A Look into Bird Photography With Frans Lanting

They often say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and no type of photography holds that statement as true more than bird photography. A constant challenge of both patience and training, birding often involves being ready at a moments notice to capture that one shot of a fleeing bird.

In a partnership with CreativeLive, we were able to get an inside look into the work of esteemed wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, as he walks us through his process in capturing some of the most iconic wildlife photographs of the last 100 years. For those unacquainted, Frans Lanting is a National Geographic wildlife photographer and has more than ten different books published of his work. With over thirty years of experience as a wildlife photographer, Lanting has won numerous awards for his work and was most recently awarded the National History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Through his partnership with CreativeLive, Lanting is set to release his upcoming course – The Art of Photographing Birds on the CreativeLive platform.

Snow geese, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, California

The Power of Wildlife Photography

Frans Lanting lives a life that many photographers can only dream of; traveling all around the world capturing photos of some of the rarest animals on the planet. But living such a life involves quite a bit more than an understanding of your exposure triangle and a telephoto lens strapped to a Canon 1DX Mark II. It also requires an understanding and appreciation for those of which you’re photographing. Frans explains — “To me, photography begins with an empathy for your subject. If you don’t have that relationship, you’re just photographing objects.”

Lesser flamingos, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Through Frans Lanting’s work, it quickly becomes clear that he shares a deep love with the world around him, and that each animal he photographs holds an opportunity to have a better understanding of that world. “Animals are not just subjects; they’re our equals. I believe there is a universal kinship between us and them, and that is what I try to express.”

Camera Gear For Birding

In his class with CreativeLive, Frans goes over everything from camera settings, finding the quality of light, and more. However, being a gear centric company, we found the most interest in the gear breakdown discussed in depth. Being Nikon shooter, Frans Lanting has a favorite system for when he’s birding, a Nikon D5 and a Nikon 600mm f/4G AF-S VR with a Nikon 1.4x III Teleconverter attached. A system like this costs a lot of money, but the only way you’re able to get the focal length while still retaining incredible sharpness. Frans Lanting also discusses the need for a heavy duty tripod, as the most subtle of bumps could drastically affect your framing when shooting at such a long focal length. However, Frans’ usually doesn’t have just one camera system with him, and he walked us through his second system — “Sometimes, it’s better to have more flexibility, and that’s when I use a zoom lens. This is Nikon’s new 180-400mm lens with built-in extender [attached to a Nikon D850].” 

Toco toucan face, Pantanal, Brazil

But Frans has also been experimenting with the Nikon Z7 mirrorless system as well. When traveling to remote locations, every ounce in your bag counts, and so the smaller sized mirrorless systems make these arduous treks far easier. Additionally, Frans doesn’t always use a super telephoto lens to capture these images – it’s all about knowing the environment you’re going into. Like all photography genres, it’s all about finding what works best for you in the given situation and being best equipped for changes as they come.

Camera Settings for Bird Photography

When photographing things such as birds, your biggest asset will be quick and accurate autofocus. For Frans, he really prefers the speed of Nikon’s Matrix Metering. “My default [metering mode] is Matrix, which means that the meter automatically captures points throughout the viewfinder and balances the exposure. While some use spot metering, I prefer Matrix throughout, and then I’ll adjust my exposure via exposure compensation if need be.” Surprisingly to many, Frans also will take advantage of the auto ISO features in modern cameras. When shooting a fast pace bird flying through the sky, one doesn’t have time to be adjusting settings, and so taking advantage of the latest tech and make an otherwise impossible shot. However, with an increase in ISO, you’ll lose image quality and contrast, so it’s important to know the capabilities of your camera and set the proper parameters so that you can get the best image quality possible.


The greatest asset when it comes to bird photography is the viability.  Whether it’s shooting robins on the bird feeder in your backyard, or rare birds in an African tundra, subjects are always available for practice. While we do not ship gear internationally (simply because customs wouldn’t be able to give us delivery dates), we do allow rentals to be taken globally. So you’re able to rent all the gear needed for your upcoming trip just a day or two before and take it with you on your next adventure. If you’d like to learn more from Frans Lanting, CreativeLive is about to release Frans’ latest class – The Art of Photographing Birds. Frans Lanting also has many other courses available within the CreativeLive program.

