How to do Bird Photography Near Feeders

How to do Bird Photography Near Feeders


A Guest Post by Lithuanian Bird Photographer Tadas Naujokaitis

Bird photography is quite difficult because birds don’t do what a photographer wants. Moreover, it’s often hard to get close to them. And when you have more experience in photography, you realize that it’s even more difficult to take a good bird photo, because you need a good background and a beautiful environment. However, there are a number of ways you can improve the bird photos you take. In this article, I’ll explain some tips on photographing birds near feeders.

The place

The place is the first thing you need to consider. You need to decide what bird species you want to photograph, and work out where you’ll find that kind of bird.

Depending on your location, even your backyard can be a great place for a feeder to attract the species you’re after. I wanted to photograph forest birds, so I chose a local forest. I searched for the exact place in that forest quite a long time—mainly, I needed to consider the background, and the amount and direction of the light that reached the feeder.

Ideally, your location will have a smooth background (when I search for a background, I use manual focusing at ~4m and take many test shots) and enough light. I’ve found it’s best when the sunshine reaches the feeder in early morning. Also, be sure to ask for a permission to feed and photograph the birds if you are not the land owner.

The hide

Once you’ve worked out the exact place where you’ll put your feeder, you need a hide. I recommend using a permanent hide, because birds will understand it as a part of environment, and you won’t need to set it up and then wait while the birds get used to it each time you decide to take photos.

You can build the hide from whatever you like—even an old door can be very useful. I built my hide from the branches I found in the area. It required a bit more work, and it isn’t waterproof, but I didn’t want to use expensive materials because there is always the risk that your hide can be damaged by other people if you don’t build it in your own backyard.

One more thing to note: the hide should be large enough for you to stay in it comfortably, because you may spend many hours in it. This is how my hide looks:


The feeder and food

The construction of the feeder itself isn’t very important. I prefer the platform feeder because, if you like, you can put many decorations on it when you’re photographing birds.

However, the food is very important. I recommend using sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet cakes. Other similar products should be fine, too, but be sure the food you choose won’t harm the birds you’re photographing. The food must not be tainted, salted or smoked. And if you feed birds in the colder seasons of the year, you must feed them constantly until the weather becomes warm and the snow melts—otherwise many birds can die. Be prepared to spend some money on food. As am example, you may need even more than 100kg of sunflower seeds for one winter if you use them as the main food.


The perch

If the birds have already found the food, you can start shooting. Find a beautiful perch, twig or rotten stump and put them on the feeder or near it. If you’d like, find some decorations to add to the scene—berries, for example. They will make the composition of your shots more lively.

Be creative: try using various perches, or put the food in such place that you don’t see it though the lens. You can use holes in the feeder, put the food on the side of the perch that isn’t visible, or simply place it below the perch on which the bird will sit.

The food can also be put in such location that the perch becomes an intermediate stop for birds moving towards the food. Often it’s difficult to photograph the bird without food in its bill. If this is your goal, try to hide some food so the bird will need to search for it. You can also take some pictures of birds without food, when the food has just run out, but you won’t have much time to shoot before the birds realise that there’s no more food and fly away.

My recommendation, however, is to always have plenty of food in the feeder, which will attract more visitors to the feeder, and be ready to quickly take a photo before the birds take any food.



You should get good results with any DSLR and a 100-200mm lens. However, with longer focal length, you’ll get a better background. A tripod is usually necessary, too.


Camera settings

Exposure: 1/50-1/500 or even shorter, depending on how fast the birds are (faster birds need a shorter exposure), and how much light you have (if there isn’t much light, you may need to set longer exposure if you don’t want to use high ISO settings).

Aperture: if you don’t have enough light and want the best possible background, select the largest aperture (the smallest number). If it’s difficult to get the whole bird in focus, close the aperture a bit.

ISO: use as low an ISO speed as possible. However, if you don’t have much light, it’s better to set ISO 800 and get sharp pictures than ISO 200 and take blurry ones.

The light

The best time for photography is morning or evening because the light is soft and has a pleasant hue, shadows are not so distinct, and it’s easier to get details from very bright and dark areas. Overcast days are better than sunny ones because the shadows are less distinct. However the midday sun can be your friend if its rays are diffused by trees.



It’s usual to leave some space in the direction in which the bird is looking or flying. Try using the rule of thirds in your composition. Avoid any distracting elements and take the picture at the bird’s eye level. Don’t always try to fill the frame with a bird: remember that birds are very fast creatures, so they need space. Even in the photo!



