Saturday, January 9, 2010

Backyard Bird Photography Tips

Several days ago Bren, from BG_Gardens asked me to share my bird photography secrets. First of all, I am just an amateur photographer with a love for nature and nature photography. I am learning by trial and error and lots of practice.

First, I'll share with you my winter photography set up. Are you ready?




Here it is, nothing particularly special at all. I sit at my kitchen table and shoot right out the sliding glass doors. I have to clean the doors often, because the cat and dog, (and occasionally little hands), leave smudges on the doors. Even though the doors are "clean" there is still a film, especially when the sun is shining, because the windows and doors in our home are defective and need to be replaced. Also I am surrounded by houses that are fairly close and don't provide a very good backdrop. So, I have conditions that are not ideal. What I wouldn't give for pristine clear doors and windows and a nice woodsy backdrop!




I don't always use a tripod, but it is easier and the pictures are better if I do. With the camera on the tripod there is less movement from me to startle the birds and the camera is already in position. This allows me to read or use the computer while keeping an eye out for activity at the bird feeders.


The birds flock to the feeders when it's snowing! Thankfully, I am usually able to stay home when it does, so it is an ideal time to practice my photography skills. With a hot cup of tea or coffee and a cozy blanket on my lap, I am ready for the birds!


If you provide a variety of seeds, nuts and suet you will be able to attract more birds to your feeders. I was thrilled to have the white breasted nuthatch this year! They are so cute!


This year we have about five or six blue jays. That is the most I've seen here! They love peanuts! I have found that it is best to use those that are still in the shells, otherwise the sparrows and starlings get them. That can be pretty expensive bird food!



The cardinals like the peanuts too.


The best secret to bird photography that I know is to have feeders close to a window. You have to get the birds closer. I have a camera lens that goes to 300mm, but even with that, if the birds are in the back of the yard my lens will still not be good enough.


Usually you can't get close enough to them so you have to get them closer to you. My feeding station is my swing frame. We store the swing during the winter, so I use the frame to hang my bird feeders. It is right at the edge of the patio.



I also have to experiment with lighting. The birds love to eat peanuts from this statue. I had it on the patio but my pictures were too dark. I placed it on the block wall to get it higher and the lighting is so much better! Also, for some reason, (I'm sure it's lighting related), if I shoot towards the right my pictures are darker, so I try to take most of my pictures to the left of the patio.


The beautiful thing about digital photography is that you can take hundreds of pictures to see what works best for your location. One thing about it, if you provide the food the birds will come back time and time again to provide you with plenty of opportunities for practice.
By the way, is that a praying mantis egg case on the statue?


I love the beautiful feisty blue jays! Better bird photography is not the only advantage to getting the birds up closer, it is simply amazing to watch these creatures up close. The blue jays can stuff nut after nut down their throat. I had bought some raw nuts in the shell after the holidays. The store had them prepackaged and on clearance. There were some filberts in the package and since no one here cares for them, I shelled them and put them out for the birds. The blue jays loved them and it was amazing to see how much they could cram in their mouths!


I prefer photographing the female cardinal over the male. Isn't she pretty?


So really, the secret to better backyard bird photography is very simple:
*Provide a variety of food.
*Move the feeders up close.
*Clean the windows and remove a screen if you have to.
*Use a tripod.
*Practice!



And the biggest secret of all is patience. I am willing to sit at my kitchen table for hours at a time bird watching. During the recent snow I spent blocks of time for three days just watching and waiting for photography opportunities.

Several people have commented saying that they need a better camera. I shot most of these pictures with my Canon 50D. It is an amazing camera for sure, but it isn't necessary to have a camera like that to have good bird pictures.



I took these, (above and below), two pictures with my Sony point and shoot camera. The picture of the chipping sparrow is one of my all time favorites and it was even shot in the auto mode!



Another secret is to be ready for unexpected photo opportunities. I try to always keep a camera close by, preferably with the battery charged and memory card in the camera! I was sitting at the table a few weeks ago with my niece and nephew who were here for a visit when this Cooper's hawk landed on the swing! I'm so glad my point and shoot camera was close by and ready!


