My Backyard Bird Photography Studio

Co-Posted on Birding is Fun! (link)

Its amazing how this topic seems to be on the minds of so many people. I bet I get a few emails a month from folks asking for help designing and/or building a backyard bird photography studio. I have tried many different gadgets and setups for my backyard bird photography studio, both home-made and purchased. In fact I have tried as many setups as I have camera bags! Just like camera bags, different yard setups present different solutions and complications depending on weather and time of year. What I will attempt to do in this post is talk about and show you how I have generated the most consistent results in my backyard bird photography studio. I will give you one warning before you read this post. I follow the KISS method in my photography. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid :-). If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how many lights I setup in my backyard or how big or what kind of a tent I use for a blind, I would be rich. The simple answer is I don’t use any of these things. I know, I know, some of you will say you have to use lights if you are going to stop the action of a hummingbirds wings or counteract the effects of the harsh mid day sun and this is true, in some applications. I will give you that using a flash when photographing hummingbirds is helpful but not required. As it relates to using a flash to help counteract the harsh midday sun my response is I don’t photograph in the harsh midday sun. Have I used flash in the yard for special effects, yes. Do I use it often, no.

So lets talk about the basics of backyard bird photography studio. What do you need for this to be successful? The first thing is you need to be able to control your background. There is nothing worse than a beautiful bird on a branch, with 20 other branches in the way or a sky scraper in the picture along with your subject! What you also need to consider before you select a location for your feeder is the angle of the sun and where you will be standing in relation to the sun and your feeder. Ideally, you want the sun to always be behind you (over one of your shoulders) so that you will be between the sun and the perches/branches you will be photographing.

Basic Setup

In the picture above you will notice 3 locations for birds to land, eat and drink. All 3 are highlighted by white arrows. I will show you closeup images below to help. If you notice, I have placed the feeders, bird bath and large perch in locations where the birds can fly in and out to the woods easily. I have also made it easy for little song birds to hide in bushes and make their way to the feeders using the cover of the shrubs for safety. You should also notice that I do not place any of the feeders near windows in an attempt to limit window strikes.

The feeders and stands I am currently using are made and sold by a company named Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU Link). I have found their products to be excellent and the store employees to be very helpful and friendly birders. I use the APS System (APS Link).

Here is the view of the main feeder from the driveway where I usually shoot from. Notice the clean background behind the perches.

Providing water is an essential element to having happy birds at your feeders. In fact, water is often more difficult for them to find than food so if at all possible, try to provide this. I am actually considering burying a water feature in the ground nest spring for a different angle from which to photograph my birds!

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on how to layout your feeders and perches on your property in order to give you the best opportunities to photograph the birds in your backyard.

Notice all the feeders have squirrel and raccoon baffles
Second setup with ranch style feeder
Anther view of the ranch feeder
Clips sold by WBU to hold branches/perches

So I thought that I would provide some examples of images you can take in the yard with and without special effects. The two images of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird were both created without using flash. Nope, just plain old fashioned sunlight. Its just how you use that sunlight! The bottom image is taken using flash. The intent was to try and give the viewer the impression that the bird was actually photographed in front of a black background. It was actually photographed in front of a tree. Its amazing what you can do if you use your imagination when it comes to photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your photography!

Ruby Throated Hummingbird with an itch
Ruby Throated Hummingbird looking for some nectar
American Goldfinch photographed with flash to blacken the background and make his colors pop!

Juvenile Mourning Doves

We have had a lot of Mourning Doves around the feeders this year. I have actively been stocking feeders for 2 1/2 years now and I have never seen as many juvenile Mourning Doves as I did this year.

Juvenile Mourning Dove

My count was 4 pairs of adults and approximately 7 juveniles. Given that the average clutch size is 2 eggs, this would make sense.

Juvenile Mourning Dove from behind

If you are interested, here is a link for a PDF on building a nesting basket for Mourning Doves, provided by All About Birds (PDF Link)

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eIII on Lexar Digital Film

Visiting Some Old Friends

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I have adopted an Osprey perch that I visit a few times a year. I love to learn about and observe these incredible birds. Unfortunately I have only been able to visit my regular Osprey spot once this year and to my disappointment found the location I used to enter was now locked. It appears that the area is being surveyed for development. I am heading back to the location this weekend in the hopes that I can gain entrance (I’m bringing a little help this time :-))

Osprey Watching Over Nest with Chicks

If there is a silver lining in every cloud it could be this. I visited several Osprey nesting locations this spring and found this adult, I’m sure female, sitting on this nest with 3 chicks (counted). This perch has been empty the last 3 seasons. Im glad to see that the Osprey population appears to be getting stronger/larger on the East End of Long Island.

Image captured with Nikon D3x w600mm f/4 and TC-14e III on Lexar Digital Film.

See The Beauty in Common

Co-Published on Birding is Fun!

I received some interesting emails after my last post There’s No Place Like Home. Most were requests to see my backyard bird photography studio or advice on setting one up, which will be the subject of my next post. However, one email in particular made me think a little after I read it. Given the outpouring of support for Pledge 2 Fledge, I decided this post should be about the beauty of common bird species.

White Breasted Nuthatch

You see, the reader of my last post seemed to think they were getting bored with just photographing the same species and wanted to branch out (pun intended :-)) into different species but didn’t have the time or companionship to make that next move. What I tried to do in this post and in my email response to the reader, is show some common backyard and park species doing something special or looking really good!

American Goldfinch Male
American Goldfinch Female Preening

One of the most important things in bird watching in my opinion is observing varying bird behaviors and learning to appreciate and see the differences in the birds as the seasons change. How could you ever be bored with that?

