Garden bird photography tips

David Chapman / 04 November 2015

Wildlife photographer David Chapman shares his photography tips for capturing beautiful photos of wild birds visiting your garden.



Winter is the best season for photographing birds in the garden. With the cold weather and bare trees birds are more dependent upon our help for food at this time of year. With this dependency comes tolerance so it is relatively easy to encourage the birds to pose for a photo.

Clearly good bird photography must show the subject 'in-focus', and that can be difficult enough, but a successful photograph of a bird needs more.

Read our guide to winter garden bird spotting.

Use light effectively

Photography literally means 'drawing with light'. To make a successful photograph we must use appropriate light. For bird photography we need quite bright conditions and usually it is best to have the sun behind us as we face the bird. The light is always warmer when the sun is closer to the horizon so early or late in the day is usually best, although in winter the sun is always fairly low anyway.

Find an interesting composition

The position of the bird is crucial to obtaining an interesting image. It's better to have a bird on a wonderfully gnarled old log than sitting uncomfortably on the top of a garden cane. The surroundings can transform the photo from a grab shot of a bird-on-a-stick into a beautiful overall image.

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Pay attention to the background

Finally the background is one of the most important considerations. It is usually best to avoid distractions, so don't leave your wheelbarrow behind the subject.

Find a good location

If you are thinking of photographing birds in your garden you could sit indoors and use an open window to photograph through, you could even partly draw the curtains to mask your movement.

When deciding which window to use think carefully about the angle of light at various times of day and then set up some feeders close by. When the birds are regularly coming to feed you could introduce some attractive props for the birds to sit on.

Attract birds to your stage

A moss-covered log on the ground could be appealing to dunnocks, robins and blackbirds - especially if you conceal some seed in its cracks and holes.

I have an old fork handle into which I have drilled peanut-sized holes; I push peanuts in and soon the tits and great spotted woodpeckers will rest there to feed.

An old terracotta plant pot partly filled with seed will attract finches and robins to feed - but make sure the seed isn't visible from your camera's position.

Natural food will attract birds and can look very good in photos. I regularly put out apples for the blackbirds and song thrushes, and if it gets very cold I have also had fieldfares and redwings feeding in the same way.

Thinking longer-term I have also planted several pyracanthas within photographing distance of our conservatory. These are now bearing fruit in more ways than one, last year I got some lovely photos of the robin feeding on the berries and throughout the winter they sustained a wide range of birds and small mammals.

Read our guide to planting to attract birds into the garden.

Get your camera prepared

You need to use a telephoto lens, and it's best to use a tripod so your camera doesn't move suddenly and disturb the birds. Use image stabilisation and a fairly fast shutter speed, 1/250th of a second or faster for moving subjects, so set your ISO to achieve this.

To see what birds might be visiting your garden, visit our British Garden Birds section.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.