As you can see with this picture I still have a lot to learn about bird photography myself. I am working now on trying to capture the birds in flight. That is no easy task! They are so incredibly fast! Also when it is snowing the camera has a more difficult time keeping its automatic focus. I spent several hours a few days ago trying to get it figured out and was not satisfied with any of my shots. So I will keep trying. I can't wait to capture a decent shot of that gorgeous wing span!

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

48 comments:

deb mills said...

your photos are amazing! thanks so much for sharing your tips. i'm learning too, so you were very helpful. i don't have a good enough camera yet but hope to some day. meanwhile, i'll enjoy yours. :)

Kynda said...

Love your beautiful pictures and the good info! There is a little dogwood tree right outside my office window and it's been full of doves hunkered down in our bitter cold this past week. I'll take my camera to work next week and see what I can get thru the glass. Thanks for the inspiration! I'll add a link to you over at visit-the-farm.blogspot.com too.

kynda

Noelle said...

Thank you for sharing your secrets. I have not had much luck photographing birds, but will try it with a tripod next time :-)

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

These pictures are amazing.I love the softness about them.
Blessings,Ruth

Patricia said...

Oh....I love all of these, Robin. Wonderful tutorial, too.

I agree with you about the female cardinal. I think she is beautiful, but she is also very shy.

Someday I hope to have a tripod, and a nice camera. My Sony is beginning to fail me. *sigh* VERY slow and difficult to focus. We are having unusually cold weather here. I was outside with my camera late this afternoon. It was still drizzling and very cold - upper 30's - and I could not focus on anything. I don't know if the problem was my shivering or the slow camera.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Bravo, Robin! Excellent, amazing pictures! You feed them well. They pose for you!

Randy Emmitt said...

Robin,
Really enjoyed this article and the Blue Jays! We rarely get Blue Jays because we are in the woods, they like more open areas.

Jim Groble said...

Wonderful, wonderful pictures.

jim

Benjamin Vogt said...

Gorgeous pics! I had a shot on my blog not long ago of a cardinal in flight--those shots are always serendipity. Just keep clicking fast.

Diana said...

Robin - I never tire of looking at your amazing photography. Your birds are beautiful. I do love Mrs. Cardinal, too. She looks particularly "fluffy" in this cold. I'm going to try some of your tips and see what I can get. DH has a good enough camera, but it's operator error when I try to shoot birds. I just need to sit like you do and be patient!

shirl said...

Very interesting to read Robin! I'm sure it will help others. Great pics illustrating your experience :-D

I may be in Scotland but my tips would be exactly the same. My camera is sitting on a tripod beside me us I type this too. I am doing all you are doing and it makes for a fascinating insight doesn't it. I am learning too and the lighting at this time of year can be a challenge.

Now, birds in flight... that's one I'd like to conquer too! Look forward to seeing how you get on :-D

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Photo lessons with such beautiful pictures to look at are a treat. I have noticed that when shooting through a window it is best to be shooting straight out or you have distortion from the angle of the window. Your blue jay flying is on the edge of great. I could paint this one. Love seeing that spread of wings. Even its feet are apparent. You have a nice set up right in front of the doors. I would be sitting there often too.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Great words of wisdom, Robin. You take amazing bird photographs!

Rosemary said...

Fabulous pics.Thanks for the tips.
Good to know what camera you use I have a Canon powershot I am going to upgrade....

Janet said...

HI Robin, I am heartened to see you shoot through the window. I have a neighbor who stands on her deck for the longest time, waiting for the birds to come to the feeders. I can't do that, the dogs would go nuts.
I have a tripod, will have to use it more. Great hints. thanks!

Jen Kershner said...

Those pictures are truly incredible. A work of art!

Country Girl said...

Your bird photography has me breathless! I love your advice too. Rather than sit there like you do, I get up a lot.
Note to self: use the tripod & clean the windows!
Your female cardinal on the branch is incredible. Oh, I love these!

Rose said...

Your photos are just amazing, Robin! Thanks for all the tips and for including a couple that you took with your point-and-shoot, which is what I have. Patience--yes, that is a key, and something I have to work on. Also, I'm going out tomorrow and buying some peanuts! Lighting is so tricky, though; I just downloaded about 30 photos that I took through the window, thinking they were pretty good, and found that they were all too dark. I need to learn how to adjust my settings for that; also, the time of day really makes a big difference--too many shadows when I took them.

