The following thoughts on Backyard Bird Photography was submitted by NaturesPixel (our forum Administrator). Check out her Flickr account - particularly her bird photography (one of which is the second shot in this article).
Best Time of Year
The best time of year to photograph birds is Spring. That way you have the opportunity to capture birds you wouldn’t normally see due to spring migration. Later in spring you can also capture the adults tending to their offspring. That being said, any time of year can be good, in late Autumn you will get the migration coming back down south and winter you may have birds that live north during summer but live in your back yard during winter.
Best Time of Day
Early morning is best. I find within the 3 hours after the sun rises the birds are at their most active. At this time the sun is not at full strength which gives you nice even light. Two hours before sunset can also be a very fruitful time.
To get ‘pro’ shots in the wild you will need a SLR/DSLR with a 300mm (or more) lens, but in the back yard the rules change. You can even get good shots with an advanced point and shoot with 10x Zoom as I did with my Minolta Dimage Z5.
You will need a tripod to steady yourself also I some times set my camera up in the yard closer to the feeders, sit back away from the camera and use my remote to fire off the shutter. So I recommend you have at least a 10x zoom or a 200mm lens, a Tripod/Monopod, remote shutter release and most of all patience.
I recommend using either continuous focusing or manual focusing with pre-focusing on the branch/perch or feeders.
I set my white balance manually although as I do tend to forget that sometimes I always shoot in RAW. That way if I do forget to set my white balance or my exposure is off a little I can fix within my image editing software.
I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority Mode when shooting birds that are feeding, that way you can control the depth of field.
With in flight birds I shoot in manual mode, setting the shutter and aperture. This is all a learning curve that takes practice and patience.
There are numerous way to attract birds and it will largely depend upon the type of birds that are in your area.
- Flora – One alternative is to plant native plants, shrubs, and/or grasses. For example planting a chokecherry will attract Cedar Waxwings and Robins to your yard for the 2 weeks that the berries are ripe. There are ten native plants that attract hummingbirds to your yard also. In the end I recommend you do the research for each bird that you want to attract as each will have it’s own unique things that attracts it.
- Water – Another alternative is to have a running waterfall or pond that will attract birds that don’t feed from feeders. Also having fresh water in a shallow dish will help.
- Seed – Most feeders come in a variety of shapes and sizes (again research is needed to find the right one for the type of birds you’re hoping to attract). Keep in mind that most feeders are not aesthetically pleasing to the eye and could prove to be distracting in your shots. This is where your imagination comes in and you can get creative. For example try hanging extra large sunflower heads off trees, get semi hollow logs and placing them upright with seed in the top etc.
- Perches – Using perches made from broken branches and twigs can be good as they will provide a place for the birds to sit. Make sure that you use the right size branch for the size of bird you are trying to capture.
Besides photography, there are other reasons attracting birds is a good idea. For example having the northern Oriole come to your yard will help keep down the Wasps. Humming birds don’t just feed on sugar water they east insects too !
I could go on and on about attracting birds to your backyard but the rest is up to you to research as each yard and bird species is so different.
Setting up and Positioning yourself
There are a few things you can do here that will help you create a place that birds feel comfortable to visit without knowing you’re there.
- You can get a hide (a camouflage tent)
- Hide behind something (I hide behind the lattice on my back deck)
- Shoot from inside your house – I shoot from my bedroom, particularly in winter. I have the feeder set up just off my bedroom window. You can shoot from whatever room you like, even the bathroom, as long as it gives you a clear line of sight. Just make sure you clean the glass. A polarizer can help in this situation. It can help with the glare if you are picking it up off the glass.
You can hide where ever. As long as it gives you a clear line of sight to the bird.
Birds In Flight
I don’t have many in-flight shots because they are harder to do, but here are a few tips that will help.
You can get shots of birds flying off from the feeder by pre focusing just off the feeder and setting your shutter speed and aperture manually.
Here is one tip I will try this season. I have one feeder where the birds have only 2 ways to land there. I plan to set my camera on a tripod just behind the feeder and, using my remote, I will fire off shots as they are coming into land. This should capture them with their wings stretched out.
Just remember, bird photography takes practice and patience. You will toss many more shots into the trash then you keep, but that’s why we shoot digital.
Getting into the backyard can be rewarding. You get to see Mother Nature at her best and you get to help save some species.
For example, here in Ontario the Black Capped Chickadees need help, so feeding them through the year can help the species survive. There are some great websites that can help with identification, like eNature.com that you can search with your zipcode if you live in the United States. Search via zipcode and eastern western cananda, there are many different sites that pertain to different parts of the world. Your countries government environmental website will also have some good information.
Do you have some bird photography tips to share? Head over to the forums where we have a bird photography thread for your questions, tips and photos.