Must-Use Bird Photography Camera Settings for Beginners

With an overwhelming number of settings on the new DSLRs, it becomes increasingly hectic to know which ones to use. Then it takes an incredibly steep learning curve to understand how these settings work. It is much worse for a bird photographer, Bird photography is extremely challenging, and a wrong setting might mean ruined photographs. It took several years for me to identify, practice, and stick to some of the key settings for bird photography.

Let me assure you that these settings are not reached in a philosophical way. They are tried and tested methods of achieving extraordinary results. These settings are the ones I teach to my photography workshop students as the first step towards making better bird photographs.

Set it and forget it

The key to making successful bird photographs is to select the settings and forget about them. Yes! Forget about them. Have only one or two variables so that you can focus primarily on making great bird photographs. Which is the art of photography.

In this article, I will give you 10 must-use camera settings that will help you improve your bird photography. These tips will relieve you of the persisting tension of changing the settings when the action unfolds. Remember, there are no retakes in bird photography. You have to be ready before the action unfolds.

So, let’s jump right in to find out how you can improve your bird photography with these 10 settings.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note that it’s not possible to give every step (for every camera) to configure a particular setting. I have given only just a few steps to show you the setting I have described. This is due to the constraint of space and the medium used.

1. Shoot in RAW format

Always shoot in RAW format. If you have never used RAW, then make it a point to use it right now. Pick up your DSLR and set the image quality as RAW. Another option is to use RAW + Fine JPEG (or Basic JPEG) if you are unsure that you can handle a RAW file immediately. But one day you may have to start working with RAW files. So, why not start shooting RAW from this day forward.

A RAW file holds all the data that your camera sensor captures. This means you are utilizing the sensor’s complete capacity. JPEG format, on the other hand, is an image compression standard. It compresses the data to reduce the size of the file, by throwing some of the data away. You don’t want to lose what your sensor captured.

Some of the key advantages of using RAW files are:

You can modify your White Balance settings during the post-processing stage.

The highest dynamic range that the sensor is capable of is stored in a RAW file. More data means more detail in both the shadow and highlight regions of your images.

You can bring back phenomenal detail in the shadow regions in the post-processing stage.

You can work on getting the perfect contrast and color in your image.

2. Use the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting

The Auto White Balance (AWB) setting is a boon to every digital photographer. This is especially true for bird photographers. Imagine setting the white balance every time the light changes. On top of that, birds are constantly moving which means it’s almost impossible to set the white balance on the fly.

Even though you can set the white balance yourself, remember that the light is changing throughout the day. Choosing just one standard white balance might yield wrong colors. Instead, the AWB setting will keep adjusting as the light changes. With newer DSLRs, the AWB setting does a tremendous of getting the right colors, almost every time. Most often, it’s not necessary to change the white balance settings that the camera chooses for you.

So, use RAW format, set your camera on AWB mode, and then forget about it.