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.
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!