A few years back, after putting in the pond, I have been watching the birds in my backyard. With the sound of flowing water out of the tipped pot birds have flocked, well mainly house sparrows, for their daily bath and drink. Because of this I had decided to put a feeder up one winter in hopes of attracting birds and break the boredom of the winter days. Again most of what came to the feeders was the house sparrow, Passer Domesticus. But I noticed a few Chickadees (Poecile Atricapillus) and Cardinals (Cardinalis Cardinalis) start to appear despite the gangs of sparrows hording the food and space around the feeders. Later that winter a couple of Juncos, Junco Hyemalis, with their flash of white on their tails showed up and staked a claim around the feeder.
In 2008 I was laid off around November. I found a temporary job helping deliver packages during the silly season of Christmas. I was hoping after the delivery job ended I would be picked up by someone else. This did not happen, so between looking for a job and the few job interviews I had I filled my afternoons with bird watching to help pass the day. I moved the feeders close to house for a better view of the birds coming in and feeding. At the time we had a window that flips up out of the way and with the feeders being close I had a great spot to photograph birds. For the most part it worked but not having lenses like 300mm or longer and the noise of the window opening I did not get the ideal shots. I eventually got a job in which case moved the project to the back burner for a few years.
This year I thought I would revisit and rethink the project. I figured I needed to get closer and light it better. I looked on line to see if anyone has come up with a photo setup for photographing birds that was not too involved or expensive. After seeing a few setups I decided to keep it simple, get some burlap camouflage to hide under, a small branch to tie on a stand and a stand for a flash. Now it seems silly and ineffective to just hind under the burlap in waiting just to photograph birds, but that was the plan. When it comes down to it all you need to do is to look like nothing of concern to the birds, and with the material concealing my shape and features, that is what I accomplished. Of course my wife and a few neighbors think I am a dork but oh well. I have been thought less by better.
I carefully chose a spot where there the background blurred would work for me. I looked for lights and darks that would help define a shape by adding light colors to the edges of the bird’s outline. I also looked for a spot that was not too busy so the background would not distract from the subject of the bird. This spot has the benefit of the sun creating a rim light on the birds in the early afternoon when the background gets a little dark aiding in separating the bird from the background. Using the flash I then can fill in the shadowed areas and give a highlight to the bird’s eye. And because my flash’s light quality is on the cold side I warmed up my white balance post production, to warm up the shadow detail on the bird.
As you can see I did not try to conceal the flash, camera and the tripods they sit on. Not to mention the stick is tied with bright yellow rope to hold it in place. The birds do not seem to be bothered by any of this what so ever. All I have to do is set the camera and flash up, meter for exposure, connect the cable release to the camera and hide under the burlap. After about 10 minutes or so the birds come back to first wearily feed then relax and begin to gorge and spar for position on the feeder. The sparrows are the most abundant at the feeder but I have been around when a female Cardinal feed 3 feet from my feet. At this time the others; Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatch or Juncos, have not come in nor have I heard them around the feeder. With the Cardinal coming in and feeding I believe that this set up will work with even the jittery birds like the fore mentioned.
At this time I do not have a large variety of birds yet but the setup is new and the season is young. I am hoping as the snow flies and food gets short for the birds I will be drawing in a larger variety of birds. I will also be setting up some spots on the tree to try to get some good photos of the Nuthatch and Woodpeckers. But for now I will keep practicing with the setup I have to improve my odds of getting the best photographs of the birds that stop by.
If you decide to try a similar set up or has one that works for you, please post a link or brief explanation in the comment section. Don’t forget to show off your photos! Here are mine as of today.