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Backyard Bird Photography

Updated on October 30, 2014

Backyard Bird Photography Tips

Taking a beautiful photograph of your favorite feathered friends can be very rewarding but also challenging. Birds move so fast and rarely sit still. However, there are tricks you can utilize to lure them to a specific spot where you are ready to capture them on film (digital or otherwise) and tips to maximize your success. Remember, patience is the key here as well as practice; make sure you set up a number of photo shoots throughout the season. With the following suggestions, you won't be disappointed with your efforts. Have fun!

Camera Equipment

photo credit: Sonota

Honestly, a tripod and patience are the most important tools for getting some great backyard bird shots. Sure, the pros use SLR cameras (the ones with interchangeable lenses), and you can get yourself a pretty decent one without breaking the bank (see the Nikon D40 below), but a point and shoot camera can also capture some great images.

Getting in close enough is key here. With the SLRs a longer focal length lens is helpful, say up to 200mm or 300mm. A point and shoot will have to have a substantial zoom capability.

And at these focal lengths a steady camera is essential. An inexpensive tripod will make all of the difference in clarity. For minimal camera shake, you could also use a remote shutter release. A little tip if you don't have a remote release is to set your camera to a timed shutter release, even just 2 seconds; just keep in mind you won't be getting those immediate shots.

Camera Settings

I recommend using manual focus pre-focused on the perch (branch or feeders) in Aperture Priority Mode so that you can control the depth of field and minimize any distracting backgrounds. Also, with a wider aperture (lower number) I can allow more light in letting me use a faster shutter speed, which is very helpful in stopping the motion with fast birds. A higher ISO setting will enable a faster shutter speed as well, just know your camera and keep it set where the resulting noise is still acceptable.

Manually setting the white balance is pretty simple, and you'll rarely need to change it during a sitting. And when you shoot in RAW, you can correct any off colors in your image editing software more accurately.

Capturing birds in flight takes some extra patience and practice shooting in manual mode, setting the shutter and aperture.

Timing - Best times of year and day

photo credit: Heather Katsoulis

During the spring you have the opportunity to capture birds you wouldn't normally see due to spring migration. Late spring you can also capture the adults tending to their offspring. That being said, any time of year will work; in late autumn you will get the migration coming back down south. In winter you may have birds that live north during summer but live in your back yard during winter. Also, just after a new snow can be a great setting for some beautiful images.

As far as the time of day, early morning is best. Within the 3 hours after the sun rises the birds are at their most active. At this time the sun is low enough to give nice even light. Two hours before sunset can also be a very fruitful time.

Attracting Birds

photo credit: Susan E Adams

To attract birds to your yard, you must provide water, food and shelter. To entice them to stay, you must also provide a fourth thing - a safe place to raise their young. Here are some tips:

Water:

  • Use birdbaths to supply water for bathing and drinking.
    • The water should be less than two inches deep (so the birds can bathe comfortably) and must be kept clean.
    • Birdbaths should be placed in a shady location if possible; adding a source of running water (such as a dripping hose or recirculating pump) will make the water more appealing.
  • Shallow dishes filled with water can be substituted for traditional birdbaths.
    • Use large plastic plant saucers, or other sturdy shallow objects.
    • Placing the water source on a pedestal or stump or hanging it from tree limb will give birds a better view of predators.

Food:

  • To provide an ample supply of "bird food," plant a wide variety of flowering and fruit-bearing plants, as well as varieties that attract insects (a great protein source for birds). Oaks, hickories and maples are all good choices.

Shelter:

  • Appropriate shelter for birds doesn't necessarily mean a birdhouse; birds will nest in

    most trees that provide protection from harsh weather and predators (such as hawks and cats).

    • Evergreens and dense shrubs are ideal choices for good shelter

Home for young:

  • Birdhouses provide both shelter and nesting sites.
    • Different species have different housing requirements, but you can find houses for everything from orioles to owls.
    • Make sure the house is weather-resistant and well-ventilated, and place it with the entrance hole facing away from prevailing winds.
    • Be sure to clean it out after each nesting season.

By following these simple guidelines, you can provide a new home for a wide variety of beautiful

birds. To further enhance your yard, consider planting a hummingbird or butterfly garden.

