Photography Tips For Taking Better Pictures of Birds in Your Garden

Nuthatches will often visit bird feeders in gardens that are close to suitable habitat

Looking to get great garden bird shots while at home? HF Leader and wildlife and landscape photographer Dan Ransley shares his top tips and photography secrets for capturing better photos of birds in your garden. Many woodland species and wild visitors to our gardens can make eye-catching pictures, so grab your camera, don’t overlook the photographic opportunities right under your nose and enjoy photography from home. These tips can be applied at any time of year and will yield good results, if you’re patient. They’re also applicable in local parks and can be used when on your local walk as well.

Dan's Top Tips

TIP 1. Anticipation
Hindu Kush

Garden birds are often small & fast moving. Following them through a long camera lens can be difficult. Watch their behaviour and learn to anticipate where they’ll be - that way you can have your camera pointed at the right spot & wait for them to come into the frame. For this picture of a nuthatch, I found a nice looking log & hid some food in a crack - then sat back and waited for the birds to come to me!

TIP 2. Background
Hindu Kush

A nice background can make all the difference for an otherwise plain wildlife photo. I placed this perch near a bird feeder used by goldfinches, and took a few OK pictures avoiding the hedge or greenhouse behind. Then I managed to find an angle that used the blossom of my neighbour’s cherry tree to create a beautiful soft pastel background - combined with the bold colours of the bird, this resulted in one of my favourite goldfinch photos so far.

TIP 3. Shutter Speed
Hindu Kush

Even when they’re perched, garden birds are almost always moving - bobbing and twitching, which means you need a high shutter speed to get a nice crisp photo. Generally speaking, the smaller the bird, the quicker the twitching! For UK garden birds, aim to use a shutter speed of 1/800s or faster. These long tailed tits were shot at 1/1250s, which meant a higher ISO, but was necessary to prevent motion blur even though they were perched.

TIP 4. Composition
Hindu Kush

Wildlife photography isn’t just about finding an animal and taking a well focussed picture - the images that stand out are those that have been carefully composed. For this meadow pipit photo, I used the tree it was perched in to frame the bird, introduce some colour to the image, and provide some environmental context. Many photography enthusiasts are too intent on capturing a portrait image of an animal, and they miss the rest of the natural world the subject lives in and is a part of.

TIP 5. The Eyes Have It
Hindu Kush

Getting on the same level as your subject can make for a much more inviting image - so get down to eye level! I lay on the wet ground with my camera resting on a beanbag, waiting for this pied wagtail to turn toward me so that I could get this photo. It’s also worth remembering that with wildlife photography, as long as the animal’s eye is in focus it often doesn’t matter if the rest of the image is not sharp - blurred fore/background or even wingtips can help concentrate the viewer’s attention on the subject.

TIP 6. Field Craft
Hindu Kush

You can still feel like an intrepid wildlife photographer stalking your subject, even within the confines of your back garden! Patience, quiet & stillness are three of the most effective tools any wildlife photographer can have - enjoy spending time in your garden, watch & learn the behaviour of the birds, and wait for the photograph to present itself to you. You’ll be rewarded with closer encounters & more natural behaviour.

TIP 7. Build Your Outdoor Studio
Hindu Kush

Starting to feel like you’ve exhausted the possibilities for nice compositions in your garden? Get creative! Move things around, experiment with different perches/background/props/etc. The green in this photo is a grassy slope, an inch deep dish of water provided the reflection and I piled some old moss along the edge & put some bird food in it to tempt down this blue tit. I think it makes for a nice photo of one of our most common garden visitors.

Meet the Leader: Dan Ransley

When he isn't leading photography breaks for HF Holidays, Dan lives on the Lizard Peninsula in southwest Cornwall, from where he runs photography workshops & private tuition sessions. He combines an enthusiasm for local history & nature with a love of creativity & extensive teaching experience to support clients seeking to improve their photography, from outright beginners through to accomplished professionals. His images have been used by many organisations worldwide, including major news networks & conservation charities.

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