The following is a guest post from 365 member Al Harris. Al has been a member since late 2010 and is well known in the community for his intriguing bird photographs. If you like what you see here you can find out more about Al and see more of his project here.



As a member of the 365 Project, you probably already have more than enough equipment and skill to capture prize-winning bird photos. Amazingly, for some people the hardest part is to sit still. You can become an outstanding bird photographer without knowing a lot about birds (or even photography!).

My advice falls into four areas.

Roll Out The Welcome Mat


Put food and water in the same place each day and keep the containers well stocked. Bird photography is as simple as putting both food and your camera where you want the birds to appear. I recommend black-oiled sunflower seed and raw peanuts. Sunflower seeds will attract hundreds of birds, including cardinals. Nuthatches, woodpeckers, and titmice seem unable to resist peanuts. In cold weather, suet attracts birds whose natural food sources are depleted or hard to find beneath snow. You can make suet with generic, chunky peanut butter, corn meal, sunflower seeds, and other ingredients such as leftover oatmeal and grits. Sliced fruit and small servings of jam placed in dishes attract particular birds as well. Fresh water is an often-neglected but major attraction.

Finding Good Subjects


You do not need to go anywhere special to find birds. You can install a simple, open-air feeding platform outside a window to give yourself many photo opportunities. Any feeding platform will do, even a plate suspended from a plant hanger. With that approach, you go indoors, pre-focus on a clump of food on the outside platform, and then wait for traffic. For the best quality image, place your lens as close as possible to a clean windowpane. An inexpensive tripod makes the process much easier. Leave your flash turned off to avoid glare.

"Good to Have" Items


A sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release will help you forget about the camera and keep your full attention trained on the birds. Review your camera's user guide to learn which remote will work best. Most any SLR digital camera will be suitable if it enables you to pre-focus (so turn off the auto-focus!) and select a fast shutter speed to stop action. (But do not stop the action completely – motion adds to the interest!) A flash is helpful for reducing contrast in harsh sunlight. Unpleasant contrast occurs when there are deep, dark shadows adjacent to bright highlights. A flash fills in shadows and sharpens details. As you advance in birding, you may want to add additional lenses, particularly a medium zoom lens in the range of 80 to 200mm or greater.

Knowledge


Learning the basics about each species can help you devise strategies for attracting birds; i.e., planting flowers that attract hummingbirds, etc. I find the following books helpful in my particular geographic region: ''Eastern Birds'' published by Peterson Field Guides, ''Field Guide to the Birds of North America'' by National Geographic, and ''Birds of North America'' by the National Wildlife Federation.

Spend a few minutes each day with birds and soon you’ll be capturing great images. Happy birding!



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Comments
posted February 17th, 2011
Thank you for the great advice, this is one thing I wish I was better at! lol
posted February 17th, 2011
I thorouhly enjoyed reading this. Al your bird shots really are phenomenal, so thanks for sharing a few tips and tricks. I've found myself taking quite a few more bird shots lately because I have been consistently laying out bird seed. It must be all the sunflower seeds I've put out that keep attracting those beautiful cardinals! I still havnt gotten as close to them as you have, but you inspire me to keep trying!
posted February 17th, 2011
This is a great article! I just recently took some photos of birds that I thought were OK for my first time trying it, but these tips will be helpful to improve my skills. Thanks!
posted February 17th, 2011
Wow! Thank you for this article.I have been "flying by the seat of my pants" with my bird photography. It is so great to get some helpful advice, tricks and tips. Thank you!!!
posted February 18th, 2011
@AshleyMiller @lauren211 @poggy1818 @daisy Thank you for your comments. Bird photography is so relaxing and fun that I just know you will love it! Hope to see some of your birds here at 365 soon!
posted February 18th, 2011
I totally took photos of birds today! Coincidence much?

posted February 18th, 2011
Al, Thank you for sharing your terrific bird shots and also explaining how you do it.
You are a wealth of information and also a terrific photographer. I enjoy you birds everyday.
posted February 18th, 2011
@stoksy WOW Tom!! I love that one!! What kind of bird is this?
posted February 18th, 2011
@maggie2 Thank you Margaret! Sharing is more than half the fun!
posted February 18th, 2011
Awesome article to go along with your awesome bird pictures. Congratulations!
posted February 18th, 2011
for our Australian avian friends, and Australian 365 bird-nerds like myself, I would like to add that sunflower seeds are a no-go in bird feeders. The saturated oils in sunflower seeds can cause illness in many of Australia's native birds. Now I am not saying they're not allowed, but a blend of seeds are better, try to keep the sunflowers to a minimum.

Having said that the Sunflowers in my garden attracted all sorts of parrots last year, but it was a one off annual event and not a prominent component of their diet.

