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The Art of Photographing Birds

Lesson 8 of 22

Settings For Creativity

Frans Lanting

The Art of Photographing Birds

Frans Lanting

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Lesson Info

8. Settings For Creativity
Pinpoint the best shutter speed, aperture, and ISO for capturing images of birds. Learn creative techniques to freeze birds in flight with a fast shutter for sharp images or at slow speeds to create creative blur. Work with aperture to control depth of field. Then, pick up creative techniques for composition.

Lesson Info

Settings For Creativity

When I photograph birds, I want to focus all my energy on the creative opportunities. So I program in the default settings in my camera. And then there are three main variables to consider. Shutter speed aperture and I s O. With my shutter speed, I can photograph birds very sharply. My shutter speeds air now as fast as 1 4000 of a second. And that enables me to cover even a humming bird in flight crisply. But I can also push the shutter speed to half a second and then I can create motion blurs of birds taken off their wings, flapping with the aperture. I could do something similar. I can create a very detailed seen by closing the aperture rolled away down. And that is important when I'm thinking about birch in landscapes where everything needs to be sharp from the foreground to infinity, Or I can open up my aperture and apply selective focus. And then the foreground becomes smooth and the background becomes blurred out. And that is important when you want to do very nice. Portrait of b...

irds in the I S O setting isn't really important enabler for both of those in the old days of film. The Iess over is governed by a few film stocks. But these days I can stretch the I S O settings from 100 to 100,000. Another creative decision is your vantage point and that is not contained by your camera, nor your lens. It is determined by where you want to be relative to your subject. The classic view off a bird photographer is someone who walks around with a long lens mounted on a tripod. Nothing wrong with that. But it leads to your one point of view five feet off the ground. And I like to very my perspective. And if I want to capture intimate portrait of birds and their low to the ground, I like to get down low. Israel. I like to get up close and personal. I do. I you may get down and dirty, but you may come home, but something you never thought of before. They're two different strategies for photographing birds, and both of them are valid. You can flutter around like a butterfly, going from one spot to the other, seeing new things all the time. The other strategy is to go back to the same location time and again. And then you start noticing that the same bird is perched in the same three every morning and once you know that, you can anticipate when to be there and where to position yourself. And that often leads to much more intimate and more creative portrayals than if you're just coming in for the first time and you never come back again. Well, that's a lot of information, right? So towards the end of this video, we were drifting into some more philosophical notions about how you move yourself. Do you go back to the same place, or do you keep finding new discoveries? But let's back up to the technical things that the that be explained in the video earlier on, because this is really this is the nuts and bolts of the course. So I think we shared a lot of information about camera settings, and then he extended it into the crucial nature of thinking about shutter speeds and apertures as your main creative controls. And if those I would say aperture is your critical creative control, whereas your shutter speed really is a technical control, you have to keep it fast enough so that your images stay sharp if you want him to be sharp. So I just want to emphasize that and think of your I s o setting as your best friend. Now, I would like to hear back from you. Yes, please. You kind of talked about the wonders of modern sensors and how we can shoot it quite high. Esos and of course, that generates a lot of can generate a reasonable amount of green. What is your philosophy on dealing with that grain Using noise reduction in light room or photo shop or FX pro or something like that? Uh, first of all, I'm not afraid of some some digital noise, especially if you're not photographing professionally. And the application of your images is to share the mid friends over the Internet. Why should you be worried about this, then? Ultimately, people are gonna be looking at your images only on the screen or even on the mobile phone. So and as you mentioned, you know there's abilities to apply. Adobe light rooms wonder full creative controls to suppress digital noise as well. So I think digital noise as a fear factor, is overrated. And your for professional cameras. Like the ones that I showed early around that I'm using today. It really is not a factor until you get beyond I s 0 6400 If you using consumer models, you have to start being careful and really paying attention to digital noise when you exceed in Iess off 1600. But compared to the old days, yeah, over still in a whole new world of possibilities. All right, great. We have similar questions coming in from the folks who are watching online. So thank you for those a question from Ross Hubbard. Can the auto I s o b set toe an upper limit? Stop. I know in some cameras, they can. But do you do that? That auto, I s So give it a limit that you don't want to go beyond. Yes, that's Ah, that's a good thing to keep in mind, especially considering the specific ceilings that I just talked about. So in answer to your question, yo, you can set your own tolerance and lock it in, and then you can still apply your optimum combination of shutter speed and aperture. But in that range, great Thank you. Oh, right. Lots of great questions coming in one A Specifically I'm not sure if you mentioned this. Do you use back button Focus? Yes. You personally? Yes, I do. And one and pardon And why? It allows me to, you know, in the in the right situation, it allows me to very quickly lock into a certain focus setting and then release.

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

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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!