposure requires a bit more calibration because there's a lot of contrast between the light on the water and the light on the hills in the background. So let's see if we can find a window through the trees, go a little bit further. Perhaps come a little bit closer here through this window right here. Here. We have a clear view. Yeah, I'm going to go higher because that gives me more clearance over the weeds here. And I can Seymour into the water. So I'm gonna set up my tripod. I level that I don't have to hunch over. That's a comfortable position. Oh, there they go. There they go again. Said evening light. Here you go. That is why I wanted to be here. Gives us a different perspective from what we've been seeing as we drove around that car, right, I'm seeing the reflection of the trees in the water. Do you see that? Okay, I like that. So a lot of contrast, what could we do about that? So they re exposed for the sky Or do we expose for there the birds on the water? Is there a solution? Usually even you got too much contrast. You know, I end up selecting just one portion of the scene and then isolating that instead of trying to bring everything into one scene. No, HDR doesn't work here because as soon as you start seeing birds in the sky, you know you can't stitch them together. What's the brightest part in the scene? The sky. So if we keep the sky out, then we're just seeing the reflection of the trees in the water. And that looks actually quite interesting. Yes, I would say, Let's start zeroing in on the scene and fine tuning the exposure and a composition. Okay, so we're gonna do to usual thing. We're gonna ask ourselves a question. What's the right shutter speed and what's the right opportunity? Let's let's start with the opportune, because that's our creative control. I'm gonna keep my aperture white open. I like what happens in the foreground. The reflection of those trees is out of focus, and it's just it looks a bit more painterly. What I'm noticing is that I need to open up the exposure a bit because otherwise the birds are becoming too dark. If I open up my my exposure by a full stop, then these dark blue birds are becoming mawr like snow geese again. So I'm looking. I'm not. That's satisfied with what I saw. Can I see what you see, Joe, I like what you're doing here. See, this looks really nice. Very painterly. But indeed, the geese are looking very blue now, of course, all of that could be a big could be corrected in light room. But I think your history Graham, is a little bit dark, so I would suggest Ah, you're you're a stop under exposed on my I suggested you open it up a little bit. You can see a little bit more detail here. Yeah, this is gonna become light, but I don't think you're gonna overexpose that sound. Maybe bring it up a little bit. So you have the final composition. They end up becoming something a little bit more panoramic because this is where the interest is fed a line of trees, line of blue from the hills above a line of snow geese and then darkness. Whether trees begin. So let me take a look at what you're doing here. I was trying to get just the hills in. Okay, so Yeah, it's interesting. Uh, Candice is looking down, and you're looking up totally different images. Yeah. Um, can this come look at this and that you, if you want to. Very nice. So this is inspired by what you saw, but I've moved the view a little bit to the right. Now I'm seeing both the trees and the reflection, and they're moderated by those lines of snow geese in the middle. So this is wide open. And I'm also going to do a version that is at the other end of the scale by closing the aperture down. Interesting. What happens in so you can work at both ends of the scale. And this is what I talked about earlier. That your apertures, Really? You have one of you main creative controls. You can aim for maximum detail by closing it down or minimal detail by leaving it wide open. So I don't think there's a right or a wrong version here. It just depends. What? You what you prefer We're losing the light quickly. Now. I'm going back and forth between selective focus and and a more defined up the field. Not sure what I like best. So just capture both ends of the scale. Came now, going back to two more of a landscape perspective. Too much contrast. Yeah, there's areas of intense darkness and intense light, and it doesn't work in the same same frame. So being selective, 50 answer here, we're gonna end up doing the same thing that we started a day with. And that is to chase the light. We're gonna have to use every last bit of light. Now that is reflected in the in the water. And that is where we're gonna be searching for composition because otherwise there simply isn't enough left. By doing that, I'm finding that I can still expose at 1/60 of a second that after team at 6400 I eso which isn't too bad. Who who on more wrong war, we've practised a different strategy. This evening we get out of the vehicle a man out on foot and we got behind the birds that the sunsets guy ing and it was beautiful. And we practice both impressionistic images and more defined images. Yeah, by opening the aperture closing the aperture. You know, I experimented with shutter speeds. Both fast and slow was gorgeous. What a day. All right, There was another field Chechen, so I would love to hear what you thought of it. Wonderful. I do have one question, though. Some of the images did bother me in the the aspect that the grasses were in the foreground and they were blurry. Um, do you clone those out? Or if there was one that the grass was going all the way across the whole frame, Did you see it in the still photograph or in the video? In Still? Yeah. And I was just curious. Do you spend time it all clothing grasses out? Um, good question. Um Yep. This is another ethical consideration, right? What can you take out of an original capture on? Do what can you put into it? It goes back to the same golden rule. What do you feel comfortable sharing that other people? What you've done to an original capture? Um, I would say that, um, you're removing certain imperfections is more tolerable than adding things into it. And I think that's what you're talking about right on. I think that if you're you're dealing with certain details that make the subject clear, that do not really impact the essential information in an image. I'm OK with that. What? Your level off acceptability. ISS may be different and what other people do, and ultimately it may relate to what you using the images for. If you consider yourself an artist and anything is possible, right, if you're producing images on assignment for a publication like National Geographic, the guidelines are much more strict because then you have to operate within the bounds of photo journalistic authenticity. So you have to be really careful them. We had a question. Come in. We both now seeing new photograph at sunrise and sunset. And the question was, Do you have a preference or is it situational? Or is it depending upon the birds, sunrise or sunset? I like to do both, so it's Ah, we did long days there and the sun rises were really magical. But then he reversed At sunset, you can operate in a different part of the refuge and the birds are acting a little bit differently, so I should also point out that as we were walking along that one trail that is the one place if there you're allowed to get out of your car. And you know, we were being really careful and then the birds were taken off. It was not because we were pushing them. I knew that they step time of the day when the birds are actually lifting off because they go to forage in the grain fields after dark. You've showed a lot of sunset and sunrise. Do you have any hints for like if you're in the middle of the day? I mean, oftentimes we don't have a choice to be there at a certain time. For sure. Sunrise and sunset is often the magical light, especially in the winter time in California on. But you're There are ways to photograph in midday where you could make the most of the situation even in the lightest harsh. And do you remember when I was pointing out during that previous video when we were out in midday? Yeah, I was appraising the light on the right hand side, where the snow geese were frontally illuminated versus the other side. Whether more backlit I find that in situations where you have direct light on a white subject that it can be a little bit harsh if the if you're looking at it with the sun behind you. If you're looking at the same subject backlit, then you get a nice rim around the bird and the main part of the body is in the shade, so I often use that technique, so there's a real cycle to hive or how I work it light.