I know you think you have a lot to learn, Robin, but your photos look professional to me!

Hilary said...

Beautiful shots one and all. I know all too well how difficult it is to capture a bird in flight but you did a wonderful job with that blue jay. I would suggest taking your camera off autofocus for that because of the delay between focusing and shooting. Rely on your eye to get him in sharp focus.

I so agree with the female cardinal being more interesting than the male. I mentioned that to Kate (Country Girl) on her blog today and in an email, she sent me here to take a look at your images. I'm so glad that she did.

Jayne said...

Your photos are awesome! Thanks for the tip about removing screens. Duh - why didn't I think of that? Great idea. And I agree, the female cardinal is so sweet, one of my all time favorites :-)

debsgarden said...

Thanks for the insights into your fantastic photos - I have to move my feeders closer to the house! I have a love for the male cardinal. We once had one who would peck on the kitchen window when the feeder was empty! He was very friendly and eventually brought his whole family to eat at our feeder.

fairegarden said...

Oh Robin, thank you so much! I was ready to read some complicated settings were needed, but it seems what is actually the most important is luck and being ready to wait. That sparrow shot is marvelous, my favorite too by far. Thanks for sharing your trade secrets. ;-)
Frances

fairegarden said...

I forgot to say, we have fancy expensive Pella windows that also have a film. There is no such thing as a clean window! HA
Frances

evolutionofagardener said...

Thank you for all the tips. Your birds and photos are amazing! :)

CE Webster said...

Thank you for the great photographing tips. You have taken some wonderful photos.

Simply Heather said...

These are absolutely wonderful!!!

TSannie said...

Came over from Kate and I'm glad I did! Your photos are truly incredible.

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

As others have observed, these are absolutely wonderful, Robin. They just make my heart happy all over to see them. Your setup is great; I don't have sliding glass doors but French doors onto the deck and we have these little furbuckets that would seize the opportunity to escape whenever possible, so I need something a little different from your setup. I agree that tripods make life much easier when trying to make photos like these, unless your arms are very steady.

Kathleen said...

Great tips Robin and wonderful photos (as usual). That does indeed look like a praying mantis egg case under your feeder. I shoot most of my bird photos thru the glass too and have a lot of success that way. I have decided to move the feeders away from the windows tho for the safety of the birds (too many visits from Hawks) and closer to protection (i.e. shrubs for cover) so maybe I won't get many bird shots from here on out. :-(
I feed the blue jays peanuts too. I started that last winter and they liked coming to the feeder so much a pair nested in my yard last spring. Maybe that will happen to you? Wish, wish, wish we had cardinals here. I miss seeing them. Happy bird watching!

Andrea said...

I am so glad that I stumbled upon your site this morning! I too am a beginner and love to photograph birds. I just wish I could win the lottery so I could spend more time pursuing my hobby!

Kerri said...

Excellent shots and tips Robin. I do this exact same thing...except I don't use a tripod. I just haven't gotten that "hang" of that yet. Even if I didn't get one good shot it would all be worth it just to watch the gorgeous creatures. Your female cardinal is breathtaking...and the wingspan of the Blue Jay is awesome!

Green Lane Allotments said...

Lovely photos. Just one question - do you have your camera set to burst to fire off a stream of photos to get the shots that you do.

I'd love to be able to play with settings but I am afraid that it just seems beyond me so it is auto for now.

mothernaturesgarden said...

I love the photo of the female cardinal on the branch.

Nature's Beauty said...

Robin - I really enjoyed your bird photos. My camera does not take good bird photos. I know a tripod would help so I plan to get one soon. I was sitting on my deck one day last spring with camera in hand when a bird flew across in front of me with a very long piece of paper trailing behind it enroute to make a nest. I got the picture but it was not clear. It's times like that when I really yearn for a better camera. Keep up the good work. Your photos are amazin and your are very helpful with your suggestions.
Barbara

Garden Lily said...

Your photos are amazing. You are so right about the female cardinal. That photo struck me as particularly beautiful - the way the colours blended, the balance... I think it is photo contest worthy. Or matted and framed. Very very nice.

