Editor’s note: Here are some tips submitted in anticipation of the Bridgerland Audubon Society and Cache Valley Photographers’ wild bird photo contest.
When my wife and I retired ten years ago we began a journey in photography. My wife devoted her passion toward photographing birds. She started out, like most folks, by purchasing an entry-level camera. Hers was a Nikon d5200 with an 18-55mm lens. But she wanted to photograph BIRDS! Birds normally require expensive specialty lenses.
Well, there is a way to photograph birds with her camera and lens. You will need a couple of other items that are not expensive. First, a tripod. A simple used one can be purchased from KSL classifieds or Deseret Industries for less than $30 — or borrow one from a friend.
The other critical item is a remote trigger to activate your shutter button. These triggers use a radio signal to communicate between the transmitter and the receiver, which is just what you need because the signal will go through walls and around corners. When you are in your house and you look out the window and see a bird in front of your camera, you won’t miss the shot. And yes, we’ve have done that.
You can purchase the remote and the receiver that fits on your camera for as little as $40 from stores like Adorama, B&H and Amazon. When you shop, verify that your model is included in the specs.
Feed the passion — and the birds. Like most birders, we really enjoy our backyard feathered friends. We have a variety of feeders to ensure nobody is left out of their favorite snack. Dedicate one feeder to one kind of feed. This will help you photograph individual species. Water is another way to entice birds to hang out in your yard, and when you add some plants, and places for them to perch, you will have created a paradise to feed your photographic passion.
The setup. Wherever you feed your birds, you’ll need to know which areas are in the sun and which are in shade, especially in the early morning and the evening. If you have a large tree you might have some shade all day, which is a good thing. Find a place where there will be sunlight and place a small natural object like part of a branch or a small stump — between 4 and 12 inches high is good. If the surrounding ground is bare, the constantly-moving birds will eventually jump up on your branch. They often ﬂy away for some unknown reason, and when they return one will eventually land on your branch.
Now set up your tripod and camera about three feet from the branch and about eye level with your bird. Attach the remote receiver to the top of the camera. When you look at your setup your bird should be in the sunlight and the background should be in shade so that the bird will standout against the dark backdrop as the photographs here show.
The purpose behind having a single branch or stump is to keep the foreground clean and simple and not have a lot of branches or other items that would clutter or compete with the subject. If you have a taller perch just adjust your tripod height. As your system develops, you’ll learn how to add other components but still be able to keep it simple enough for the bird to be the object of your photograph.
Two in the bush. Another setup that I like is having two birds in the photograph. This usually involves some food they will ﬁght over. An old sunﬂower head that is facing down works really well because the top side will be dished just enough to hide seeds that you add. Put your camera just high enough so the camera will not see the added food.
What’s more, these seed heads have a wonderful color and texture that really add to the look and feel of the photograph and it is also their natural food source. Sometimes I have to cut the stems down and attach them to something to keep them upright using a clamp or even tape. Whatever it takes!
Some of you may have a telephoto lens. Maybe a 70-200mm, or a 70-300mm or something similar. My suggestion would be to zoom your lens to between 200 and 300mm and move your tripod back till you ﬁnd a nice composition. This will make the background blurrier and also minimize the sound of your shutter which can scare the birds.
I hope you will give this a try. I have found this method very rewarding in so many ways. By watching and waiting for the “moment” I also learn the behavior of the birds. When they ﬂy in to feed where do they land ﬁrst, how long do they stay, which species do not land on a perch ﬁrst, etc.? One example is the robin. This bird comes in like clockwork every evening to bathe and my camera is ready. Fun stuﬀ!
Here is my checklist:
1. Don’t have too many perches. If you have only one camera then have just one perch.
2. Pre-focus on your perch using manual focus.
3. Set shutter to ‘continuous high’ so that you can take a burst of photos. A high shutter speed of xxx/sec is recommended with a low f-stop to blur the background.
4. Turn on the trigger receiver and test the remote trigger.
5. Is there food and/or water available?
6. All this should be done before the sun comes up.
7. Pour your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy the show.
Other photos of our backyard set-up and images we have taken there are available at: https://wannabe-photography.smugmug.com/Audubon/.
Enter your photographs from your new backyard studio or other photographs from birds in Cache Valley in the photo contest sponsored by Bridgerland Audubon and Cache Valley Photographers at https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/photo-contest.