10 Ways to Take Bird Photos Like a Pro

Capture incredible close-ups with these bird photography tips and a great camera.

Whether you’re tromping through Indiana snowdrifts to see a majestic long-eared owl or beating the heat in Florida to find a colorful painted bunting, photographing birds in January is a worthwhile adventure. Nikon supplied Birds & Blooms bloggers Rob Ripma and Jill Staake with a COOLPIX P900 camera to take on a test drive. Here, they share the stories behind their shots and give you tips and tricks to snag bird photos like a pro. Brought to you by Nikon.

Painted bunting

Would you believe me if I told you this image was taken through a window? Photos taken through glass rarely turn out well, but I had only a few seconds to snag a shot of this colorful and shy painted bunting before it flew off. The autofocus characteristics of this camera easily overcame the challenges of focusing through glass, providing a good-quality photo in less than ideal conditions. –Jill


While walking a local river boardwalk, I watched an osprey circling overhead and waited for it to land. When at last it settled down, it was on the other side of the river, over 200 feet away. Fortunately, the 83x optical zoom of this camera was more than up to the task. The osprey, barely visible to the eye, came into sharp focus as I zoomed in. The picture quality is as clear and crisp as though it had landed right in front of me. –Jill

Palm warbler

Bathing birds are such fun to watch, but they can be difficult to photograph. The ability to grab up to seven shots per second with a single press of the shutter button let me catch this little palm warbler in all its adorable glory. I had multiple shots to choose from, allowing me to determine the one that best captured the splish-splashing of the moment. –Jill

Long-eared owl

Long-eared owls are very evasive, but when you find one, there are often others around. On this outing, at least six birds were roosting together. I used the swiveling vari-angle LCD display to hold the camera at an angle to keep as many branches out of the frame as possible. Capturing an image like this would have been very difficult without this feature. –Rob

Indigo bunting

This indigo bunting, just starting to display his springtime breeding plumage, was caught mid-gulp with a millet seed in his mouth. Unsteady hands can make it difficult to get clear photos, but the optical VR (vibration reduction) on the P900 gives you sharp shots in a variety of conditions, making details like tiny seeds easy to see. –Jill

Townsend’s solitaire

The Townsend’s solitaire is an uncommon bird where I live in Indiana, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to test out the Nikon P900 on this awesome rarity. Using the camera’s Wi-Fi, I immediately transferred the pictures to my phone. Then I created a Facebook post to share my rare find right from the field! It’s great to let other birders know when you’re seeing such an incredible bird, so they can hurry out and take photos, too! –Rob

Female northern cardinal

When an 83x zoom isn’t enough, the P900 offers an enhanced digital zoom to allow you to get even closer to the birds. That zoom allowed me to capture the details on the feathers of this female northern cardinal from more than 30 feet away! –Jill

Black skimmers

Digital view screens have revolutionized the way we use our cameras. But on a bright sunny day at the beach, a view screen is just too hard to see. To grab a great shot of these black skimmers, I used the large electronic viewfinder instead. The camera automatically recognizes when your eye is on the viewfinder, and shows all the same readings you’d see on the screen. –Jill

Downy woodpecker

One of my favorite places to photograph birds is the feeding stations at local nature centers. It’s tempting to stay inside and shoot through the viewing window, but your shots will be much clearer if you brave the cold, like I did. When I first took this shot, it turned out a bit dark. I was shooting in aperture priority mode, so to let in more light, I switched the aperture from f/7.1 to f/5.6, took another shot, and ended up with this much brighter photo of a downy woodpecker at a suet feeder. –Rob

Tufted titmouse

The easy-to-access exposure modes on the P900 let more experienced photographers make minute adjustments to aperture or shutter priority to get the best picture, but the camera is really able to do most of the work for you. This tufted titmouse darted in and out of a patch of sun. I switched the setting to “bird watching scene mode,” and the camera took over. The result is a crisp, detailed photo of this darling feeder favorite. –Jill

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines as a time and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds, and attended various festivals, including Sedona Hummingbird Festival, Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival and Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.