Chiara Talia

The 4 things to know before starting Bird Photography

We do bird photography because we want to capture the grace and beauty of our feathered friends. However, like any art form, bird photography comes with its own set of challenges. I started bird photography less than 4 years ago and these are the things I wish someone told exactly when I started. 

Rise and shine for the golden hour

This magical time called GOLDEN HOUR occurs shortly after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low on the horizon, which results in soft, warm hues. During this time light is even and there are no strong contrasts – the most desirable lighting conditions for every subject, not just birds! Also because the sun is close to the horizon this is also the perfect moment to obtain more creative photos, as silhouettes! In addition, this time also overlaps with peak activity time for most birds. So going out early morning normally results in higher chances of seeing birds and capturing interesting behaviours. So set your alarm, get coffee and get out there before the sun rises! 

Kentish plover soon after sunrise (Italy)
Mallard silhouettes at sunrise (Belgium)

Getting close to the birds is not all that matters

Now, we all dream of getting those super close-up shots of birds, right? But let me tell you the truth: getting close sometimes is just IMPOSSIBLE and it will be one of the major reason for frustration in your bird photography journey. Some locations simply do not allow approaching the subject (think for example about fenced areas or nature reserve where you can only stay on the path). Should we just give up on bird photography only because birds are far away? Of course not. And here’s the deal: birds have homes too, and those habitats are a CRITICAL part of the bird’s identity and story! So what about trying “small in frame” bird photos?

Instead of zooming in on just the bird, show off its surroundings. It’s like a sneak peek into their world. With time I started to appreciate this type of bird photos much more than the “classical” bird portraits. I find them much more unique and I think they really push your creativity. So this is my challenge for you: next time you go out instead of trying to get closer, take a step back and try to bring in the habitat in your bird photo!  

Little egret in a foggy morning (Australia)
European stonechat in its habitat (Belgium)

Look them in the eye

Ever heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul? Well, it’s true for birds too. This eye-level perspective establishes a more intimate connection between the viewer and the subject, allowing for a richer and more immersive viewing experience. And to achieve that we have to get on their level, whenever possible. For birds walking on the ground or in the water, this means we will have to get down to their level. Squat down, or even lie flat on your belly – bird photography is a dirty business! I promise it is worth it. Beyond the stronger connection, getting eye level also really helps from the technical perspective as it will be much easier to achieve the soft blurring of both the background and the foreground. 

Brown noddy checking its surroundings (Australia)
Northern gannet detail (Germany)

Plan and prepare - but get ready to be surprised

Great bird photos don’t just happen by chance. They are often the result of meticulous planning, preparation, repetition…and failures. Bird photography requires location scouting, where you identify suitable spots with birdlife. This is perhaps one of the most time consuming aspect of bird photography. Repetition is key to understanding the dynamics of these locations, including the best times to visit, and how they change with different weather conditions, and various seasons. Planning ensures you’re in the right place at the right time to capture those unforgettable shots. I always recommend you to identify locations that are close to you – those will be the ones you could visit over and over again, really getting to know the birds. 

Red-necked grebe stretching its wings. Photo taken in one of "my" locations, that I visit multiple times during the year and of which I know all the birds, their favourite spots and how to position myself based on the weather conditions (Belgium).

Be patient

Alright, you are now ready to approach bird photography from a different angle! Embrace the golden hours, consider the habitat, connect through eye-level photography, plan and prepare meticulously, and, most importantly, persevere and evolve!

So, grab your camera, venture out, and let your passion for bird photography take flight. Happy shooting!

You can watch the video where I discuss all of this below:  

Talk to you soon,


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