Author: Lensrentals

Articles written by the entire editorial and technical staff at These articles are for when there is more than one author for the entire post, and are written as a community effort.

Posted in Equipment
  • Ziggy

    That swan and cygnets are going to wait while you set up and launch the packraft you happen to have with you are they?
    Or you could have a 500mm lens on your APS-C body and stay dry.
    I’ve shot over 100,000 bird images in the last 3 years with 4 different cameras and can say that you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just misanthropy you spout.
    Over and out; no more waste of breath.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Every bird photographer worth their salt should know that getting close to the subject is crucial – focal length is a poor substitute for proximity. But, since LR want you to rent a boat anchor, they make it sound as if it were the only way to get sharp, detailed shots of birds.

    If the article were a simple interview with Lanting, then speaking about gear in such an absolute manner would be fine. But most of it consists of Lanting telling us how he does it, and offering tips – this changes the context and focus of the piece completely. And so, it reads like an empty advert.

    BTW, I know for a fact that I get better AF than a ton of other, more expensive cameras with my RX10M4. It won’t compete with a D5 or last FW A9, but it performs better than a D3s, for example, and that’s a camera that is still used by professionals today. I tested both myself.

  • Ziggy

    The guy’s a pro photographer. His clients want the best possible image quality. You don’t get that with a 1″ sensor. You don’t get the best AF with bridge/superzooms.

    What on earth is the relevance of a run of the mill photographer?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    “Being Nikon shooter, Frans Lanting has a favorite system for when he’s birding, a Nikon D5 and a Nikon 600mm f/4G AF-S VR with a Nikon 1.4x III Teleconverter attached. A system like this costs a lot of money, but the only way you’re able to get the focal length while still retaining incredible sharpness.” [sic]

    To be fair, they’re not “suggesting” anything – more like bashing readers over the head with their opinion.

  • Ziggy

    Where is that suggested?

  • Ziggy

    Lanting’s Creative Live online course is one of the best – clear, urbane and effective.
    He also uses the Nikkor 200-500mm btw.

  • Brenda

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  • Alan Fersht

    Thanks Frank for that illuminating advice.

  • Frank Kolwicz


    There are two things that go into every image: technique and taste.

    Technique is the ability to make images that are good enough to support your taste.

    Taste is either your’s alone or yours and your client’s, if you’re lucky enough to have one. It’s what makes your work distinctive and desirable. Maybe your goal is purely artistic, maybe it’s more commercial, but either way you have to decide what your images should look like. There’s nothing wrong with looking at a lot of other peoples’ images and deciding what it is that you like or dislike about them, that’s how you develop your own taste/style. However, you should be wary of simply taking someone else’s taste/style and applying it wholesale to your own work – do *you* think you should pump up the color saturation? Are you satisfied with your “flat” images? Who’s in charge of your work?

    It may take years and lots of input, but that’s the goal (unless you’re a robot working for an art director, editor or client).

  • Alan Fersht

    Great photos by a real pro. The colours are very bright and vivid. Do you boost the vibrance and saturation? I am an amateur and tend to leave colours quite flat. Should I be enhancing them?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    I’ve said similar things before, yes. It’s also, if you will excuse me, really *crappy* to suggest that bird photography is somehow futile or worthless without a massive body and lens. A 1″ superzoom with a strobe and better field craft will produce results as good, or even better, than what the run of the mill bird photog might make with $25,000 worth of heavy, clunky gear.

  • Frank Kolwicz

    No byline and it reads like a PR puff piece. Maybe someone with experience in bird photography should have written or edited it.

    I expect LR to produce non-geek articles that are on par with the very estimable testing and tear-down reports. This kind of work does not polish your otherwise fine reputation.

  • manattan

    The first sentence of the last paragraph is confusing to me. The article talks about the special requirements to get sharp bird photos and then claims “viability” is the best asset for bird photography. I think “availability” fits better with the subsequent sentence, but who knows, maybe ones needs a bird brain to get what was meant 🙂

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