Photographing Birds At The Beach – 10 Easy Tips

As a nature photographer, I must admit that when someone mentions going to the beach I frequently don’t have the same seaside scenario in my mind as they do.

For most people, a typical day at the beach involves a good deal of sun tanning, construction of sand castles, and the occasional dip into the ocean. Me? I’m all about hitting the oceanside before the sun peeks above the horizon and the birds have scarcely had a chance to grab their morning coffee.

On my last trip to Florida, I spent a week or so along various areas of the Gulf coast and as I snapped away at assorted shore and wading birds, the thought occurred to me that I should talk about the techniques I use in a video!

So, less than 48 hours later, my wife arrived at the Tampa airport and we started shooting this video. 🙂 The video itself features my ten best tips and tricks for getting great imagery of our feathered friends along the coast.   

Heck, even if you’re not heading to the ocean anytime soon, I think you’ll find the information applies to more than just the seashore. We’ll discuss tricks for composition, finding great viewpoints, protecting your gear, timing, autofocus tricks, using waves for knock-out shots, killer tricks for keeping level, how to grab great action, how to catch the “fish flip” (when a bird tosses the fish in the air), as well as essential stuff to have along – and more!

Enjoy – and please remember to share if you like it!


Below are the shots from the video (larger sizes will be in the gallery soon). 







If you enjoyed this review, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography and Secrets To The Nikon Autofocus System. They’re filled with hundreds of pages of information just like this. Check it out – click here (hey, it’s free to look 🙂 )

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43 Comments on "Photographing Birds At The Beach – 10 Easy Tips"

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Donnie Land

Fantastic video. I have watched it so many times. I bought a Nikon d850 and have several lenses. I have a Nikon VR 300mm 2.8 lens to use for this purpose. Cant wait to go to the beach and try it out. I have bought and read both of your books. The books and videos have improved my pictures 1000%. Thanks so much and please keep them coming.
I would like to see one on using the live view to take action shots of animals. Sometimes it is just hard to get my eye behind the viiewfinder.

Joe T

Another great video with lots of wonderful tips to get fantastic shots in difficult environment. I have friends who did not cleaned out their Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and found corroded spots on the legs. I now rinse throughly between the shotots and disassemble and clean the legs in the evening. Some were able to handheld their big telephoto lenses, but I cannot do that for hours on the beach. I have tried monopod bur I nearly dropped the whole rig. Once again, thank you for the tips.

Barbara Davis

Since I live 30 miles from the beach, I really needed some good ideas for getting better photos while at the beach. Thanks, next time someone sees me at the beach and find me laying on the sand, I’m not dead, just shooting! LOL I have both your books now and almost through reading them. Lots of excellent tips and tricks, and I like that I can have them on my computer to read and see better, but also to keep on my phone to look up info that I can’t remember! Thanks, Steve!

Patrick W Laundra
Hi Steve. thanks for sharing your outstanding photos. I’ve read both of your books & love your clear, accurate, yet casual presentation style. I shoot with a nikon d750. I often hang out in a fb site called How to photograph birds. we can always learn something new. I love to share your Secrets to Autofocus. It’s changed everything for me. wonderful stuff. there are allot of new kids on this site who don’t know about Back Button Focus. actually, I’m a lefty so I use the front PV button. anyway. Allot of People use Canon crop cameras for birds.… Read more »

When photographing small shorebirds I mount a ballhead onto a board. I have used a 14×14 piece of plywood but switched to a piece of 1/2″ HDPE plastic material. A 1/4″-20 stainless bolt provides for mounting the ballhead. I use the Kirk BH-1 ballhead that provides enough height above the board for even a telephoto lens.

Mike Warfield

Hi Steve, I discovered you on UTube and ordered your book which I highly recommend to anyone that is serious about photography. I have a Nikon D800 and just ordered Nikon D500 for wildlife. I am going to purchase a Nikon 200-500 or Sigma 200-600 do you have any suggestions or preferences?