The best part of bird photography near feeders for me is that I have a great time. It’s usually hard to believe that 10 hours have already passed – I always wish I had more time. I hope you will have a good time photographing birds near feeders, too.


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Some Older Comments

  • RoyPilkington February 9, 2013 12:46 am

    The articles on Bird Photography were most interesting and informative. I have been an interested had for many years but never became involved. I am a bird watcher and also did bird song recording using a 29 inch parabolic reflector. Carrying equipment limited space for carrying a camera and lenses as well.
    I was involved in 35mm photography for many years but have now started to look at digital photograhy and find that the web provides a wide source of information. Thank you to Digital Photography School for a fantastic web page.

  • OnyxE November 12, 2012 05:06 am

    I don't have a bird feeder but if I spend too much time taking photos before feeding them...they know how to help themselves.

  • Ryan November 11, 2012 05:38 pm

    This is another great article! It's funny but everytime I get an email from dps it is always on a topic I have just thought about or tried shooting! Wonderful!

  • marius2die4 November 9, 2012 07:47 pm

    Good story,good photos, tkx for sharing.
    Some of my birds:

  • aaanouel November 9, 2012 08:46 am

    You forgot to mention shutter remote controls.
    One can place the camera on a tripod just in the best place for the shot, as close as wanted or needed without scaring the bird and stay farther for shooting in the right instants.

  • Tom November 9, 2012 05:02 am

    I saw the title and thought 'Nah - don't want to read about photographing birds.' But I did anyway. Beautiful article. Now I will do it - and enhance the photo spot with some decoration. Problem is in New Zealand, the birds want to come and see what you are doing. Doesn't anyone else have that problem? I am not sure why you would build a hide. They are more likely to come by and check you out if you are fully visible. Some will come closer than others of course. And if they are not coming you whistle to let them know you are there, or rub a wet cork on a bottle. That will bring the insect feeders (they are super quick fliers of course).
    Thanks so much for the advice on settings too. Yes, we do need to be quick.

  • Carmela November 3, 2012 09:27 pm

    This is an excellent article. I love bird photography, and think the tips are great. I'm going to try them soon.

  • Ricky Jones October 31, 2012 02:32 pm

    Another excellent article Tadas.

  • Mei Teng October 31, 2012 11:45 am

    Great bird photography tips and beautiful images.

  • Scottc October 31, 2012 09:36 am

    The hide is a good idea. Birds seem to be able to spot a camera lens quickly, probably because of how their vision narrows.

    This guy stared at my lens for several minutes.

  • Steve October 31, 2012 03:08 am

    Your own back garden can be productive

  • Nepal Photography January 22, 2011 03:24 am

    There are lots of things which are still to reveal. Photographer are always searching for new places to reveal. Those birds are really fantastic. I have also some wild birds photos collection at

  • Jill Vickerman January 14, 2011 03:12 pm

    i love photographing birds, thank you very much for a most interesting article, I love your bird hide and the perches, they are excellent!

  • Patrik Smit December 7, 2010 11:01 pm

    wow. Nice photos. I love it. Thanks for posting.

  • Rebecca November 1, 2010 03:42 pm

    I'm so happy someone did a tutorial on birds as they are my favorite subject. Thank you so very much for this very helpful and clearly written tutorial. It was a pleasure and I will definitely be visiting your website and facebook page.

  • patriciasart October 29, 2010 09:53 am

    thank you so much for the tutorial it will be very helpful for me

  • Rahul October 26, 2010 05:27 pm

    Very nice photograph, I never seen before.

  • ROBIN TILLET October 25, 2010 08:57 pm

    brill I have had no end of disapontment trying to get a good shot .BUT WILL TRY THIS . THANKS ROB

  • Chris October 25, 2010 10:24 am

    Great in depth walkthrough. In my backyard I found that adding a birdbath brought more birds to our yard.

    I placed one by our apple tree and I was surprised with the results. The bird will perch on the apple tree branches and check to make sure the coast is clear to drink or bathe. Great time to snap a shot while the bird is checking things out.

  • arumoy chatterjee October 25, 2010 05:20 am

    i dont like the concept of using feeders...its better to take snap birds in their natural way, not giving them any bait...traveling within a forest can help more...may be its tiresome, but it adds to the variety...and in case of hiding choose clothes that camouflage with the forest environment is another better option...

