bird photography focusing tips

Bird Photography Focusing Tips: How to Take Better Photos

Avid bird watchers take pride in the photographs they take by themselves. But you don’t have to be a professional photographer to take flawless photos that impress everyone. So what are the top bird photography focusing tips?

Focusing might seem like a confusing term if you’re not experienced with photography, but don’t worry because we’ve got your back. The best bird photography focusing tips are easy to master even by a beginner.

In this article, we’ll explain one of the most important settings that you can adjust to improve your pictures’ quality. So, keep on reading to learn how to take bird photos like a pro.

What is Focusing in Photography?

Before going to the chosen location to take photos of your favorite birds, there are a few things that you need to understand about photography equipment and settings. The first commercial DSLR camera was invented in 1988, immediately setting up a new bar for picture quality.

Today, you don’t have to own a DSLR camera because you can even take flawless photos using your smartphone. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in wildlife and bird photography, you need to consider investing in a semi-professional camera.

Author Note: Regardless of the tool you’re using, there are several settings that you need to adjust to improve the quality of your photos, and one of them is focusing. So what is the focus in photography?

The purpose of using the focus setting is to make the chosen subject as detailed and as clear as possible by increasing the contrast. The right sharpness level will make your chosen subject stand out against the background, which will immediately add life and quality to your photos. In short, picking the proper focus sets the difference between a good photo and a bad one.

Focusing mainly highlights what’s important in the photo and what isn’t. For example, you can adjust the focus to draw attention to your photo’s subject, and in that case, there will be no emphasis on the background. The other is also true, based on the settings you choose while taking a photo.

Types of Focusing in Photography


There are two settings that allow you to adjust the focus, either manually or automatically. Deciding on and choosing the setting depends on several factors.


Autofocus is an excellent option for those who like to take wildlife photos because it allows them to take photos fast and capture the moment just on time. While this wasn’t always the case with older cameras, the newest models have come a long way, allowing the autofocus to adjust promptly.

The autofocus is a system that has several sensors in the camera, adjusting the lens to maximize the sharpness of the subject. This is the right setting to pick if you need quick focus, which is crucial if you’re taking photos of birds. It also does some of the work on your behalf, so it works better for beginners.

Manual Focus

Manual focus can be the right setting for you if there isn’t enough light or the autofocus doesn’t provide the image quality you desire. Regardless of the model of your camera, you still need to understand what manual focus is.

In the case of taking photos of birds, the manual focus might not be the easiest option. It works best if you’re taking landscape or portrait photos, but you still need to understand how to adjust the focus manually if you want to fine-tune the quality of your images. This setting can be a little bit confusing for beginners but allows for more versatility and flexibility.

Focus Points in Photography

Focus points are visible when you switch on your camera. These are marks shown on the display that change the image contrast. More focus points allow you to fine-tune the contrast and sharpness of the photo. DSLRs have fewer focus points than mirrorless cameras, but they’re still excellent for taking wildlife photos.

Wildlife photography quality can be improved by investing in a mirrorless camera. It usually offers image stabilization, which will definitely help if you’re taking a photo of the bird in flight. If you’re considering taking professional bird photos, a mirrorless camera will be a wonderful option.

There are two types of focus points in your camera sensor that you can adjust to fine-tune the photo’s contrast and sharpness. Linear Autofocus detects the change in contrast along the horizontal or vertical dimensions. Cross-Type Autofocus detects the change in contrast along the vertical and horizontal dimensions at the same time to better lock onto the subject and improves the tracking of your camera.

Best Bird Photography Focusing Tips

Closeup of Wild Zebra Dove Coupe Napping on Houseplant Branch in the Light Rain

Even with the best photography equipment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the focusing settings, especially if you’re not a professional photographer. The best way to improve your photographs’ quality is through trial and error, but there are several focusing tips that can help make your photos pop with life.

Decide on the Composition

This refers to how the elements are arranged in your photo, so you can choose to shoot a bird while it’s flying or standing on a branch and adjust the settings accordingly.

Continuous focus works when the bird is always moving or flying. You can also increase the shutter speed to stabilize the action. If your bird is at a distance, zoom using a tripod or the camera setting to capture more details.

Choose and Lock the Right Focus

Although autofocus is a great option, especially for stationary landscape shots, manual focus allows for more fine-tuning and versatility. This setting will allow you to switch between focus points if you’re using continuous focus.

