Bird Photography

Bird photography is one of the most rewarding, yet time consuming activities we can do. With their gentle song and sweetness of character, many birds can entice us quite charismatically. From the majestic Eagle to the common sparrow, getting a sharp and clear bird photography images of our favourite birds leaves us filled with precious memories, and dare I say it, a great sense of achievement.

At the moment, Winter or Summer, depending on where you are in the world, may not offer such sublime opportunities to capture such sharp bird photography images. It is a true joy to photograph these beautiful creatures. There are many exotic birds that bird photography enthusiasts have many opportunities before them. Some birds, such as Penguins, love the harsh winters cold, but when you are talking about your normal garden variety for bird photography, it’s a different matter.

Spring time is most definitely the best time to do bird photography. In the Northern Hemisphere, bird photography can be successfully done in the backyard. Birds such as the Red-Bellied Woodpecker are the most familiar sighting in backyards. It’s belly is gentle tinted with a shade of reed, making it one of the more attractive species. Spring time is the time when birds come out after winter to find a mate, as a general rule. The wonderful thing about Spring time is that have the opportunity to capture some beautiful bird photography images of mother birds caring for and feeding their babies.

A few facts about the Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker competes vigorously for nest holes with other woodpeckers, in one case even dragging a Red-cockaded Woodpecker from a nest cavity and killing it. But it is often evicted from nest holes by the European Starling. In some areas, half of all Red-bellied Woodpecker nesting cavities are taken over by starlings. Stores food in cracks and crevices of trees and fence posts. The woodpecker does not appear to defend its caches from other birds or mammals.

The male Red-bellied Woodpecker has a longer bill and a longer, wider tongue tip than the female. These adaptations may allow the male to reach deeper into furrows to extract prey and may allow the sexes to divide up the resources in one area.

  • Medium to large-sized woodpecker. Red hood from top of head to back of neck.
  • Back barred black and white.
  • Size: 24 cm (9 in)
  • Wingspan: 33-42 cm (13-17 in)
  • Weight: 56-91 g (1.98-3.21 ounces)
  • Sex Differences- Male with red hood extending to forehead, female with red nape only.

What time of day is best for shooting for bird photography?

There are two times in the day that is the most opportune, for not only the Red Bellied Woodpecker, but many birds such as Finches, Butcher Birds, Magpies and Sparrows. Many bird photography enthusiasts venture out with their cameras at this particular time of day. Between 5am to 8am and then between 6pm and 8pm is the best to spot these birds. You will need to be quick because with bird photography timing is of the essence. Birds will be out hunting and finding food for their chicks. The great thing about this time of day is that you’ll have sweet light to back you up. The light of dawn or dusk tends to be without harsh shadows, leaving time for some interesting hues of oranges and blues in your photos.

What equipment is best to use for photographing birds?

I have found that a telephoto or really good zoom lens is the way to go for bird photography. Depending on how tame your bird is, you might simply need a good optical zoom on your bird to provide adequate distance. If you are out camping for example, then no bird will want to come close to you. In this case you’ll defiantly need a telephoto.

Facts About Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are part of the Trochilidae family found only in the Americas. They are unknown in the Eastern Hemisphere. With 343 species, hummingbirds make up the Western Hemisphere’s second largest family of birds.

The most astonishing quality of hummingbirds is their ability to broadcast color. Hummingbirds radiate like hot coals in the sun. The color that reaches your eye is created by pigment, which absorbs some colors and rejects others. Like soap bubbles, hummingbird’s color comes from iridescence, not pigment. It winks on and off, depending on the light source and the angle of the viewer. This allows hummingbirds to flash colors or hide them which is useful for males who want to impress females or threaten other males.

If you are in your backyard and have a feeder or water dish you know your bird has visited on a regular basis, then you will be safe using a tripod, or something to steady yourself on. If you are in the wild, then a tripod will only prove as an annoyance and can be quiet cumbersome. If you still want to steady yourself on something in your backyard, then try using a monopod, or s really tiny tripod for steady camera work.

In the wild it’s a good idea to ask local people where the best place to position yourself is. People such as walking guides, local residents, Parks and Conservation staff may know of just the perfect place for you to get some great shots. Many parks rangers are well versed in the area you are interested in visiting and can have access to, or know of, places you can get great shots of a variety of wildlife, not just birds.

For birds in backyards take note that they move at super speed in photographic terms. They are so very quick and depending on the type of shot you are going for, you’ll need to have your shutter speed around 1/500 of a second. If you want the “bird-in-flight” look without blur then its best shooting during the day when you have lots of light so that the camera will be able to give you crystal, sharp pictures. If you are aiming for these types of shots, then a super fast shutter speed and plenty of daylight is recommended. Anything with high movement needs loads of light and a very fast shutter so you don’t get any blur.

If you are in your back yard waiting for your bird, then you can simply set your camera and tripod, and remote shutter release cable about 4 meters away from your feeder or bird bath. To entice your bird, make sure there is fresh, clean water in the bath or a fresh supply of bird food. Try to aim for at least having a 10x zoom or a 200mm lens.

Camera Settings

You can quite safely use auto focus when your bird lands in the edge of the bath or feeder. If you are learning photography, this might be the safest option so you can set your focus up first and all you have to do is press the shutter release when your bird comes down for a drink.