Mitch Wasserman

FWIW I shoot with the D500 and SIgma 150-600mm Contemporary, and love, love, love the combo for birds. View some of my images here

Just discovered you Steve and I certainly agree with all the nice words your followers offer up! It seems like your definitely a prime lens guy, as would be expected for a pro, I guess. However, you have any thoughts on the 80-400 nikkor? I’m considering putting up for a 600 f4 (been learning and practicing on 200-500) but as a second set up, the 80-400. Gear is fun but the less, the better, for me. Seems like a good way to get a lot of focal length in just two lenses? Thanks for all you do (have your wildlife… Read more »
Adi Ringer

Great video Steve, I live by the ocean and go there often. This will help me improve my images.
I was following the ISO discussion with Tim, but the “read more” link didn’t work for me (IE browser). I use the D500 mostly with the Tamron 150-600 6.3 and sometimes the Nikon 200-400 f4. For me, it seems that keeping shutter speed up in the 1/2000 plus, wide open, shoots my ISO way up there. What’s a good top ISO for the D500 and where do you compromise if you hit it?

Great video Steve. I’m going to be practicing these techniques along with what I’ve learned from your wildlife book and Nikon focus book while on Sanibel Island in March. BTW I switched to BBF a couple of years ago based on your video and absolutely love it. Can’t imagine going back to shutter release focus. Yes, the Sirui W-2204 does include a short center column which allows it to get down to 6.1”. Looking forward to meeting you in Costa Rica in September. Trying to learn as much as i can from you before I get there.
Tim Javor

With the shutter speed being so critical, wouldn’t it be advantageous to be in shutter priority and adjust your ISO as needed to get the aperture range desired or do you still believe full manual to be the better alternative while on Auto ISO?

George Heidenblut

Steve great video, just returned from a month on the Sea of Cortez…Puerto Penasco, SON, MEX, wish I had seen the video before the trip. I noticed the birds are most active around low tide, small fish get trapped between the sand bars…good feeding grounds. Pelicans are usually the first birds in those areas. Thanks

Darren Hill

Wow! I had NO idea I could get a virtual horizon through the view finder on my D7200! Thanks so much for the tip!


Great advice and beautiful images! Thank you. On the choice of tripod, I use the waterproofed Sirui W2204 that helps keep sand and muck muck out of the joints…but it’s always a good plan to rinse off salt etc afterwards


More great tips Steve. Especially liked assigning the sub selector to virtual horizon. Already took your tip about assigning a button (in my case the Pv) to toggle on and off Group area mode and single point


Another great video! The shot of the diving pelican (?) was just awesome, I can’t find the words to describe how good it is….

Joseph Przybya

Hey Steve, it was wonderful meeting and sharing a couple hours at Circle B Bar Reserve. Great tips and information in your video. Was it Ft. De Soto?

Tal Pipkin

Sure looked like it. I would also add one more thing and that is to check your tides. Low tide can be a wonderful thing. I love going out to Ft. DeSoto at low tide and shooting the reddish egret doing the “drunken sailor dance!” Great tips, Steve and thank you!!


Great tips Steve.


Another excellent vid Steve. Thanks for the lessons.

Pamela Cohen

Yes, the bird in the 3rd image is the black bellied plover, displaying its winter plumage, The bird looks totally different in the summer. Steve lookup what it looks like with summer plumage, you will be surprised!

Jamie Baker

Third bird is a Black-bellied Plover.

Hi Steve, As always , great video and valuable tips, can’t wait for your next video already! I have one request, when you get a chance, can you make a tip video for the Nikon VR use, especially when to use VR for Bird in Flight. I have read quite a bit about VR use but not much out there, other than Thom Hogan. has a great article on it. May be you can answer this, do use the VR on long tele, 500MM/600MM with the shutter speed of 1/1500 sec and up for BIF? Hopefully you will consider this… Read more »