The wrong focus can ruin the way your photo looks. This is why you need to pick the right one, especially in low-light conditions that many wildlife photographers find challenging because it’s hard to see the scene and focus on the right element.

The pointers will show you where the camera is focusing, and if it’s not focusing on the right area, you can move the camera and slightly press the shutter release until the right area is highlighted. You need to lock the focus and then take the photo to guarantee more contrast and sharpness.

Pay Attention to the Light

Very bright light from the sun can affect the function of your autofocus, so you might want to move your camera to activate the autofocus without the sun, then reframe the composition. You can also use manual focus in a very bright light.

Skip EVFs

Although the electronic viewfinder is an excellent addition to mirrorless cameras as it helps make your image brighter, it doesn’t work well for taking wildlife photos. The live view works better when you’re shooting photos of birds because what you see on the screen is what you get.

Increase the ISO

This refers to the sensitivity of the camera and is of great importance if you’re taking photos of birds. Increasing the ISO adds more details to your photo, so it will be sharper and more vivid.

Author Note: While in some settings, lowering the ISO is necessary to minimize noise, a low ISO will make your shot too soft without enough sharpness. A higher ISO will improve the quality of your photos, especially in low-light conditions. With the right exposure, a higher ISO will also enhance the quality of your macro shots.

Choose the Right Focus Point

Before you take a photo, you need to decide on the area in the bird’s body that you want to focus on. The chest or belly will be easier, showing the contrast between the bird’s body and the background. The head and the eyes can be a little tricky, especially if your bird is at a distance.

Stabilize the Camera

Tender moments wildlife animals. Red cardinal bird feeding female cardinal. Outdoors photo

You can depend on a high-quality tripod to support your camera, especially when you’re taking photos in low-light conditions. But if you’re carrying the camera for taking photos of fast-moving birds, you need to increase the shutter speed. Turn off the image stabilization at a high shutter speed, as it affects other options like tracking.

Customize your Zoom

Taking macro photos of birds is a bit tricky, but the resulting photos can be mesmerizing if you adjust the camera adequately. You need to increase the zoom to see the details that might be missed with the normal image preview.

Adjust your Aperture

The Aperture refers to the amount of light that passes through the lens and can be adjusted based on the subject, distance, and light conditions. A High Aperture means less light entering through the camera lens. This puts everything in focus and works if you’re setting up your camera far away or at a medium-length from the subject you’re shooting.

A Low Aperture means more light entering the camera lens. It’s better for low-light conditions and works for macro shots because the depth of field is always shallow. This setting makes the background blurry, thus drawing attention to the bird that you want to focus on.

Try Back Button Focusing

Back Button Focusing is a rather advanced technique that you should understand to improve your bird shots’ quality. It typically separates the functions of the shutter release into two separate functions of focusing and shooting.

The main purpose of using Back Button Focusing is to avoid all focusing errors that affect the sharpness of your photos in case a subject moves in the foreground. It allows you to lock the focus to enhance the quality of your shots. You can activate your autofocus and then use the Back Button Focus to recompose the shot if something changes.

Wrap Up

Taking photos of birds isn’t difficult, even if you’re a beginner. By choosing the right equipment and following our tips, your birds’ shots will burst with life and movement. We hope you enjoyed this article on bird photography focusing tips.

Fly high friends!


How do you take good pictures of flying birds?

When birds are in motion, you need a high shutter speed so that the wings are in focus. I try to use a setting at over 1/1000th of a second to capture the motion. This also means you will need to lower the aperture to 5.6 or lower if your lens allows and you may want to increase your ISO to 800 even on a sunny day.

Is 400mm enough for bird photography?

Most birders I know have used a 400mm lens for a long time and they have been really good. You can also get extenders which are attachments that further increase your range by 1.4 or 2. So your 400mm lens becomes a 560mm or 800mm lens. Newer lens are now on the market which have 500mm or 600mm as standard. I would recommend a 400mm to start with.

What is the best time of day for bird photography?

This is entirely the photographer’s preference. Some people love to shoot in the dawn or dusk light because it gives a warm, soft glow. I prefer my images to look accurate to the bird. Then, most people say broad daylight with lots of sun is best and certainly it does give great images but there are times where an overcast sky is better particularly if the sun is in front of you. Everybody agrees that glare is the enemy making bird photography very difficult.

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