Tips for the Backyard Photo Studio – For Closeup Portraits
How about shooting birds in your backyard? Here are some ideas to make the birds look better in photos, or get close up shots.
Make use of outdoor man-made objects like the Shepard’s hook below. Leave ornament and furniture outside that can withstand the winter that might be an enticing perch for birds. It allows for a variety of places for birds to perch, but best of all, you can move them to where you can actually get good pictures. It makes dealing with sun and shadow an easy solution.
You can easily arrange cut branches to suit your needs and affix them with clamps to the man-made objects. You can see this below in the gallery with the pine branches affixed to the bird feeders.
Above, the branches span between the Shepherd’s hooks. They can be clamped for stability. The sparrow perches on the branch before going in for some seed, but you would never know that without seeing more of the backyard.
A bird perched on a natural prop, such as a branch or vine, tends to be more natural for the viewer, much better than one photographed at a plastic bird feeder.
If you’ve got some natural perches positioned near the feeder, then you can wait until a bird perches on one of the natural branch before taking your photo. Many times, the birds will perch to check for any signs of danger, like below on the clamped movable branch. Take note where the birds land most frequently.
Don’t give the birds too many places where to land though. You want to keep the number of perches to just a few so that you can have the camera set up and aimed at that particular perch.
If the perch has many little branches and twigs, you may find you are missing clean shots, as the birds land all over the place. If the branch has leaves or needles, you can remove some in a small section so birds can perch in the open space. Same goes for those little twigs, lop them off.
I sit by an open window in the comfort of my heated home to photograph. The room I am in is like a blind from the bird’s point of view. I look less threatening.
Add Yard Props
Below is another prop added to the Backyard Photo Studio. It is a saw-cut poplar log for birds on which to land, and elevates them by 30 inches. As a prop, you can move it anywhere to make for a good photo. You train the birds to come to it with the enticement of food. Being poplar, it is very light to pick up and move, and having been stripped of bark, it harbors no insects.
You cannot always predict who lands there though. The sparrow landed, then the hawk did too.
The point of a cut, portable branch is that we want to control where they land, the background of the image and the light hitting the scene. Movable perches allow for all three.
Another important thing to remember is that where a bird perches is proportional to the size of the feet. When they land, the “knees” bend and the feet clasp. This is an action of the flexor tendons and is automatic when they land on a perch. These tendons are attached to muscles above the bird’s heel, like what we view as a backward knee.
Size matters. If you want big birds, prune big branches.
Birds like clean perches because they are easier to navigate to and from.
Many nature photographers will improve a shot in this way if it is not a photo that must be kept completely natural. Some even carry clippers in their bags to remove foliage from a composition while in nature.
The photographer that I learned this technique has a special way to prune the branches. He knocks off side branches in a backward swinging motion with a long broom handle rather than using clippers. It makes for a more natural appearance. I, on the other hand, clip them to avoid unnecessary tearing. It is better for the tree’s health. Just saying…
Background defines the subject…and Keep Pruning
So check that you have light falling on the subject and have a background that does not distract if possible.
I pruned the trees in the garden from the perspective of my camera’s viewing position indoors.
Above, the background is the clay speed tile wall, but at such a distance, it only appears as a colored background, making for a more pleasing shot.
- Buy seed specific for the species of birds you want to attract.
- Install plants that feed and shelter the birds. Enhance the habitat.
- Design the garden to benefit wildlife. Use shelter plants liberally.
- Place feeding stations deliberately to aid in photographing.
- Add perching natural props.
- Prune out plants for unobstructed landing perches.
- Learn the habits of your subject.
- Leave out ornament and furniture that can withstand the winter for varied perching.
- Make movable shooting galleries.
- Add to your backyard birding habitat with a heated water source. Position it close to where you will be photographing.
Hope these tips helped. I know they did when I learned them.