6 garden bird photography tips to help you take great shots

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

Gardens can be a hive of activity for wildlife, and the beauty of wild birds visiting your outdoor space is great to watch. Their visits can also make for fabulous photographs.

If you’re patient and consider these garden bird photography tips, you too will be able to capture some stunning shots.

Robin feeding on pyracanthaCredit: David Chapman
Natural food will attract birds and can look very good in photos (Robin)

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.

1. Light

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.

2. Composition

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.

A Blue Tit on cherry blossomCredit: David Chapman
Put feeders close to interesting foliage or blossom to get a pleasing composition (Blue Tit)

3. Background

Pay attention to the background

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.

4. Location

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. Also consider this quick window safety tip of applying external decals to your glazing that could save millions of British birds.

When the birds are regularly coming to feed you could introduce some attractive props for the birds to sit on.

Greenfinch on plant pots with seed in beakCredit: David Chapman
Fill plant pots with seed so that it is hidden from view when photographing the birds (Greenfinch)

5. Attract

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. And just make sure you’re not making these bird-feeding mistakes.

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, 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.

Nuthatch on a logCredit: David Chapman
Drill holes in logs and push peanuts in to attract birds to feed (Nuthatch)

6. Prepare

Get your camera prepared

Ideally, you want to use a traditional camera (rather than your smartphone) to capture the best shots. 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.

However, your phone is likely more than capable of producing some great garden bird photographs as the technology in our mobile phone cameras has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade.

Try and avoid zooming in when using a phone though, as depending on your device, the quality of the image can be reduced. The rest of our tips in this article remain relevant – whether you’re using a camera or a smartphone to capture the birds and other wildlife in your garden.

This article first appeared on Saga.co.uk in 2015. It has since been updated.

David Chapman

Written by David Chapman


David Chapman is a photographer and writer specialising in the natural history of Britain. He has won many awards for his photography and writing which can be seen in a range of magazines, calendars and books. He owns a smallholding in Cornwall where he aims to attract wildlife.