bird photography

The Best Metering Mode for Bird Photography (A Practical Guide)

Bird photography can be very exciting and rewarding.

However, with the overwhelming settings in most camera models today, it can be a little daunting to determine which setting is ideal for the shoot you want to make.

The best metering mode you should use in bird photography is the Evaluative or Matrix metering mode, depending on the camera you are using (Matrix for Nikon and Evaluative for Canon). 

They are often the default metering modes for these cameras and ideal for bird photography. Inasmuch as many vouch for the spot metering mode, it comes with many limitations. 

Learning how all the settings work in your camera is a steep learning curve but very worthwhile. This post will help you understand what settings to make for whatever photography you are doing.

What is the Best Metering Mode for Bird Photography?

metering mode

The best and highly recommended metering modes in bird photography are the Evaluative or Matrix modes. Typically, they are the default modes in the Canon and Nikon cameras, respectively. Although many recommend the spot metering mode, it comes with many limitations. 

For one, it only considers 3 to 5% of the image frame. In contrast, the matrix/evaluative modes consider various aspects, including the background, other objects in the frame, and the subject.

Moreover, these metering modes utilize a weighting system that results in an ideal exposure value. They are therefore recommended over the center-weighted or spot metering modes. 

The matrix/ evaluative metering modes should be combined with an exposure compensation technique (to be discussed below) to get the perfect exposures.

Many recent DSLRs come with default metering modes that achieve the best in most situations. They work well as long as the dynamic range of your camera is adequately high. 

Other Must-Use Bird Photography Settings

Bird photography can be interesting only if you understand the settings and know which to apply depending on the situation.

It’s important to keep in mind that one wrong setting leads to a ruined photo. But you need not worry anymore. We have outlined the best settings for bird photography, all tried and tested to guarantee extraordinary results. They work for beginners and experts alike. 

Set It and Forget It

One of the key factors for successful bird photography is preselecting the settings ahead of time and forgetting about them. It would be best if you only had a maximum of two variables that you will have to set on the spot to focus only on achieving a great bird photograph. 

Black Dslr Camera

That way, you will be relieved of the tension that comes with changing the settings during the action continuously. And with there being no retakes when it comes to bird photography, you would not want to ruin any photos lest the opportunity does not present itself again.

Shoot in Raw Format

Always ensure that you use the RAW format during shooting. If you’ve never tried it, you should start getting used to it. Set RAW as the image quality in your DSLR, but if you are not sure whether you can work with the RAW file immediately, you can set it at RAW + Fine JPEG or basic JPEG. 

The RAW file will hold any data captured by the camera sensor. This setting translates to using the full capacity of the sensor. For the JPEG format, it is typically an image compression standard. The data is compressed to reduce the file size by throwing away some data. And I am sure you do not want to lose anything. 

Using the RAW files come with many other advantages, including; 

  • The white balance settings can be modified during post-processing.
  • The RAW file stores the highest dynamic range that your sensor can accomplish. Since it stores more data, this means more detail in your photos’ highlight and shadow regions.
  • The phenomenal details in the shadow regions can be recovered during post-processing. 
  • You can also attain the perfect color and contrast in the images and much more. 

Use the Auto White Balance Setting

The AWB setting is instrumental in any photography, and particularly in bird photography. It does away with the hassle of constantly setting the white balance each time the light changes. Moreover, birds are always in constant motion making it impossible to adjust the white balance when the birds are in flight.

It would be best to remember that light changes through the day. So, even if the white balance can be adjusted, it would help to have an automatic setting that adjusts with the changing light. Having one standard white balance could result in wrong colors, thus a ruined photo. 

In the newer DSLR models, you can count on the AWB setting to get you a tremendous job in almost every case. Once your camera is in RAW format and auto white balance mode, you can forget about it and go to the field. 

Use the Semi-Automatic Modes Like Av/A or Tv/S

Many novice photographers tend to select the auto mode when shooting. But this mode denies you control over the final exposure. You should rather use the semi-automatic modes. They are not only simple to use but also guarantee incredible results. 

You can start with the Aperture Priority Av/A mode- many professionals in bird photography use this mode for a good reason. It allows the photographer to select the aperture, which defines the depth of field, while the camera chooses the shutter speed.

Combined with an auto ISO setting, this setting gives you the best results in the field with less tension. 

If achieving the required shutter speed is impossible due to low light, you can go for the Shutter Priority Tv/S mode.

This mode allows the photographer to choose the shutter speed, which comes in handy to either blur the action or freeze it, and the camera selects the aperture. A point to note is that the semi-automatic settings work better than manual mode. 

Use the Auto ISO Setting

Learning how to use the auto ISO setting properly can save you a lot of trouble, especially in bird photography. Often, to freeze the action, you will need faster shutter speeds.

And this translates to using higher ISO values. The downside of a higher ISO value, particularly in the cropped sensors, is that it results in too much noise, and many times a ruined photo. 

Many situations call for an ISO range of 400 to 800. Instead of using this setting, it would be best to go for the Auto ISO setting and choose your maximum to be 800. For the full-frame cameras, the maximum ISO can be set to 1600 or 3200, depending on noise levels. 

Use Auto ISO and a Minimum Shutter Speed

Most DSLR models allow you to select the minimum shutter speed even in auto ISO mode. This setting ensures that the camera selects the lowest possible ISO value to match the chosen shutter speed, achieving that sweet spot in bird photography. 

For example, if the shutter speed is set at a minimum of 1/1000th of a second, the camera will go for the lowest ISO that meets the requirement for a perfect balance. 

If it is impossible to work with the minimum shutter speed, you can switch to normal ISO mode and set a higher value. However, an ISO value over 800 is not recommended for the cropped sensors due to increased noise levels. Thankfully, some exceptions work well with the higher ISO levels, such as Nikon D500. 

Learn to Use the Histogram

The Histogram should be your best friend. Without the Histogram, a lot of the image potential is lost. Whenever you are taking any photographer, you need to check the Histogram and not the LCD monitors as they are not as reliable. 

The Histogram gives the exact exposure reading, whereas the LCD ambient light and brightness could give you a false idea that the photo is over or underexposed.

The best results are attained when the Histogram displays a distribution that is mostly in the middle. This way, your photo will not be under or overexposed. 

Use Exposure Compensation to Tweak the Exposure (+/- Ev)

Here is a tip for all bird photographers, to achieve the perfect exposure, you need to employ the exposure compensation technique. You will note a drastic improvement in your resulting images.

The metering modes are algorithm-based to give exposure values without knowing how the subject is and the right way to render it. 

For instance, an egret may be rendered in gray instead of white. Tweaking the exposure, therefore, records all the details in the scene. It would be best to render the subject in as much detail as possible. 

Woman Holding Dslr Camera

With the exposure compensation technique, the camera gets to either overexpose or underexpose the scene by a specified value.

For instance, you can choose a -1 stop exposure compensation using the +/- button. A 1-stop will underexpose the scene. Selecting +1 stop results in the scene being overexposed by 1 stop. 

Therefore, you need to apply the exposure compensation technique to enhance your bird photography as it guarantees phenomenal improvements with an exposure tweak of +/- 1/3 stops. 


With these camera settings brought into practice in your daily bird photography routine, you will notice a drastic improvement in your images. 

However, it is important to note that the equipment and settings are only a means to an end; they can only take you so far.

The rest will be up to you with constant practice and more research on what is not covered in this article. Everything can be mastered with time.