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

You really don't need to call yourself an 'amateur' anymore;-) You really have the touch! I've been in my own little world, just starting to focus again on taking some bird photos, and while they make me happy, they just don't compare to yours. I take mine through the window, but don't use a tripod. My windows have grids on them, so I have to hold the camera in an area that won't get blocked by a grid. I didn't realize how you were setting things up outside, and I appreciate you sharing your system! It's very creative! It's got me thinking about 'possibilities'...
Anyway Robin, you have the clearest photos and I just love when you capture the birds with a nut or a worm in their mouth! So glad I stopped by tonight--and thanks for your comment the other day. I'm glad we're still connected through our blogs. Jan

Carolyn said...

I love your bird photos and thank you for the tips.I amgoing to set up my tripod someday and see if I have more success.Most of my bird shots are blurry.
Thank you for the lovely comment on my blog.
Have a good Weekend,
Carolyn

Anna/Flowergardengirl™ said...

I am so excited that you shared this with us and it's so encouraging. Thank you. Helps me. My camera was broke for two months and wasn't worth the fixing so Mr D got me a new one. Having to learn how it works now.

Your photos are always amazing and course I'm just nuts about your collages.

leavesnbloom said...

Thankyou so much for sharing those great ideas. I think I am going to have to clean my windows more often. I tried last weekend to move the feeders closer to the patio doors only they were frozen to their spot. Now that we are in melt down I will get them moved and get my camera on the tripod. Your photos are wonderful.

Bren said...

Thanks for mentioning me in your blog! The tips are wonderful... the shots are you are getting of the birds are fabulous! I am going to try sitting out those peanuts to get that blue jay!!

You totally inspire Robin... thank you for brightening my day. I had just about given up on the bird-shooting but now I have some ideas to try out!

Happy Bloom Day

Karyl said...

Beautiful photographs and very inspirational for someone like myself who is just beginning to attempt bird photography.

Naturegirl said...

Robin there is no doubt about it that you are commited to your art of photography sitting for hours for the photo opt.with your feathered friends. I suppose that is what I lack the "patience" to sit so long ...I see..run for the camera and by the time it's set ready to shoot my subject has flown away! I have heard that some nature photographers sit in the cold dressed warm w/ blanket and mittens and just wait...no I can't take a chance at getting a cold...I'm not good out in the cold weather..chills me to the bone!!
Summertime I have all the patience..can sit for hours waiting with camera in hand. I see too that I should get the tripod out of the closet and start using it..as you said camera is set up and ready to shoot.
Keep polishing those windows and delivering such superb photos Robin.
I really enjoyed your post today..birds always make me smile.
love and light aNNa xoxo

gippslandgardener said...

I've just discovered your beautiful blog. Your photos of the birds (and butterflies in other posts) make my heart sing!

Mary said...

Robin, your photos keep getting better. They're wonderful! I felt like I was looking through your windows and definitely enjoyed the snowflakes.

Your set-up is great. For over a year I've been thinking of moving my feeders closer to the house. They're on the back of my property, so I need to walk to them to get decent photos. Maybe I'll purchase a tripod one day, too.

Thanks!
Mary

Q said...

Hello Robin,
I so enjoyed your bird photographs today. Always have thought the female Northern Cardinal is the most exquisite of birds.
I sometimes take bird photos through the windows. Mostly I like to sit on the deck with my coffee and camera. I read and write and enjoy the birds up close. With my hat and coat and blanket I am comfy and warm.
For stop action shots of the birds in flight use your speed priority setting. It does require good light if you are zoomed out very far. I agree it take lots of practice. Digital cameras are so wonderful!
Happy birding! Happy photography!
Love seeing all your birds.
Sherry

Gardening in a Sandbox said...

Hello: Your pictures are awesome. You have made some valuable points to improve your photos of birds. I am taking note for sure. Lovely shots. Valerie

gardenfrisk said...

While I wouldn't call myself a bird watcher, you can't help but admire these beautiful creatures through your photos. Truly magnificent. Thanks for sharing them.

Simple Southern Happiness said...

Breathtaking, I am in ah of your talent for taking photos. I just caught your first page but I will be back to see more. I too sit at my kitchen table and take pictures out the window or from my back porch.

Beautiful photos!!