Positioning Yourself

If you have a window that looks out over your bird sanctuary, setting your tripod and camera up right in front of it can be the best location for great photos. It allows you to keep it set up so you have more opportunities to capture something spontaneously. And you are out of the way and cannot distract the birds as easily. It is certainly how I have gotten some of my best shots.

Setting yourself up outdoors is a bit more challenging; you must keep yourself pretty well hidden and/or far enough away so the birds will visit your sites without feeling threatened. When you are outside, you must also set aside enough time to allow birds to come and go so that you are able to get a number of shots. It is a great way to spend a beautiful day outside.

Let me know how successful you are - I'd love to see your results!

Feathered Feedback

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    • Infohouse profile image

      Infohouse 4 years ago

      I use a point and shot superzoom digital camera to take pictures of birds coming to my feeders in the backyard. The results are very acceptable.

    • profile image

      golfspice 4 years ago

      Good practical advice for capturing bird photos in your garden.

    • profile image

      KatherineWakefield 5 years ago

      beautiful photos!

    • profile image

      KatherineWakefield 5 years ago

      beautiful photos!

    • lunagaze profile image

      lunagaze 5 years ago

      Photos are amazing. Nice job

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 5 years ago

      Real Nice Lens. Squid Liked, FB Liked, Pinned (so I can persue it more when I have more time) and Blessed

    • profile image

      runninragged 5 years ago

      Great tips that are helpful for a newbie photographer, like myself!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Birds look so stoic when seen in winter weather. Thank you for this lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      Those cardinals are stunning. Breaks my heart that I'm just a wee bit too far north for their range. Sigh. But at least I've got lots of bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers to admire, plus the gorgeous confetti-like flights of snow buntings, and the cheeky little chickadee, and... well, I guess I'll stop whining about the cardinals. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great Article. We also used a bird identifier called a Birdsong Identiflyer to recognized bird songs.

    • savenlives profile image

      savenlives 5 years ago

      beautiful photos you have taken! I love the ones with the snow! Great lens...we have some nice birds here, but not as many beautiful ones as you!

    • judithmurphy profile image

      judithmurphy 6 years ago

      Very informative - I'd bet I would run out of patience.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      Great tips. I had not considered photographing birds, but your lens makes me want to. Blessed on the back to school angel bus.

    • nbrandt123 profile image

      nbrandt123 6 years ago

      Hey! Love your lens! You did a good job and that made me want to try photography of birds too!

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      Another really helpful lens well deserving of a blessing.

    • hotbrain profile image

      hotbrain 6 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      I'm a Memorial Day Bus Trip and found your very informative lens! Squid Angel blessed! These are some great tips on how to photograph birds. I hope to try them out someday when I get a new camera with greater zoom.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Love your photos. I especially like the look on the cardinal in your intro photo. Great shot. Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Well done! I am pleased that you included camera information and suggestions about how to set up to attract birds. It would be lovely if you had a way to list which birds are in your back yard bird collection. Great lens.

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Well done! I am pleased that you included camera information and suggestions about how to set up to attract birds. It would be lovely if you had a way to list which birds are in your back yard bird collection. Great lens.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 6 years ago

      Just did a lens on my Peacock photos, and thought I would check out some other bird photography lenses. Very interesting lens.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      What a beautiful page...I love the cardinals...have been watching a pair in my yard and the camera is never close enough at hand to capture them. Blessed as part of the April Fools Angel Quest. Stepping away from my usual category to visit wildlife and nature photos today, I love the outdoors, but you'll find it featured on my Diet and Nutrition Angel page, look for "April Fools" link along the top:-)

    • profile image

      BadSoulPhotography 6 years ago

      Well written, very informative, enjoyed it

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      I really love photographing backyard birds. Thanks for a wonderful lens.

    • profile image

      CreativeMind2011 6 years ago

      nice shots of those backyard birds. All done in perfect timing. *****Stars! Please drop by my mat boards lense on your spare time.

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 6 years ago from Idaho

      I love this lens, you have shared so many wonderful tips as well as some beautiful photography! Beautiful lens, blessed by a wildlife photography angel and featured on Wildlife Photography Angel Blessings

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      wonderful pictures. lensrolled in to my lens 'birds and beaks'. blessed

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 6 years ago

      You have really captured some amazing photos and I really appreciate the tips.

