Create A Backyard Bird Photo Studio

lady-cardinal-nf

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.

cardinal_in_falling_snow

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.

cardinal_on_branch

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.

bluejay_on_log

You cannot always predict who lands there though. The sparrow landed, then the hawk did too.

hawk-sparrow-1

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.

sparrow-in-snow

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.

three_sparrows

Size matters. If you want big birds, prune big branches.

downy-woodpecker

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.

mad_sparrow

I pruned the trees in the garden from the perspective of my camera’s viewing position indoors.

female_cardinal

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.

Tips

  • 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.

jay_siblings

  • 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.

cardinal_at_birdbath

Hope these tips helped. I know they did when I learned them.

This entry was posted in Birds, garden, Nature, Photography, Photos, wildlife and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Create A Backyard Bird Photo Studio

  1. Vicki says:

    Love the female Cardinal, beautiful photos of her..

  2. neihtn2012 says:

    Donna, thank you very much for all these tips. I had no idea, or at least very little! I will try some of what you advise.

  3. Great post and beautiful captures, Donna!

  4. aussiebirder says:

    Really good practical tips Donna, thanks for sharing. The photos are great as usual also😊

    • donna213 says:

      Thanks Ashley. They are good tips for the backyard birders. Some gardeners never leave their gardens in winter. Me, I am out and about almost every day birding. Most days not much to be found besides the feeder birds. I am going to be posting my bird finds here when I get something not usually found in a backyard garden. A few posts coming up.

  5. Thanks for such a lot of rather practical and valuable tips, Donna! Particularly adding these natural perches for the birds as well as creating new landing perches is rather easy to do but extremely useful and effective.
    Your photographs are extremely good examples and a proof that improving the background and the circumstances in general will lead to rather natural looking photos, to clear pictures and close shots turn out very well! You “caught” these cute guys perfectly. Photographically, I mean. ^^

    Thank you for sharing tips as well as your beautiful shots!

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you very much Michèle. It is really simple to do. Gardeners just need to really study the backyard for how light moves throughout the day. It helps with positioning the props.

  6. Good examples, Donna. That last one of the female cardinal in the first group is comical.

  7. Uncanny!!! You dazzled me again with your incredible photos and your amazingly creative and aesthetically wonderful ideas!! Fantastic post, Donna.

  8. Maria dB says:

    Nice tips; I hadn’t thought of clamping branches to feeder poles and will try that. Great shot of the hawk!

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you. The birds like the branches, plus the feeders look a bit better with the conifers. Add some berries and it is festive to make great images for Christmas cards. I do that some years. Or I build little snowmen and put seed on their hats. That makes cute images too.

  9. Annette says:

    fab tipps and images, Donna, thank you!

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