Photographing UK garden birds

Photographing garden birds can be a highly rewarding style of wildlife photography that doesn’t require too much time to be invested.

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Photographing garden birds can be a highly rewarding style of wildlife photography that doesn’t require too much time to be invested. If you are lucky enough to have a garden that attracts birds then this is going to be extremely easy for you. By putting out feed you will encourage even more birds to your garden and before you know it there will be plenty of activity to observe.

What you will need:

  • A DSLR or simillar camera
  • A tripod
  • A long lens – 200mm or more
  • Some feeders
  • Some bird food
  • Fat balls – optional, but a great thing to have
  • Sticks and twigs for perches
  • Twine

Firstly you will need to consider your choice of food. Fat balls and peanuts are great all-round choices as a foundation but you could also add some mealworm and seed varieties. Different feed will yield different results and much depends on the season and area you are in.

PeanutsWoodpeckers, Crows, Jays, Bluetits
Cracked CornBlackbirds, Sparrows, Jays, Doves
Sunflower SeedsMost feeder birds
RapeseedDoves, Finches
SafflowerGrosbeaks, Doves, Sparrows
NyjerSmall finches

Fat balls or Suet can also be a great choice for attracting a wide variety of birds, especially in the winter months.

Don’t forget water

All living things need it, so make sure you put some out for the birds to drink. Water can also offer some great photo opportunities if you set it up well. Birds will most likely bathe in it and with a fast shutter speed you can grab some action shots with droplets of water flying through the air as they shake themselves dry.

Set up interesting perches

In order to make your photos seem as natural as possible use fallen sticks and twigs to make perches for the birds to land on. Most birds will land in the same place a few times before feeling secure enough to take any food. This will give you plenty of time to frame your shots and pull focus.

It’s all about the light

As with all photography, light is extremely important. The best light will be during golden hours, early in the morning and evening before sunset. Make sure that your perches are set up in places that will take advantage of the early/ late rays. There’s no sense in shooting golden hour if your subjects are shadowed by nearby trees, bushes or fences.

Watch the weather

Weather too can have a great affect on your images. Frosty mornings or warm sunny evenings can offer great results. If there is a chance of snow, make sure you’re ready as this can be fantastic for bringing in hungry birds that may be finding it difficult to source food elsewhere.

Clean up your background

Nothing ruins a great photo like a distracting background. Think about the scene behind your perches. Are there unnecessary objects that you can move? Can you see ugly fence lines? Is the background too bright or too dark? You are probably going to be using a very shallow depth of field to compose your shots so make sure that the bokeh you are getting is clean and balanced.

Shoot some photos of your perches in places where you expect the birds to land and examine the images for any ugly or distracting objects. Some things can be removed while editing but it always best practice to do as much in camera as possible.

Get those camera settings right

Small birds move about very quickly and as such capturing sharp photos of them is going to require a fast shutter speed (1/500th or above). This will mean that you will most likely need to open your aperture up as wide as you can and dial up the ISO until you have a workable exposure. Use your histogram to help you. Having a wide aperture will also add shallow depth of field which will blur the background and separate the subject from it.

Final notes

As you can see, there isn’t anything too complicated about photographing garden birds. But, getting great shots will be a combination of skill, determination and luck. Finding the right light, having the birds land where you want them and capturing interesting moments of their behaviour will require patience and practice. So… get out there and fire that shutter!

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