Thank you Al for your tips and knowledge, this is a cool little article :)
posted February 19th, 2011
@dmortega @bobfoto Thanks for your comments!
posted February 19th, 2011
@oblateal It is a Noisy Myna, thanks :)
posted February 20th, 2011
How weird that today I took a photo of a bird, first time in a while. Good tips!
posted February 20th, 2011
Thanks Al I love your photo's, I love taking pictures of birds and get very frustrated when I've lined up a great shot and they fly away! You seem to have such a variety of lovely birds in your garden.Thank you
posted February 21st, 2011
Thank you Al! I now have some extra incentive to clean my windows! :)
posted February 23rd, 2011
@oblateal Question...do you think the presence of trees (or lack thereof) makes a difference with attracting birds? We have a new house in what was once a hay field, and have very few trees around. I've tried putting feeders out for birds, especially in our cold Iowa winters, but rarely had any visitors. It frustrates me to see all these magnificent bird photos all the while knowing that my bird opportunities are so limited. This is the only one I've actually been fortunate enough to capture (and that was after sitting still for well over an hour so that he's warm up to me.)



I have a few small trees planted, but they are still too small to be much of a drawing card for my winged friends.
posted February 24th, 2011
@dejongdd - cool question Deb and the answer is yes and no. It does depend on the specie of bird. In my garden at the moment, I have a few new species of birds that were displaced by a recent Cyclone. I know they will eventually find their was home to the rainforest but for now they have a safe refuge in my garden because of the trees that I do have. These birds will not grace my neighbours yard because they have dogs and an open yard and few trees.

I have no feeders in my garden (have thought about it) but I have still identified over 70 bird species in the 12 months of living here. Birds do take a long time to get used to feeders and bird-baths, and often will prefer the feeder or bath to be in a protected location, especially the smaller birds. Whereas a bigger bird will want a bit more space around the feeder.

I have seen a friend feed Whistling Kites and Kookaburras, and they seemed to prefer to fly in, grab some food and then fly out again.

And your hummingbird photo is gorgeous :)
posted February 24th, 2011
@dejongdd @bobfoto Deb and Jason -- You should still be able to attract birds if you offer food and water. Many birds prefer to feed on the ground or at mid-level feeding stations, and an old hay field may be a plus for attracting certain species that are difficult to attract otherwise, especially purple martins -- a great species to have because they love to eat mosquitoes. If I were you, I'd put up some gourds to attract them. Google them to find out more. I love your hummingbird shot! I'd say play the cards you're dealt by putting out even more hummer feeders. Good luck!
posted February 24th, 2011
@dejongdd PS - Deb, you should also be able to attract bluebirds, another beauty! They have very specific likes and dislikes about their house construction and the size of the hole, and as long as you provide the right conditions they should come. It sounds like your property may offer protection from some of the predators, so I'm sure you'll be able to have them flocking in soon. Providing lots of water is a good idea.
posted February 26th, 2011
B
WOW Al! This is a fantastic article. Thank you so much for the information!
posted March 1st, 2011
Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to try it!
posted March 2nd, 2011
@captivision WOW! That's a GREAT shot!!
posted March 2nd, 2011
@jenrobcarr @nectarfizz @shutterbugmomma Thanks for commenting!
posted March 2nd, 2011
So excited I got my first bird picture today as I was doing recon in my yard about food and water. I was trying to decide where to set up and got this one. Can't wait to see what I will get in the days ahead. Also a bird reference book is now on my list because I'm always going to be wondering "What Kinda of Bird is that?" Anyway thanks for the wonderful info, and here is my first picture
posted March 4th, 2011
Thank you for the tips.
posted March 6th, 2011
Last week I took this one:

posted April 18th, 2011
@oblateal

Hi Al, I just came across this article. I have ordered a bluebird feeder that has a protective wire around it and some mealworms. Any advice on setting out mealworms? That Carolina Wren is still hanging around here. Will he eat them?
posted September 16th, 2011
This has been a very interesting article and discussion. I've never tried bird pictures before because I thought it was totally not possible for me to do. Now that I have a few ideas I might give it a try someday. Thanks everyone. I learn so much on 365!
posted May 3rd, 2012
Thanks for this great article, very informative.
posted October 5th, 2012
Thank you Al. I just purchased a bird feeder in hopes of working on my bird shots. You have some great advice hear. Thanks for posting!
posted January 31st, 2013
So concisely and clearly written -- thanks! I learned tips galore -- "prefocus and turn off auto-focus" -- that solves a lot of the problem I have, which is that the focus won't settle and let me take the photo before the bird moves or disappears.

THANKS! Can't wait to try it out.

posted October 30th, 2013
This is a great article! When I first started 365, I started noticing the birds of my world, which really is sad (I'm 48), but I love that over almost one year I can identify birds by their songs and their markings (not always, but much better than before). I have only used one feeder over the year, which is the hummingbird feeder, so most of my bird shots are from those foraging in my back yard for food and for nest building materials. What I have learned is that patience is key. I also have to "stalk" carefully and sit in an area for long periods of time. I don't mind it at all because I can enjoy a cuppa outside while the birds make their way through my trees, bushes, flowers, and just about everywhere. The reason I don't feed my birds is because my yard has so much to offer--and I get to learn their natural habits. I've even thought about removing some trees, but now I'm against it knowing how much the birds rely on the food/shelter that is part of their habitat!

I love that this year has turned me into a birder. It's been one of the greatest joys!
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