A guide to garden bird photography

Best Part of The Day For Garden Bird Photography

Birdwatching and photography often go hand-in-hand. Knowing how to take a great photo is an excellent way to enjoy the experience forever. It’s easy to find birds to photograph. Whether out at the park or in a nature reserve, birds can be found in every corner of the world. If you’d like to become a better wildlife or bird photographer, we’ve got some advice, including the best time of day to shoot, using bird feeders, your camera set-up and our top 10 tips for getting started.

garden bird photography in action

When taking photographs of birds, it is best to consider the time of day you shoot. Light and feeding times play a significant role in capturing the perfect photo. The best shots often come in early mornings or late in the afternoon, as this is when birds are hungry and searching for food. Early mornings and late afternoon also produce the best lighting. Light is not too harsh at this time of day and allows you to capture shadows and contrast.

Bird feeders & garden bird photography

You don’t need to venture far to capture a gorgeous shot of a bird. Using a bird feeder is an effective way to allow birds to come to you and, thereby, more time to set up the perfect image! To attract birds to your feeder, keep it close to vegetation. Vegetation allows birds to dash undercover when facing a threat, and safety will keep birds coming back to your feeder.

Garden Bird Photography Setup

You might want to consider these essentials for your bird photography set-up. You don’t always need all of these, however, they will help. These include your camera gear, the perch you use and concealing yourself. 

Your bird photography camera

In your bird photography set-up, you’ll need a tripod, a camera and a camera lens. A tripod or monopod will help stabilise your photos and therefore make them clearer. On the other hand, camera choice is debatable and up to personal preference. Starting out, we’d recommend a bridge camera with a good zoom. For more advanced bird photographers, consider a DSLR camera, with a long lense, between 100-500mm zoom. A DSLR set-up such as the one mentioned above will create a decent image size (for framing) and the ability to create bokeh, whereby the bird is in focus with the background more blurry. 

Shutter speed is a setting that you’ll need to play around with to create your favourite photo. The faster the shutter speed, the less “sound” and interference in the picture. Consider using shutter speeds between 1/250 up to 1/700 for birds on a perch and over 1/1500 for capturing birds in flight.  

Perch ideas

Using a perch will create natural-looking photos of birds and allow you to test out different techniques or settings. Try a mossy log or a well placed natural-looking stick near some vegetation in your garden. Using a clamp or Christmas Tree stand can help secure perches close to your bird feeder, and Christmas tree stands are also handy for holding standing logs. Perches enable your tripod to be set-up with perfect framing. 

Bird hides & hiding yourself

There is a reason why bird hides are very popular, as they help get closer to your subject without spooking the bird. A pop-up hide is the most versatile way to conceal yourself from the birds and move position depending on light and season. There are lots of choices, including shooting blinds that can be adapted with a bit of camouflage net. There are also camping chairs with a camouflage hood, ideal for sitting in the garden near your feeder with your favourite bird app alongside.

To recap:

  • Consider a tripod or monopod for stability
  • Use a bridge camera with zoom when starting
  • A DSLR and zoom lens is better for advanced photographers
  • Remember the role of shutter speed
  • Think about the bird’s perch as this will be your background
  • And consider how you’re going to conceal yourself.

Bird photography focusing tips

To make your pictures more pleasing to the eye, focus on the bird’s eye. Having the eye in focus makes the viewer have a real connection with the bird.

Now that the photograph’s main subject is sorted, what about the background? Try shooting against a clean, unfussy, non-contrasting background to keep the viewer’s attention firmly on the bird. Using a wide aperture (low f-stop) will help blur the background for you and map the bird stand out in the photo.

Try to be creative with your photography. Use a small pond to reflect the bird’s image. Giving wild birds a place to drink will help entice them more into your garden. Using seasonal colours, snow, autumn leaves, and blossoms can enhance your pictures’ creative background. 

10 Quick garden bird photography tips

  1. Reach for a long lens

    Consider the zoom length of the camera lens you’re using. A longer lens allows for more opportunity to capture a sharp up-close picture. Often, birds are just too far away for a shorter lens.

  2. Know where your camera’s buttons & functions are

    Practice with your camera. Start with automatic mode and then slowly play with each function, including ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Remember, a photographer will get 1000 pictures and often only select a handful.

  3. Get closer to your subject

    The closer you get, the sharper and better the picture resolution will be. Get as close as you can without disturbing the bird.

  4. Keep hidden

    Using camouflage could be a good investment, but you probably only need some mute colours for garden bird photography. If you’re in a popular park with runners and people, birds will be used to seeing high-visibility jackets and many colours of clothing, so being dressed in camouflage can spook them! Green, greys and browns can help you camouflage.

  5. Feed the birds

    Entice the birds in with food! Introduce the feeders slowly and use good quality food, like mealworms or sunflower seeds. Try using an off-the-ground post with feeders atop if other animals eat your bird feed. When lightly coated in sunflower oil, a ground feeder will stop those pesky squirrels yet allow birds to eat uninterrupted. 

  6. Think about the feeder position

    Get your feeder as close to vegetation as possible. A short flight from the feeder to cover is valuable to little birds, which are often targets for Sparrowhawks (although sparrowhawks are incredible to photograph. 

  7. Change your props

    You may want to be creative and add funny props to your pictures. Think about Terry Donelly, who photographs red squirrels in his garden playing with toy trucks, cameras and musical instruments. Adding humour to your images will make the photo memorable.

  8. Think about backgrounds

    Your subject is the focus, but it can be distracting if your background is busy. Create a mute, complimentary set that is less attention-diverting from the subject.

  9. Focus and depth of field are key

    Capturing a close up of a bird will require the bird to be in focus, with the background blurred (using a wide aperture). The trick is to have the depth of field wide enough to keep most of the bird in focus while keeping the background blurred.

  10. Be patient
    You won’t be able to do all of this in one day. Garden bird photography takes time, and it will take months to build up the bird’s level of tolerance to your presence and sometimes for the birds to realise you have good food in your garden to offer. Patience is critical.

Whether you’re just starting or a seasoned bird photography veteran, improving your photography isn’t difficult. It just takes time and practice!

If you’re interested in logging your bird sightings and sharing your images with your birding buddies, download Birda. Birda is a free bird watching app that helps you keep track of what you have seen, identify birds and take part in fun challenges.

Connect to nature and like-minded people while you discover and explore the birdlife around you! Amplify your birdwatching experience with Birda today. 

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