How Beginners Can Get Sharper Bird Photos Every Time | Must Know Settings

March 10, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

How to get that sharp photo of fast-moving wildlife (aka birds)

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Bird photography is one of the photo genres that I enjoy, and I want to share some tips for getting sharper photos that I employ.  I also want to share a camera feature to try if your camera supports it. My earlier EOS Cameras (xTi and t5i) do not have it.  If your camera does not have this feature, I hope you continue reading.   This camera feature is not required for sharper bird photos, but it helps reach my goals below.

Before I get to this setting here are the exposure triangle goals I have when I photograph fast-moving wildlife.  I will start at my shutter speed, then aperture, and finally ISO settings.

  • Shutter speed is the most important for me to get sharp photos.  A rule of thumb suggested by many is to have a shutter speed of 1/focal length for as a minimum to avoid camera shake.  So if you have a zoom lens and are shooting at 200 mm then a minimum of 1/200 sec should be used.  However, that is for static subjects that have very little movement and is good for portrait shots.  For fast-moving subjects such as birds, my minimum starting shutter speed is 1/1000.  If I am using my long lens 150-600mm then I start at 1/2000.
  • Aperture settings are as low but not below 2.8 to allow for some depth of field for what I term focus forgiveness.  A higher aperture has a wider depth of field, so it gives you more forgiveness.  However, with the fast shutter speed, I am using I need all the light I can get.
  • ISO is last because I am going to put ISO on automatic.  Maybe.  If there is a lot of changes in light due to the bird moving around, then auto is my friend here.  If there is a spot that I waiting for the bird to arrive on then I can put ISO on manual to have full control of the shot.

Wouldn't it be nice if the camera would help me with this?  I am so glad you asked because this is why I am writing this post.  As I mentioned above this setting may not be available on your camera or in a different location.  The pictures of the menus on this post are from my Canon 5D Mark IV.

The first menu to look for is under the camera menu you can see circled in green below.  The setting to look for is "Set shutter speed range" and mine is under the second menu under the camera menu.

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Once you select the "Set shutter speed range" the "Lowest speed" is likely to be selected (circled in green below)

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Use your adjustment wheel to adjust the "Lowest speed"

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I set the speed to 1000 or 2000 depending on which lens I am using and be sure to press OK.

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Once that is set I am ready for my photoshoot in AV (aperture priority).   

If you have read previous blog posts or watched some of my YouTube videos you may recall that I recommend returning the camera to "automatic" to ensure your camera is not in an obscure setting while you are learning.  This is the case here as well.  Not so much going to automatic because going to automatic will not undo this setting.   Automatic will still work but will be limited to the range selected in this feature.  So, don't forget to undo this once you are done.


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