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Backyard Bird Photography - Tips for Beginners

Updated on January 1, 2015

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse on branch.
Tufted Titmouse on branch. | Source

Bird Photography Can Be Fun

Bird photography is one of the favorite genres of nature photographers. Who can resist taking pictures of these beautiful and graceful creatures? Not only do they come in different sizes from the great bald eagle to the smallest hummingbird, but also they range in so many different colors and patterns. Bird photography can be fun as well as rewarding. I don’t claim to be a great bird photographer, but I have learned a few things that may be helpful to the beginner and the best place to begin is right in your own backyard. Here are several tips you need to know to capture those really good bird pictures.

Hummingbird in Flight

Picture of hummingbird taken from my window.
Picture of hummingbird taken from my window. | Source

Bringing the Birds to You

The first things you need are the birds! The best place for a beginner at bird photography is to start in your own backyard. With a few well-placed bird feeders you can attract many different varieties of birds to your yard. Use a few different types of bird feeders. Of course there is always the hummingbird feeder. Place it close to a window in your house. You want to position it so it is not in the shade. You want to have the sun shining on these iridescently colored birds. Hang a bird feeder with sunflower seeds in it from a branch on a tree. This will attract the smaller birds such as the goldfinch, tufted titmouse and some cardinals. Use a platform feeder for the larger birds such as blue jays and woodpeckers. Using different types of feeders will bring a variety of birds to your yard.

Photography Equipment

Of course equipment is important. I do not have the largest lens or the most expensive cameras. I do have a Canon EF 75 x 300/mm zoom lens on a Canon Rebel xsi camera. The zoom lens offers more flexibility to get good shots and varying distances. For a good picture of one of our little feathered friends, you are going to need to get up close and personal.

Be sure that you are using a tripod. Because you are going to want to get excellent focus to get the detail of the feathers, you are going to have to use a tripod. You can set your tripod up as far away from your feeder as possible. This is where your telephoto or zoom lens is going to come in very handy. The farther away you are, the longer the birds are going to sit still.

Bluebird on Red Geranium

Bluebird in Spring
Bluebird in Spring | Source

Planning Your Shot

Watch the birds and see where they land before they land on the feeder. You don’t really want a picture of the birdfeeder. There will be someplace that the birds land before they go to the feeder. Have your camera ready by pre-focusing on this spot. If your camera has the capability to shoot in “bursts”, this is an excellent thing to do. Your camera will take several shots of the bird without you having to click the button each time. You may be surprised at some of the shots you can get by using the burst function. You also want to be sure that you are taking pictures on a still day. If the wind is blowing, even just a little, your pictures may be blurred.

Beautiful Male Cardinal

Male cardinal waiting his turn for the birdfeeder.
Male cardinal waiting his turn for the birdfeeder. | Source


One of the most important factors in bird photography is lighting. In order to get good detail of the birds beautiful feathers, you need good lighting. Be sure the sun is shining on the bird itself and it none of it is shaded. Good light will give you good detail as well as bright bold colors. Good lighting will also help you take pictures with faster shutter speeds and get better focus also. You are going to need to use a faster shutter speed, such as 1/250 or up to 1/500 to actually stop the motion of a bird in flight. I sometimes like a little blur of the wings to actually show some motion. If that is the case, you may want to use a shutter speed of about 1/60 to 1/125.

Mourning Dove

Dove eating sunflower seeds on the ground.
Dove eating sunflower seeds on the ground. | Source


Now you have to be patient. The longer you have had your birdfeeder out, the more accustomed the birds will be to it and the more often they will go to it. You will also need to be very still as the birds are still going to wary of you. Get comfortable, be patient and take lots of pictures. Hopefully you are using a digital camera and you can take all the pictures you want. You can always discard the bad ones. Remember the more pictures you take, the better the changes of you getting a few good ones.

I hope my tips will be useful as you begin your journey into bird photography. With patience and practice it will be a very rewarding experience for you. Most of all enjoy the beauty Mother Nature has given us in these wonderful creatures. Happy Birding!

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