  • GaneshPrasad October 24, 2010 11:33 pm

    yes, photographing birds is really difficult. i have experienced it several times. many times they don't even give you enough time to focus! making feeders is something i never thought of before. thank u for the tips and tutorial. i'm soon going to try that.. and those photos, stunningly beautiful!

  • Mark October 24, 2010 10:15 pm

    This is very good and spot on for "birds near feeders", but if you are after birds in the wild or specifically raptors you will need to scout locations AND visit many times. I have found several places in Missouri that are very good for one type of raptor. If I want bald eagles, I go to the same spot over and over but it is only good in the morning when they are "fishing the river" as the evening light is wrong and they don't show up as consistently! I have other places for hawks - some that are consistently good, others are only good after the field is harvested. I also try to scout new locations several times per month just to learn what is there. If luck is on my side it will be a new place on my list of repeat visits, if not at least I have visited a beautiful place. Some days involve hours of driving and many hours shooting and I don't get a single usable shot, but I might learn that the morning light is wrong, but the evening light could be better, so I schedule a return that is in the evening hours. One of my best places has parts that are good for the morning and other parts that are good in the evening! Love that place, but it is two hours driving each way, so I don't visit as often as I would like to.

  • Doug McKay October 24, 2010 08:02 am

    Thank you much for putting this story, guide, instruction or what ever you call it in. Once you have some proper equipment and still do nature photography - you soon learn that nature is very uncooperative. Many shots made with very good equipment and good working knowledge only turn out in such a way that you wished maybe you had added a bigger portion of luck into the mixture. I am somewhat lucky I live and work in The Wonderful Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and birds are just one of my subjects. We have a number of birds of prey and their cousins vultures. I have being trying for years to get a good feeding shot. I have spotted them on kills and made my way to an acceptable range (remember the equipment part of the recipe) so picture me parked in an open desert, parked 500 or more meters away, walk a couple of hundred meters, then on all four for a bit more and then crawl as close as I can stopping just before the birds become concerned about me, set up camera with long 400 mm lens. Then quickly work out some framing, lighting and the fastest shutter speed that I can go. Now all set start getting what you think are some good shots, even finding time to check the images once in a while. Now load them on the Computer and D@#* the wind was blowing more than you thought - you have fuzzy black things with pin point sharp strips of what they are eating, Beaks, eyes and feet.

    Now you think oh well I will try something else next time and will pay attention to the wind where my subjects are. Still working on this....

    I will try your feeder system on smaller birds and work my way up. Thank much

  • Tadas Naujokaitis October 23, 2010 05:24 pm

    Thank you!

    @ Salahuddin Ahmad:
    you're right, in normal bird photography 400mm + is the best focal length, but when you photograph from a hide, even 100mm with large aperture is enough. Because of the size of the birds that come to the feeder is different, and I need a different amount of space around the bird each time, sometimes I use ~250mm (the first, and many other shots in this article), and sometimes 400mm. However, if I could buy another lens, that would be 500mm f/4

    @ suni:
    That Sigma lens isn't bad, but it's not a perfect choice, too. Firstly, that 500mm isn't real 500mm, it's ~450mm, but I can't tell you very accurately. The image quality isn't the best (however not bad), aperture isn't large, but the lens are big. One my friend, who was using a sigma telephoto lens had many problems with it. One of them are that the lubricant freeze in winter while his Canon 70-200mm was working perfectly. I don't know if there are any changes here in the new lens version. I'd recommend to compare different lenses. I'd recommend a Canon or Nikon 300mm f/4 + 1.4x, or, if you use Canon, I 'd also recommend to read my Canon lens recommendations in my website
    Your 70-300mm are long enough for bird photography near feeders, but for bird photography without hiding often 400mm aren't enough too. The real 500mm fixed focal length lens would be better, but it costs and weights much.

    @ capt sanjay joshi. india:
    If you don't like the colors of your pictures, here are some steps to improve them:
    1. WB. Is the WB set correctly? I'd recommend RAW format and then edit WB in your computer. If you can only shoot JPEG, carefully choose WB using your camera. Don't use auto WB, if you can only shoot in JPEG!
    2. Edit other color settings using Adobe Lightroom or any oter program. If you shoot only in JPEG, GIMP is a great choice too.
    3. The lighting. Photograph birds in sunny morning or evening, avoid not diffused sun rays in midday.
    If you have problems with sharpness, you may need to sharpen your photos with computer. Also, you should sharpen your photos a bit after each resizing. If that doesn't help, you may need a shorter shutter speed or a sharper lens.

