Photographing Birds with an iPhone: Leave the 600mm Lens at Home?

Every December, one of the most well-known photo seminars is held in Socorro, New Mexico. Hundreds of photographers travel from all over the globe to capture the migration of around 20,000 birds on their way to Mexico.

Serious shutterbugs will bring huge lenses with 400mm focal lengths. They also have bulky DSLRs and mirrorless camera bodies, extenders, and the strongest tripods. They’re not playing any games. To ensure a prime spot for bird photography, they arrive at Bosque Del Apache nature reserve as early as 4:30 AM.

The tiny, but Max edition was mine! iPhone 13 Pro.

Photographers with cameras on tripods outdoors at night

Scott Bourne, a Bosque pro, has done some amazing work online. I was impressed by the variety of shots of birds flying across the sky. This is what the iPhone 12mm ultra-wide lens can capture for video and stills. I had two iPhones and a 12 Pro Max with me.

Shooting on an iPhone required less gear than usual. You only needed a smartphone, tripod and adapter for your smartphone tripod. The iPhone also has a camera that is capable of capturing stunning video. The iPhone can also produce amazing timelapse videos. Although not as sharp as my Sony, the iPhone is much easier to create and share online.

While other photographers were busy chiming off their preview screens, congratulating each other for great work, I was able to click two buttons to instantly have my work posted on social media via my phone.

A podcast about iPhone photography is hosted by me.

Birds taking off at sunrise at the Bosque Del Apache nature preserve

My first day of shooting confirmed my suspicions. The wide shot I envisioned was possible because just after sunrise, the birds flew over the water to move to another area of the park. This could not have been more perfect on my Sony.

The 77mm telephoto of the iPhone 13 Pro Max was not enough to match the results of the pros, but I could get a little closer with the 65mm lens on the iPhone 12 Pro.

Bosque Del Apache nature preserve

Bird Photography was not possible with the iPhone

But, I have to be honest. It didn’t last long. Mid-day on the first day of Bourne’s workshop, I realized that I was missing those closeups. So, I reached for my Sony RX10IV, a camera with an integrated 24mm to 600mm zoom lens.

A crane at the Bosque Del Apache nature preserve
A bird in flight at the Bosque Del Apache nature preserve
A bird in flight at the Bosque Del Apache nature preserve

Tips for bird photography with a smartphone

A seagull walking on a wall next to water
Shot on an iPhone 8
A closeup of a seagull
Shot on Sony RX10IV

Your smartphone may have an ultra-wide angle lens that is ideal for capturing flocks of birds flying.

You need to be able move quickly and capture multiple shots of the birds at once, which will freeze the action. You can do this by reaching for the volume button on the phone. This will allow you to enter burst mode and snap many images at once. It also increases your chances of getting a sharp shot of the bird in flight.

For a closer look, you can use your feet. Move slowly so as to not scare the bird.

Both cameras were used at the photo seminar. The Sony for closeups. The tripod-mounted iPhone, which was either used to record long timelapse footage or for quick video hits, was the Sony.

You can attend a photo seminar using just your iPhone, get amazing wide shots, video and timelapse footage, and you’ll be able to take great photos. You will need to bring the equipment if you want to capture the birds in flight.