Just before you do take the shot, have a look at your white balance. You might find that because it might be early morning, your shot will have different requirements as to the middle of the day, when you possibly last took a photo. You can shoot in RAW but remember if you want to change something about the image you will have to do so in Photoshop later.

Try shooting in AP mode when you are photographing the birds that have come down for a bite or a bath. You might be better off using the AP mode for when your birds are eating, rather than splashing around in the bath, because you can control the depth of field. When they are splashing around in the bath, it’s going to be difficult to get a full body shot because of the water. They do tend to make a mess when they bathe. They seem to want to get as much water on them as possible in the shortest possible time. But fir birds who are drinking, you can use the AP mode without difficulty.

Birds In Flight

If your birds are in flight use the auto setting if you are not familiar with the Shutter and Aperture. It just takes patience and time to learn how to use this correctly. If you are more experienced, then I recommend setting the shutter and aperture up first, prior to the shot because the last thing you want to do is be fiddling with the settings when you could be getting the shot you want.

If you want shots of birds in flight just about to land or just taking off from the feeder or bird bath, there set your settings manually. Set your camera up as remotely as possible and hide yourself as much as possible so they are not startled by your presence. As they come in to land and fly off you’ll need to press the shutter cable one second before hand- for good preemption. You can get some great “in-flight” shots this way.

Taking photos from inside the house is a great way to photograph birds, but I have found that as clean as it may be, you can still capture smears from your window. Even when the bedroom or study window is clean it will add a slightly, white smoky look to your photos. it really is best being outside when taking photos of birds, you get the best photos that way.

Patience, patience and more patience

Birds are skitty little things, and will feel even more uncomfortable if they think a human is around. It’s your “job” to make yourself as scarce as possible. If you have tame birds in your backyard then chances are this will be no accident. Tame birds usually are that way because for a time before you’re spent in their presence without movement or without a sign of any threat.

I have a wild Butcher bird I can hand feed. It wasn’t always like that. He would come into my backyard and eat the scraps I left out for the possum. Every time I saw him, I’d slowly creep outside and lay some bread down in the same area for him. After a few weeks of this, he learned that when I came out to meet him it was with food. He then stayed in that same area and when there was no food there he would call out for me. I’d walk very slowly out to him with bread in my hand and after a time would be able to hand feed him. These birds are delightful and after a while will become your friend.

Just remember to have a lot of patience with photographing birds or any kind of wildlife. The rewards are huge and you can have plenty of material for photo competitions, birthday presents or simply a personal joy.

Grey Butcher birds resemble a grey and white, half-sized magpie. Their flight-feathers are black with a white stripe and they have a white patch between the beak and eyes.

Grey Butcher birds have a beautiful, melodic warble and a discordant chortling call. They build a strong cup-like nest made of fine twigs, grass and other plant material and breed from July to January.

They live in a wide range of woodlands and open forests and are quite common in some urban parks and gardens. Grey Butcher birds, like Australian Magpies, may swoop if they feel threatened.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (19)

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  1. Juni says:

    I’ve photographed the Red Bellied Woodpecker a few times and it can be really hard to get a good shot. Well done on your great content Amy!

  2. Max says:

    Excellent article Amy.

  3. Jane says:

    nice pictures! and useful tips, thank you

  4. Adam Jones says:

    What lenses should you get for bird photography? Can I do bird photography with a standard lens?

  5. Caitlyn says:

    That Eagle photo is amazing!

  6. Janene says:

    Best article I’ve read in a long time! It’s very well written, and I appreciate the excellent photographic examples to help expound the points made throughout the article. Thank you!!

  7. Ann says:

    Awesome bird photography info- so well written. I know this will really help me.

  8. Patricia says:

    Great article Amy. Thanks for sharing. We’d like to publish you in our emag to our customers. Please contact me when you can.

  9. Carl Nelson says:

    Please, keep up the awesome work and continue to post topics like this. I am old fan of your site!

  10. Karen says:

    Amy I tried to take photos of the Magpies that gather outside my house, but everytime I go out there they fly away. Any ideas for keeping them there so I can photograph them?

  11. Yana says:

    I would love to get photos like that one day. Sadly for me it is a dream.

  12. Jenni says:

    This is an excellent article, I really enjoyed it, thanks Amy.

  13. joseph says:

    great info, thanks Amy.

  14. Helen says:

    Thank you for such lovely clear instructions as to how to go about getting clear bird shots. I am getting very frustrated as my photo’s are not as clear as i would like them to be.
    Now I have read your instructions I keep practicing and waiting!.

    • Hi Helen,

      You are most welcome, I am glad you enjoyed the article.

      Birds are really hard to photograph- especially the little ones that flit around from branch and branch nervously, hyperactiveley. I think it’s a matter of good light, a good telelphoto lens and loads and loads of patience! Try having a bird feeder in your backyard and entice them in that way. Then, hidebehind something as you take the shots with a telephoto.

      My first bird shots were really rubbish, but now, with some good timing and a good lens I can get the shots the way I want.

      Don’t give up! Email me if you need help. I’m always happy to help you. :)


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