    @ mikael:
    I guess that depends on your location. If the lowest temperature in winter is +5C, birds shouldn't die, but the winter is colder (-20C, for example), birds quickly loose their weight in the night for keeping the temperature of their bodies and in the morning they will be waiting for food in the feeder. After some hours, if they don't find any other source of food, they may die.

    And thanks for everyone who shared bid photos!

  • Paula October 23, 2010 12:36 pm

    Kudos to you Tadas!

    I also encourage other readers to check out his website - for more amazing shots not seen in this article. The time and dedication put into taking these shots is impressive, and the results are worth it.

    The images taken with a longer focal length have a lovely shallow depth of field to them and makes you feel closer to everyday lives of birds.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • David M October 23, 2010 11:48 am

    I am surprised you did not mention other perches around the feeder. I have found that there is a pecking order (no pun intended) in the bird world and birds will sit around quiet close to the feeder until the more aggressive/senior bird has finished feeding.

  • INA4 October 23, 2010 09:22 am

    Beautiful photos, perfect article! Thank you for the tips!

  • Malek October 23, 2010 05:07 am

    Thank you , this guidelines are the best guides I have ever read. thank you so much

  • Edna B October 23, 2010 04:00 am

    Your bird photos are gorgeous. I love taking bird photos, and enjoy sharing them on my blog. I've enjoyed your article and will attempt to make me a "hide". I get a lot of great photos through my living window. There is a hedge just outside the window that the birds love to sit on.

  • Arun October 23, 2010 02:11 am

    Best post I've seen I guess. Too good, no ambiguity, not opinionated, just pure facts and reasoning! Amazing stuff...

    I look up to your dedication and thought process, the thought involved into taking just shooting of birds so seriously. I think I've got something to learn from this post of yours - you really need to plan it out well, if you're thinking you want some of those rarest moments captured and Bird Photography is no different!


  • Adam October 23, 2010 01:25 am

    Wow, haha i like the hide! I guess wilderness survival class will come in handy for photography!!
    Makes me wonna go back to Canada, we don't have any moss covered logs here in california!

  • Mei Teng October 23, 2010 12:18 am

    Beautiful bird photos :)

  • Mikael October 22, 2010 10:13 pm

    "And if you feed birds in the colder seasons of the year, you must feed them constantly until the weather becomes warm and the snow melts—otherwise many birds can die."

    This is a myth, but of course it won't harm the birds to continue to feed them.

    Otherwise, a very inspiring article.

  • CAPT SANJAY JOSHI. INDIA October 22, 2010 08:16 pm

    Dear Sir,
    Your trips about timings and surroundings are useful. Of cource in Indiaand in Ahmedabad many houses have feeders and in gardens/lakes one gets to see good number of birds, hence hides may not be needed. Please tell how did you change the background colours ? Please tell me how to capture such true colour ? How to piture big bird like peacock with all vivid colours and sharpness. All the Best for your efforts to share your knowledge. Regards

  • Giovanni October 22, 2010 05:04 pm

    Pictures of birds are indeed a challenge to capture. A bird feeder is such a fantastic idea! Here are some pics of birds that I have taken in their natural habitats.

  • suni October 22, 2010 04:39 pm

    How good is sigma50-500mm F4-6.3 EX DG HSM Telephoto Zoom Lens for bird photography it is 1000$

    i have 70-300mm lens , which is short of range a lot of time

  • usman October 22, 2010 04:20 pm

    You have captured some great shots. Thanks for the tips on bird photogrpahy.

  • Kamal Kishor October 22, 2010 02:49 pm

    Thanks a lot......
    I have tried with some birds shots,
    Your suggestions are welcomed.

  • Marcos Guimaraes October 22, 2010 01:45 pm

    Very useful tips and marvelous pics.

  • phoe October 22, 2010 01:30 pm

    I really enjoyed this article and I especially enjoy photographing birds in flight.
    Along with bird feeders bird houses are also great places to photograph. I've set up bird houses that would be a good spot, and had some great shots. It's tricky at times to get the focus just right, but when I learned it I've managed to see some beautiful feather formations when it's a good picture.
    I also pick a point to focus on nearby the bird house where I think the birds may land, instead of trying to follow the bird all over the place. It's worked out quite well.
    Thanks for the pictures and other ideas for catching bird pictures,

  • Ravi October 22, 2010 10:21 am

    Thats a great article... Thanks a lot ...
    I have even tried with some shots with my Nikon D90 18-200mm

    Please share your suggestions

  • Rich Maher October 22, 2010 10:05 am

    Hi from a fellow Lithuanian (on my Mother's side). Thank you for your article. Might I also suggest using a wireless shutter release, it works for me. Rich

  • Frangi October 22, 2010 09:04 am

    Thanks so much for this article. As an avid beginner bird photographer I've really appreciated the tips.