    • tiff0315 profile image

      tiff0315 6 years ago

      Wow! Now I can't wait for Spring!

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 6 years ago

      Awesome lens! I love the pictures! Blessing this lens and featuring it on my photography tips Angel lens!

    • deyanis profile image

      deyanis 6 years ago from Oz

      Your backyard bird shots are amazing, thank you for sharing the tips & tricks on how to photograph birds. --- Blessed ---

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Beautiful photos,awesome lens! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel on 12/29/2010. Have a great day!

    • QuirkySue profile image

      QuirkySue 6 years ago

      I'm going to try to use a tripod and delayed shutter release. I'm an amateur and have been using a high speed sports mode and continuous burst shooting to try to capture moving birds and other wildlife with mixed results. Great lens, helpful tips.

    • Yourshowman LM profile image

      Yourshowman LM 6 years ago

      I love Photography.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 6 years ago

      I would like to photograph more birds...but need a better camera first. It's so nice to see them up close.

    • profile image

      surreyweddingphotographers 6 years ago

      Great lens, thanks!

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    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Getting great photos of birds is definitely a challenge. You've got some beautiful photos here and great tips.

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 7 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I've got lots f birds in my garden, and rather take them for granted. Having read your lens I'm going to try to get some photos- there might be a lens in time! Blassed by a Squid Angel and added to my SquidAngel lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Excellent site. I must use some of these techinques.

      Unique Digital Photography

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens, I've been a backyard birder for years. It's always nice to see the male cardinal feed his babies. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you for the incredibly informative post. I especially enjoyed the images.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This was awesome. Great pics and excellent advice. Thanks for shring this with us,

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      very informative lens...5*s

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      This is wonderful, I'm glad I stopped by! I love to watch birds though it is pretty tricky to get a good photo of them. These tips will definitely help!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Wonderful lens. Great tips. I love to photograph birds in my backyard! Love your intro photo!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Just had to stop back by on my first day as a Squid Angel and Bless this wonderful lens!

    • natnickeep lm profile image

      natnickeep lm 7 years ago

      Great lens! I like the graph on what to feed our outdoor flying friends. I sure will be stopping back in to find out what kind of feeders to put outside. We have a lot of Cardinals that visit our yard. I love watching the birds. And now I have some great tips on getting some good photos of them. Thanks to you for that. 5* from me!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens, and about one of my favorite subjects

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 7 years ago

      A wonderful and informative lens. Angel blessings to you

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      You're right...the birds move so quickly. I've been trying everything to capture some photos of backyard birds. Now I'm trying peanuts. You photos are always wonderful. The Red Cardinals are so pretty. Thanks for these great tips. Have a Happy Thanksgiving! :)

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 7 years ago

      Thank for the tips. I would love to start taking more photos of our birds. Great lens.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Gorgeous photos! I doubt I could be steady enough to get such wonderful shots. I'll just have to enjoy your work:)

    • annetteghallowe1 profile image

      annetteghallowe1 8 years ago

      Great lens! My daughter has some great hummingbird photos. She stood at the feed for so long they finally ignored her! I find I don't have the patience....

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      I love the picture of the cardinals. I have a lot of birds fluttering around my yard, but I can't get close enough for a good shot. Part of the problem is my lack of patience.

      Great lens!

      Lizzy

    • mjrinella profile image

      mjrinella 8 years ago

      This is a great lens! I love photography, but I've always had a problem capturing birds on camera. 5*s for sure!

    • SusanFaye profile image

      SusanFaye 8 years ago

      As a vegetarian, bird-watching artist who loves photography, I'm so happy to have found all of your informative, well-written lenses. Thanks!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Very informative, this lens took a lot of time to put together.

      Thanks.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

      My son is considering pursuing photography in the future. He often sneaks out to try to 'capture' the birds. I'll e-mail him this lens to look at.

      Brenda

    • Liam Tohms profile image

      Liam Tohms 8 years ago

      Great lens, really informative and some good tips. I just need to get the right birds into our back garden now - although we do get a lot of squirrels. I could focus on them as a start.