The average back garden in bursting with wildlife. In this subject-by-subject guide, nature pro Mark Hamblin explains how to shoot an exciting range of nature photography subjects on your own doorstep. Discover the best techniques, camera settings, light and gear for capturing many popular subjects!
Nature photography at home: Birds
Birds are the most visible of all backyard wildlife, and given a little know-how will reward the patient photographer with some fantastic images
What’s the approach?
Most back gardens attract a good variety of birds, especially if you give them a helping hand by providing them with food, water and somewhere to breed.
One big advantage of shooting garden birds is that they are likely to be more easily approached than their secretive back-country cousins.
This means it’s often possible to capture frame-filling images by sitting quietly close to where they are feeding or nesting (How to photograph through a fence).
For more skittish species use a small portable hide (or blind) to conceal yourself, which will also ensure the birds behave naturally (see also How to use your car as a mobile hide for bird photography).
Attract birds into your back garden by providing a range of foodstuffs, as well as clean water in an accessible pool.
Nest boxes erected in suitable spots will also help encourage a greater number of species to spend the summer on your patch.
SEE MORE: Free bird photography cheat sheet
When’s the best time of day?
Birds tend to be active for most of the day, but often have a peak of activity early in the morning. The middle of the day can be a quiet period, especially in summer.
What gear do I need?
To capture a medium-size bird at a decent size in the frame you’ll need a telephoto lens of at least 300mm.
If this is coupled with a camera that has a cropped sensor then this effectively increases the magnification, which is very helpful when photographing birdlife.
A camera that is capable of shooting at 4-5 frames per second will increase your chances of capturing action shots.
What’s the best lighting?
Timing your shoot to coincide with peak bird activity early in the day will also mean catching the attractive morning sunlight that will bring out any colours in the birds’ plumage.
Shooting with front-lighting often suits birds best, although some species work well when backlit, too. Avoid harsh, overhead sunlight though – soft overcast light is better for revealing plumage detail.
What settings should I use?
Typically, you’ll need a fairly fast shutter speed to prevent any blurring from subject movement. A shutter speed of around 1/250 sec or faster is advisable for most species, but when tackling faster moving action aim for at least 1/1000 sec (see also Best camera settings for garden birds).
Set a wide aperture, such as f/4 or f/5.6, in Aperture Priority mode, and increase the ISO setting if necessary to obtain the required shutter speed.
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