  • Salahuddin Ahmad October 22, 2010 09:04 am

    I thought a good range for bird photography lens start from 400mm +. with out long lens it is hard to get them and also not getting smooth background.

  • suga October 22, 2010 08:59 am

    thanks for the tips. i love to shoot birds but i want to capture them with a worm or a seed in its mouth

  • JohnP October 22, 2010 08:39 am

    Beautiful photos and beautifully presented! I think the moss and berries 'make' the photos almost as much as the birds do. Gives me encouragement to have a go. Our own garden has a parade of birds using our bird bath each day so I guess that could be adapted with perches etc.

  • Michaela October 22, 2010 07:40 am

    Oops, sorry about the double post. I'm using my iPod, and it can be a little touchy!

  • Michaela October 22, 2010 07:38 am

    Thanks for sharing your expertise. The fantastic results in your photography give evidence to your knowledge of this subject. You have given me some great places to start. God bless.

  • Michaela October 22, 2010 07:37 am

    Thanks for sharing your expertise. The fantastic results in your photography give evidence to your knowledge of this subject. You have given me some great places to start. God bless.

  • Roger Lill October 22, 2010 06:33 am

    This is one of the best articles I have read on this subject. It is clear and to the point and illustrated by excellent examples of the pictures that can be achieved.

    Well done and many thanks for the great shots.

  • Jason Staroscik October 22, 2010 05:53 am

    Had a chance to photograph this gray jay (didn't even know there was such a bird) last weekend (Oct 2010) at a cabin in the woods north of Cripple Creek, CO. It was about 5:30PM and I was shooting off the front porch into an aspen tree that had very few leaves left on it, but just enough. I had never really considered photographing birds, but they were getting close so though I'd give it a go.

    Canon Rebel XSi
    Canon 55-250 lens with UV filter
    1/120, f9.0, auto ISO and WB

    [eimg link='' title='grayjay' url='']

  • Peggy Collins October 22, 2010 04:52 am

    A really well-written and informative article! There are lots of great tips here to get started. I often photograph birds as they wait on a tree branch that is very close to a bird feeder and a suet cage that hangs from our back deck. I either shoot straight through the window or from the back deck itself if birds are more comfortable with me. The only problem with the area is a shortage of good light for a lot of the day. The area is usually strongly backlit, so I always add at least one full stop of exposure compensation. Here's a Varied Thrush that was quite interested in me standing below it.

    [eimg link='' title='Yes, May I Help You?' url='']

  • Sue October 22, 2010 04:36 am

    What a great article and I love the photos. We have a place in the mountains where we put out some suet cakes and were delightful to have been visited by beautiful birds. We have mountains Jays, Stella Jays, Evening Grossbeaks and American Goldfinchs among a few. I've gotten some beautiful shots and I am too amazed at how fast the time flies in my "hide".

  • Paul Themens October 22, 2010 04:19 am

    I shoot birds most of the time and I find that on cloudy days it is best to get the ISO up to 400 I use a 300mm f4 with 1.4 extender the camera is the (Canon 30d, 3 years old)
    I rarely use the tripod because I like to walk in the woods and get excercise at the same time. I think I still get pretty decent pictures.
    a good point that you brought up is bird photography (NEAR feeders), in general it is best to photograph the birds in their natural environment.

  • Synchromesh October 22, 2010 02:34 am

    Very good tips! and some exception shots! thanks for sharing your tips, I plan on visiting the Asa Wright Bird Scantuary in Trinidad soon, hopefully i will get some spectacular shots as yours, The resort doesn have any " hides" but has a pretty good layout for brid watching.

  • Kaj-Ivar October 22, 2010 02:15 am

    Thank you very much for your tips. You're photos are really amazing! Gonna try it out as soon as possible :)

  • Jen at Cabin Fever October 22, 2010 01:30 am

    Those are some really ingenious ideas! I really intend to try a couple of these out this winter when I can get some dramatic cardinal shots against the snow.

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • Sandbur October 22, 2010 01:17 am

    I always turn off the shutter beep to "off". Birds can be quite skittish with an unfamiliar sound.

  • Celesta October 22, 2010 01:11 am

    A great guide, very helpful. Lovely photos.