I just bought a Nikon D5200 with the 18-105mm lens and I have taken this flamingo photograph but can't see their faces properly and If I zoom in a little bit the image is pixelated. I have tried similar pictures using the Manual mode without better results. Can you explain which mode and setting is best for this kind of photography.

Sample photograph (full size)


  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like you have the ISO setting a bit high which will smear details. You'd never clearly see any detail in the flamingo's head from that distance without zooming in, though. Digital camera images are never pixel-sharp due to the fact that they use a Bayer filter (and lenses are rarely perfectly sharp). - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_filter \$\endgroup\$
    – Moriarty
    Oct 26, 2013 at 8:38

3 Answers 3


This is nothing to do with your settings; you just need a longer focal length - or in other words, a new, bigger, heavier, significantly more expensive lens.

As a very rough rule of thumb, you'll want a focal length of around 400mm (full-frame equivalent) in order to do birding shots, or a lens which can go to about 250-300mm taking into account the 1.5x crop factor of your camera.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ The general rule of focal length for bird shots is that too much is never enough. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2013 at 12:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know, but that's not very helpful to the original poster :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Oct 26, 2013 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall If I understand I need zoom lens for this kind photography. Am I right? \$\endgroup\$
    – mananpatel
    Oct 26, 2013 at 13:36
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ No, you need a long telephoto lens. It does not have to be a zoom. Zooms are popular because there are cheap ones but the good ones are expensive, similarly to primes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Oct 26, 2013 at 14:05

Here is a relevant 1:1 snippet from near the middle:

Nothing looks out of expectation here. You can definitely see the softness of the lens a bit, and it looks like the picture was overexposed. The lens sharpness for this detail with this size sensor is reasonable enough. The overexposure is making the tops of the flamingos look more white than pink.

The flamingos are brighter than the rest of the picture, but they are small. That may have fooled the auto-exposure system into underexposing the flamingos. You could have manually adjusted the exposure by -1, or your camera may have a mode where the auto-exposure system looks for small highlights and tries to not overexpose them. This is a tradeoff because in other scenes a few highlights may not be what you care about, and this setting would then waste dynamic range.

All in all, nothing looks really wrong here.

Note that due to the haze, the black level isn't black anymore by the time you get to the distance of the flamingos. You can't expect the camera to fix this, but this is something you can addressin post processing. For example:

Now the dark parts look blotchy, but that is because there was no detail there in the first place. Making them full black only makes this more obvious. If you do this starting from the raw image though, there will likely be detail in the dark areas so that you can make the darkest black and bring up the brightness quickly at the low end to show the detail.

Then again, a scenic picture like this isn't about individual flamingos anyway, so pixel peeping a small crop from the center like this is unfair. If you wanted a picture of the flamingos, you should have used the appropriate lens in the first place.


To get clear images of a subject you need to:

  • fill the frame with your subject (through adjusting distance or focal length)
  • stop your lens down a bit if you are otherwise shooting wide open
  • keep iso max. 800. Over 800 you might be able to pull off, esp due to my 2nd last step.
  • Expose correctly, especially when shooting white subjects as here (use -1 or 2 exposure compensation)
  • optionally, apply "clarity/local contrast enhancement/large radius sharpening (whatever your processing software offers
  • adjust curves to bring out the details you find fascinating (auto will never know what it is you found so fascinating that you wanted to take the photo)
  • resize to about 25% (helps with high iso images as well)
  • apply output sharpening for whatever your medium would be (screen/glossy print / matte print)

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