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How to take better images of birds in your garden

Photographing garden birds isn't always straightforward but ePHOTOzine member Cheryl Surry is here to help.

| Animals / Wildlife
How to take better images of birds in your garden: Photo that can be taken in the garden
When it comes to bird photography you can't just dash out into your garden and photograph them. You need to plan, observe and carefully prepare to capture that perfect shot.

First, you need to really know your camera – you don't want to be fumbling around with buttons and settings when you only have a few minutes or even seconds to capture an image. Secondly, you need to set your scene up. Yes, we know we're talking about nature photography where some will tut at the possibility of having to set up a scene, but when you need to entice birds out of the trees and into your garden, creating ready-made perches infront of a perfect background is the simplest way to create a great looking picture.

How to take better images of birds in your garden: Using a branch near a feeder will help you with your photos
Set the stage
When you're out in the garden, look for a background that will work well with the type of shot you're trying to produce. Hedging is a good option as when you take the picture and blur the background, the colours will look natural. If you don't have a hedge, try hanging camouflage netting over a fence to make it more photogenic.

Once you have your chosen background, start placing your feeders that will help you capture your image and remove any other feeders not in your field of view to increase your chances of a successful shoot.

"Enticing them with good bird food, and a variety of foods is key," explained ePz member Cheryl Surry. "Different seeds and styles of food attract a varied selection of birds. My feeding station consists of two tree stakes pushed into the edge of the lawn and approximately 2 metres from my conservatory window, behind that is a camouflage net hung over the non-photogenic fence to provide a better background."

How to take better images of birds in your garden: Coal Tit
Setting up branches next to the feeders will not only bring the bird to where you want them to be, but it will give you the chance to capture a more natural shot as the birds (fingers-crossed) will land on the branch before heading to the feeder. Cheryl suggests you use twigs from different plants within the garden, which can be changed regularly to give a different look to the image. Having a couple of feeders with different food in (Cheryl uses fat and nuts) can also help attract different birds. Be patient when you set this up and don't rush to press the shutter button the first time a bird lands on your twig as they can be nervous and it can take them a while to feel comfortable in new surroundings.

An important side note is to remember to put all your feeders back when you're finished as the birds may have become reliant on your garden as a source of food.

"I feed all year round, though the kind of food varies in type and quantity through the seasons," explaines Cheryl. "Make sure that any such feeding station is as safe and secure for the birds as possible, for instance, that it is out of easy reach of any neighbourhood cats."

Getting in position
How to take better images of birds in your garden: Photographing garden birds
Making yourself less obvious to the birds is important, as they can be easily scared off. Cheryl covers the front of her conservatory window with a camouflage net and watches for the arrival of the birds though a small gap.

"Some species, such as Crested Tits and Dunnocks are more confiding, but it best to err on the cautious side and remain as hidden as possible."

For pin-sharp images, a tripod is essential and one with a Gimbal or ball head is even better as you'll be able to adjust the camera quicker and easier. A wider aperture will help you blur the background and keeping an eye on your shutter speed can stop you producing static images when you wanted movement and prevent feathers on tail tips becoming out of focus when you wanted them sharp. Also, don't forget about framing. Thinking about where the bird is in the frame in relation to everything else can make a big difference to an image.

When it comes to lenses, Cheryl finds a focal length of 300-400mm works best for frame-filling images. A longer lens will also help with blurring the background and as garden birds are small, a longer lens can help you bring them into frame.

Useful tips
You could also be waiting a long time so putting the camera in place, getting comfy and watching patiently is something you'll have to get used to. A warm drink and a good book or magazine can become essential pieces of equipment when you're outside on your own!

Cheryl says to not let the bad weather put you off either as it can add a creative element to your piece: "Don’t stop shooting just because it starts raining for instance, as with a slow shutter speed of 1/30th – 1/60th of a second the raindrops can be recorded and add to the image."
How to take better images of birds in your garden: Photograph by Cheryl Surry - Garden Bird photography

Final pieces of advice
  • Check the background
  • Feed regularly
  • Shoot in a variety of weather conditions
  • Be patient
  • Stop feeding suddenly, especially in bad weather
  • Crowd the birds
All the photographs were taken by Cheryl Surry. Visit her profile for more information.
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WildLight 15 145 3 United Kingdom
22 Jan 2010 1:38PM
Great article Cheryl!
jonah794 13 1.7k 11 United Kingdom
23 Jan 2010 9:17AM
Fantastic article Cheryl Smile
Chaitanya 13 15 1 United Kingdom
5 Feb 2010 1:35PM
Nice article now I can shoot visitors in my garden without causing them any trouble.

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