Northern Cardinal Male Transitional
House Finch Male
Black Capped Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

I hope you agree, that there is beauty in common. Now go out and enjoy some common bird species! And remember, we are all out here because Birding is Fun!

Images captured with Nikon D3x w600mm f/4, TC-14e II on Lexar Digital Film

iPad Publication

I have some exciting news. The BT Journal, published by Moose Peterson, has recently put the issue in which I was published, on their iPad APP! Here is a link to the BT Journal iPad APP. I hope you decide to purchase the issue and use the APP. The BT Journal is one of my favorite wildlife/wildnature photography magazines and it is even better now that you can read, hear and watch the magazine on the iPad!

Also, here is the LINK to the original post where I talk about my time with Moose that led to the BT Journal publication.

Denise Ippolito Workshop Update

Denise Ippolito Workshops

My friend Denise Ippolito just updated her workshop pages. She has some great events coming up, a few of which I am trying to attend myself. There are not many good photographers that offer quality workshops on the east coast however Denise is one of them. Besides she is a real sweetheart as well.

Willets Nesting

I had a hunch when I woke up yesterday that I was going to find a Willet’s Nest. As I arrived at the location I would be scouting, it seemed that there were signs all around me (I know, bad pun! ;-))

Willet on Sign Post

I approached a location where I had seen Willets for several years. The location in my opinion was perfect. Salt flats, sea grass and rocks along the road to shelter the nests. The only skepticism I had was the knowledge that this location floods a lot and the chances of chicks surviving here are slim given the flooding. But I have seen Willets here for several years now during June and July so as I said at the start, I had a hunch.

Willet on Sign

As I approached the area I planned to observe, I found several Willets calling. I parked the car across the road, rolled down the window and waited with my camera on a bean bag pointing out the window. After about an hour, I saw my first chick. Just as quickly as it had jumped up on the rocks, it jumped back down before I could make a click. Unfortunately I didn’t see another one! But I was thrilled to see my first Willet chick even though I didn’t get to photograph it.

Images captured with Nikon D3x w/600mm f/4 and TC14-EIII on Lexar digital film.

Monday Musings – My First Birding is Fun! Article

This is a re-post of my first article for Birding is Fun!. I want to take a minute to thank Robert Mortensen for honoring me with an invitation to become a regular contributor to BiF. I have been a reader of their blog and the individual blogs of several of the BiF contributors for some time. I hope you all enjoy the article.

A common misconception shared by many amateur avian watchers and photographers is the need to venture deep into isolation in order to photograph interesting species. I am often asked, “How far into the wilderness did you have to go to make that photograph”. This mindset often stops would be beginners from taking the plunge and becoming part of the birding revolution. The truth of the matter is you can enjoy bird watching from many places easily accessible to everyone. In fact, most successful photographers search out such locations. If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. The logistics and physical effort of carrying heavy gear on long hikes is not practical even for the rugged wildlife photographer! My own experience with hiking to remote photographic locations usually results in landscape photography, which requires a significantly smaller and lighter kit than wildlife photography.

White Breasted Nuthatch

I’ll share a secret with you. One of the best locations I photograph birds is my own backyard. Yes, you heard me right, my own backyard. It takes a little planning to ensure you are able to control the elements like background, light and perch size but the results are usually worth the effort. In fact, you need to control these elements regardless of whether you are in the wilderness or at the end of a fishing pier. Some of my favorite places to photograph are all public areas. Beaches as well as state and national parks are fantastic places to start looking for easily accessible wildlife.

Tufted Titmouse with Seed

The two images above and the Northern Flicker below were taken in my backyard. I know what some of you are saying, that I must live on a farm. The truth of the matter is I live in a suburb of New York City, in Fairfield County, Connecticut. While I might have a little more land than most, I don’t live on a bird sanctuary. But I do work hard to create an environment on my property that encourages bird visits. I always have full bird feeders and I provide water sources for the birds to drink. While some will say that’s a great idea, it really is not any different from how bird reserves operate in the southwest. They tend to set up bird blinds around food and water sources and in some instances provides branches as perches away from where any trees are located. Even if photographing in your yard is not practical, I promise you with a little effort and imagination you can find locations within your town and state where wildlife thrives not far from your local coffee shop.

The Internet is a great place to start your research. Local bird and wildlife organizations are a great resource when looking for places to photograph. Your local Audubon Society can usually make several suggestions if you call them and ask for help.

Mature Osprey Landing on Nest

Lastly, local and national parks and wildlife refuges are scattered across many areas. Most people are shocked to find out just how many wildlife viewing locations there are in their community! Another fantastic resource is the Birding is Fun website and the websites of the many regular contributors. Many of us bird regularly and are not shy about giving away locations where you can safely and successfully view birds.

Laughing Gull Gesture

Once you select your locations, I promise you will be amazed at how many different species of wildlife you will encounter in your community. You will ask yourself how it is that you missed seeing the wildlife around you for so many years! Connecticut alone is filled with a healthy wildlife community. Many people associate Connecticut with the mansions of Greenwich but the opportunity to learn from and about its wildlife is enormous. Connecticut is home to hundreds of bird species. Over 400 bird species have been identified in Connecticut.

Northern Flicker

So if you are reading this post and you have been thinking about becoming a birder or avian photographer but have been afraid to start because you think you need to travel to exotic locations, I am here to tell you that viewing wildlife doesn’t need to occur only in the wild. Don’t be afraid, start in your yard!

A Beautiful Fathers Day

I’m truly blessed to have one of the best Dads anyone could ask for. But I’m more blessed with the 3 best children anyone could imagine. After spending the day with family and friends, I took some time to enjoy the sunshine and do some birding. I don’t have time to write much so you will just have to enjoy the images :-).

Brown Headed Cowbird at Feeder
Red Winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eII on Lexar Digital Film.