Take Pictures of Birds at a Bird Feeder

If you like bird photography, you can take great photos in your backyard. You can get stunning pictures of cardinals, blue jays, and hummingbirds. All you need is a bird feeder, some bird feed, and a bit of patience.

Small birds range in size from a bird that would comfortably fit into the palm of your hand to a bird that is about nine inches tall. You find everything in this category from small finches to burrowing owls. Small birds are often colorful, active, and fun to watch and photograph. Here are some tips to get great pictures of birds at your bird feeder:

  • Place a squirrel-proof bird feeder in a convenient place. Bird feed is expensive, so there’s no sense in feeding the neighborhood squirrels. You can find squirrel-proof bird feeders by entering “squirrel-proof bird feeder” in your favorite search engine.

    When positioning the bird feeder, consider the sun. You want the birds to be illuminated by early morning or late afternoon sun shining directly at them, not by harsh midday light, which casts knife-edge shadows on the birds, resulting in unsatisfactory images. Or hang the bird feeder in a tree that shades it at all hours of the day. This will require a slightly higher ISO.

  • Keep the feeder filled. The birds will find the feeder after you put it out. As long as you keep it filled, they’ll keep coming back.

  • Let the birds acclimate to your presence. Find a place where you can sit and watch the action. The distance from the place where you sit to the bird feeder should be within reach of your longest telephoto lens. The birds will let you get only so close before they fly away. With a telephoto lens, you’ll be able to zoom in fairly tight on your subject.

  • Use a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. That will ensure that you get sharp pictures of the birds while they’re feeding.

  • Use a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of hummingbird wings. Try a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Alternatively, you can stick with a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second, which will freeze the hummingbird, but the wings will be blurry. This will show viewers that the bird’s wings were flapping rapidly when you captured the image.

    Hummingbirds require special feeders that contain a mixture of sugar water, and are remarkably tame. You can place a hummingbird feeder very close to your house and photograph them through a squeaky clean window. When you do, the birds may appear a bit dark. If this is the case, use exposure compensation to brighten the image.

  • Use a large aperture of f/4.0 to f/5.6. The large aperture will give you a shallow depth of field and render objects like your neighbor’s laundry hanging out to dry as an out-of-focus blur.

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  • Switch to continuous focus mode. When you’re photographing a bird that’s flitting from one part of a bird feeder to another, the camera will update focus as the bird moves.

  • Use image stabilization if your camera or lens has it.

  • Use a tripod. A tripod steadies the camera. Even with a fast shutter speed, any operator movement can result in an image that isn’t tack sharp. If you use a tripod, disable image stabilization.

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