Class Description


  • Photograph birds in a variety of scenarios

  • Understand bird behavior to get closer to birds

  • Build the ideal gar kit for photographing birds

  • Set the proper shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for birds

  • Know where to find birds to photograph

  • Capture birds in different types of light

  • Develop a better eye for bird photography


Love birds, but can't quite capture their colorful personality on camera? Join nature photographer Frans Lanting on a journey in start-to-finish bird photography. Master photography basics for photographing birds, from the best camera settings to tactics for getting up close and personal to different bird species.

With a mix of on-site shooting and in-class lectures, learn the ins and outs of bird photography. Build the skills to operate a camera and long lens as well as an understanding of basic bird behavior. Learn to capture more than the boring, obvious photo and dive into categories like bird portraiture, flying birds, flocks of birds, and detailed close-ups for your best bird photos yet.

Whether you are a beginner or intermediate bird photographer, craft better photos of birds with tips and insight from a National Geographic photographer with three decades of experience capturing wildlife across the globe.


  • Beginners new to bird photography

  • Intermediate bird photographers

  • Experienced photographers new to capturing birds

  • Beginner wildlife photographers


Frans Lanting has spent more than three decades traveling the world capturing nature and wildlife. For the wildlife photographer, birds often capture his attention, from penguins and endangered species to birds common to North America. Frans worked as a photographer-in-residence with National Geographic, a position that opened rare opportunities for photographing little known species. His nature photography has also appeared in his own books and exhibitions. Born in the Netherlands, he moved to the U.S. to study environmental planning before embarking on his photography career.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Carl Bergstrom

I was privileged to be in the studio audience for Frans Lanting's Art of Photographing Birds course, and it was amazing. The morning was a perfectly pitched lesson on the technical aspects of bird photography, intermixed with Frans's own photographs and excellent videos of him working in the field. The afternoon focused more on bird behavior, composition, and artistry, and was even more delightful. If you know Lanting's photography you already know about his ability to find unusual perspectives on the world. What really shone through in the class was his love for wildlife and especially for birds. His knowledge of natural history is as amazing as his photography, and I loved the message that to take great photographs of birds, one needs to understand them and their behaviors. I've admired Lanting as a photographer for decades. Today I learned that he is an equally talented teacher. I'll be purchasing all of his CreativeLive courses. Thank you, Carl Bergstrom

Marie Gessle

Amazing class! Mr Lanting is charming and full of knowledge about birds and of course photography. In every moment of this course you can see his great passion and love for these flying creatures. The course is full of tips for photographers who want to start capturing moments of birds life. Awesome!!!

André Audet

Great class, very inspiring. Packed with great tips and beautiful imagery. Frans is a great instructor. I enjoyed watching this class a lot, and will watch it again!