Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

5 tips for photographing birds

The garden looks especially scenic when it is covered in fresh snow. It's also a great time to photograph birds in the garden. Here are some tips to help capture great images.

Choose your mode: Av or Tv

The camera mode I set is dependent on whether I want stop action photos or portrait photos. 

If I want to capture birds in flight, I will often shoot in the Tv mode (Time Value), which makes the camera focus on a set shutter speed. I set the camera between 800-1200 (depending on how bright the day is). Take a few test shots to see if 800 works (more sunlight) or if you need to go higher (in a cloudy or shady area). The photos of the European starlings in the birdbath (below) is an example of a photo I took in Tv mode.

If I'm focusing on shooting portraits, I use the Av mode (Aperture Value) of the camera. I like to photograph with a low aperture of 2.8 to produce bokeh backgrounds. To capture more detail, you can shoot anywhere between 2.8 and 4.0 to draw focus to the bird in range. This also introduces more light into the sensor and a shorter depth of field. The photo of the white-throated sparrow on the fence (below) was shot in Av mode. (Notice the nice, soft background?)


Use a long lens if you have access to one

Use a long lens if possible to take your photos. If your camera offers a built in optical or digital zoom, the optical zoom will generally produce crisper results.

When shooting on snow, increase the exposure setting

Often the camera's auto settings will try to compensate for the brightness the snow reflects, and photos can come out a bit darker as a result. Increase the exposure (by +1/3 or +2/3) to allow for extra light. In the photo of the cardinal below, I increased the exposure by 1/3.


Speaking of which, if there is no snow, or inclement weather happening...

Seek morning and afternoon light 

The angle of the sun in the morning and late afternoon is often very complimentary to taking nature photos. If you have a sunny day, try to shoot during this time. The last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise also produces the desirable "Golden Hour" look.  (More on Golden Hour photo tips here.)

Look for props

Add natural elements near feeders when possible, such as fallen branches, which provide the birds something to perch on when waiting for a turn at feeder. You can also incorporate decorative garden elements as props, too, such as this fairy statue in the photo below.


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