Backyard Bird Photography
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!
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!