When it comes to capturing strong images of small birds there are a few tips and tricks you can use to improve your bird photography.
Birds on feeders rarely make for great photos; it’s much more natural, and fun, to photograph them on attractive perches. It’s important here to use a suitable perch, so if you’re not familiar with the species it might be worth a little research to understand the habitat the bird lives in – that way you can find an appropriate perch. When it comes to finding perches it’s simply a case of searching around. If you’re working in a woodland setting then hopefully you can find branches and logs covered in moss, lichens or even fungi; this is going to add some extra colour to your images. It’s also important to consider the size of the perch – a thick branch covered in lichens may look wonderful… but is it going to dwarf the small tits that land on it? Bigger logs and branches can be ideal for larger birds such as blackbirds and jays, but for small birds try using thinner more delicate branches and twigs.
Getting them on the perch!
So you’ve got a suitable perch for your chosen bird – how to you get the bird to land on it? The tried and tested method is to use food as bait. Garden birds for example will easily come down to bird seed, peanuts, fat-balls – and meal worms. Watch which direction the birds come from – they will often congregate in a nearby bush or tree. After watching their flight path you can then erect your perch near the food so that the birds land on it before they visit the feeders. This won’t work every time, some birds will ignore the perch (that’s nature) but you should get enough opportunities for photography. There are different ways to set up the perch, including poles, tripod attachments and pushing into the ground. Once the bird lands you need to be quick – focus, compose and fire a series of shots. You should be able to do this in less than 2 seconds – which is sometimes all you’ll have! If you’re interested in setting up bird feeders check out this YouTube Video where I set up a bird feeding station.
Perhaps equally as important as the perch is the background. A good bird photograph can succeed or fail depending on choice of shooting position. Try to avoid too much distraction behind the bird – this can take some experience but essentially you want a background that will go nicely out of focus when you focus on the bird. Tree trunks, light coloured branches, highlights and shadows can all cause problems. Try to shoot against an area that looks as smooth as possible – in the same light. Also try to find a background that is quite distant; this will instantly help to give a clearer backdrop. Another way to improve things is to use a wide aperture – this will blur the background more, but it won’t compensate enough if the background is just too cluttered.
A brief word about mini-ecosystems. Moving branches, logs and rocks can affect what grows there – lichens and mosses in particular thrive on very specific micro-environments. You may also be affecting small invertebrates that live there too. That said, we are talking about very occasional changes and I do not consider it to be detrimental to the environment. If you end up with a few logs and branches that have been used as perches, then create a new pile – and a new ecosystem! A word too on hygiene: if you are feeding birds, please wash your hands before, or at the very least give them a good rub. Birds are susceptible to germs just as we are!
There really is no limit to the types of bird photographs you can create given the multitude of perches out there. Think shape, texture, colour – and get creative! If you want to improve your bird photography skills consider joining one of my Bird Photography Workshops or a day of tailor made One to One Tuition