Photographing Small Birds

I am very much a beginner at bird photography. I had never even thought of trying it until I got my 70-200 F4 IS lens, and finally had a setup that might be fast enough with possibly a long enough lens to try with. My first experiment went really well, it was of a family of Paradise Ducks that were used to being fed by people, so slightly tame

And for some reason, the more difficult the subject, the more it challenges me to shoot it. So I kept coming back to this family, but as the ducklings got older they got braver and faster and I had trouble getting another good photo.

In Christchurch there is a river called the Avon which flows right through the centre of town, and it is home to many different birds, and due to close proximity they are not tame but used to the presence of people. I was able to use this to my advantage at a place called the Arts Centre where there is a decorative but shallow pool. I happened to be in the right place at the right time when a seagull decided to take a morning dip

Seagull having a brisk and refreshing bath

So I developed this idea of trying to shoot small birds in an urban type environment – ie one where people were familiar, and they were used to the idea of being around people as a regular food source. Obviously birds are wary creatures, but I thought this might help get me closer than to a completely wild bird.

With this in mind I went away to Hanmer for the weekend, and I noticed several sparrows and another small bird I didnt recognise were happily hopping round the outdoor picnic area close to where we were sitting. And I decided to test my theory.

I had a cunning plan as well! Put down one large piece of bread – too big for them to fly away with, so they had to keep coming back to the same spot to tear off small pieces – more opportunities for photos or so I thought 🙂

So I lay down on the grass and placed the bread a couple of metres in front of me (moved to make the background a little less cluttered). There was one very brave and persistent sparrow who came down quite quickly, dove into the bread for big chunks before flying away to come back and repeat.

Sparrow tugging off a large beakful

And there was another colourful bird with white bars on his wings (I don’t know the name) who was quite keen to fly away with the whole bit of bread, but my cunning plan defeated him as the bread was too heavy, but he certainly had a good try at it!

Just wait till I bring THIS bit home!

Here he is (I’m assuming its a he) pondering how to defeat the puzzle and fly away with his trophy.

How do I lift something bigger than I am?

It was a successful experiment, and one I will try again in the future. Yet again, another learning experience:

– small birds move even quicker than their larger brethren
– small birds are very unpredictable – have a wider angle than you think you might need
– a large piece of bread helps keep the attention of the birds
– its easy to see a cluttered background – make sure you look at the foreground as well (I had some nice shots that were not at all improved by foreground clutter I just hadn’t noticed at the time)
– spend time sitting and watching and feeding the birds to understand their behaviour (the mystery bird leapt straight onto the bread and immediately tried to fly off with it, and it was really hard to get photos of – the ones I did are flukes)
– keep your finger down and keep shooting, you never know just what you might end up with (see above LOL)
– birds are difficult and frustrating and yet strangely addictive to photograph

If anyone has more advice or tips/techniques, I am willing to experiment further 🙂


About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
This entry was posted in For Beginners, Waffle and Burbling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Photographing Small Birds

  1. Katrina says:

    The bird with the white bars on his wings appears to be a Chaffinch.

    If you want pictures of native birds rather than the ones that came from England, try dripping water instead of bread. Water will often attract birds who’d normally eat a whole range of different foods while bread tends to attract the seed-eaters that are good at scavenging scraps. A bucket with a small nail hole in the bottom is a good source of dripping water.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Thankyou for this – what about a small bowl of sugar syrup for the nectar eaters, would that work too? And now I know what a Chaffinch looks like 🙂

      • Katrina says:

        I’m not familiar enough with your nectar-eaters to know whether they’ll come to a bowl of sugar-water. Nectar-eaters tend to have fairly specialized bill shapes, so drinking from a bowl might not be easy for them. Our main nectar-feeders are hummingbirds and we have special hummingbird feeders for them.

  2. forkboy says:

    Your recent bird experience sounds not unlike what I went through when I finally decided to try and photograph them.

    I’ve been using peanuts to attract blue jays to my back deck, which has worked very well. They are intelligent birds that happen to be quite skittish, so I needed something to bring them round. I’d then sit in an open window with my 100-400mm trained on the little stand where I’d leave peanuts.

    I would pre-focus on the spot where were the peanuts and as soon as a jay would land I hit the shutter release button. I really recommend setting to the slow-speed burst mode (I think it’s 3-pics a second) and use the AI focus. This way you increase your chances of getting usable shots and the AI focus keeps the lens focused on the moving bird.

  3. Alan says:

    I love the composition in the first shot. Momma duck with small ducklings, and using the rule of thirds i see. Keep up the good work.

    Also one tip i have learned, when shooting birds, especially ducks and swans. It pays of to shoot from their perspective.

    I have tried this a couple times and i have gotten a really funny photo of a swan getting almost on top of the camera.
    So try shooting ducks/swans from an inch above the ground. It takes a little practice though.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Alan most of these are taken while I was lying flat on the ground. I am probably at eye height on an adult duck for some of them but the shots with the bread I am right down just above ground level – I have cropped out all the blurry foreground. And due to my neck problems I have issues with getting quite that low *sigh*

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