Bird photography: How to photograph garden birds
It’s easy to shoot fantastic bird photography in your garden, we tell you how to photograph garden birds, and what kit to use…
Successful bird photography is the result of observation, planning, preparation and patience, and this applies even to your lowly sparrow. You can’t just see a bird in your garden and rush out and photograph it.
During the nesting season, birds are extremely sensitive. They do not have the same bond with their offspring as mammals do, and will desert their young at the slightest disturbance. This must always be considered carefully throughout any preparation work and during photography sessions.
Watch where the birds in your garden go. Look for a finch or robin flying from the same bush repeatedly. If you think a bird has a nest nearby don’t go looking for it, as just your presence near a nest could be sufficient to put the birds off.
Try cutting a stick from a hazel bush and pushing it into the ground near where you have seen the bird coming from. If the bird regularly perches on the stick on its way to the nest, then it would be worth pursuing as a photographic project.
For bird photography in your garden, the first stage is to make yourself inconspicuous by constructing an inexpensive hide.
A hide must be introduced near a nest in gradual stages to prevent it from upsetting the birds. Scrounge some old bits of cloth or sheets, preferably of subdued colours like green or brown. Cut four sticks and drape the cloths around these.
You can hide in this and the birds will take no notice of you except for one thing. If they see you crawl into your makeshift hide they will know you are there and will refuse to come back to their nest.
But birds cannot count, though – they know the singular from the plural but that is all. So round up a couple of members of your family or friends and get them to mill around your hide while you get into it and make yourself comfortable.
Once your friends walk away and leave the garden, the birds will usually relax into normal behaviour. They will have seen a group of people come and a group of people go and think the coast is clear. If your subject does not settle back into normal behaviour, then the project must be abandoned.
When your subject lands on the perch for the first time, refrain from tripping the shutter. If the bird has any doubts at all, this will be when it is most nervous.
Let it come and go a few times before you start taking pictures. When you are confident that your subject is at ease, select a wide aperture to blur the background and wait until the bird is side on to you, to ensure it is all in focus.
When you have successfully completed your bird photography session, be cautious not to startle the bird upon leaving your hide. This is because a human suddenly emerging could have a very startling effect on birds which might cause them to desert their nest.
How to photograph garden birds: Get bird-wise
Encourage birds to visit your garden by growing plants that bear fruit to attract them. Or leave out food and water for them.
You can sometimes photograph birds from an open window. Keep the camera on a tripod, close the curtains, set up a perch within range of your lens and wait.
You don’t need bright sunshine. Early morning sun can be good but overhead sunlight creates unflattering contrast. Soft, diffused light is often easiest to work with.
Making a hide for bird photography
Step 1: Prepare the sticks
First, cut four sticks around 1.5m long with plenty of top growth.
Step 2: Trim the sticks
Trim off the tops of the sticks, leaving some branches to support the hide cloth. Make a sharp point on the other end.
Step 3: Portable seat
Sort yourself a comfortable seat. Three-legged, portable seats are inexpensive and available at garden centres and DIY stores.
Step 4: Set the frame of the hide
Push the four sticks into the ground to provide enough room for your seat and tripod. Make sure the front of the lens protrudes beyond the forward sticks.
Step 5: Cover it with material
Scrounge some dull coloured material and drape it over the sticks. Here, we used an old bedsheet. There is no need to make a roof because birds will not associate you with danger if they happen to fly above you.
Step 6: Cut a lens-sized hole
Cut a hole in the cloth just large enough for the lens to fit through snugly. Cut a horizontal slit above the lens hole which will allow you to view the subject.
Step 7: All set
The hide is ready to gradually move into position, so you can get ready to take great bird shots!
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