Jim Rose
Jim Rose

Some of the events Jim has covered for Canon include Superbowls, Olympic Games, Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and Formula One auto races in Japan and the United States.

Backyard Bird Photography Tips

June 09, 2015

Photo by Jim Rose


The pictures I have seen people take in the their backyard have always fascinated me. Almost any backyard can turn into a limitless amount of opportunities for flower and macro photography or more. Recently, I moved into a new house that has a back door with a window facing the yard -- perfect for bird photography. So, off I went to the local pet store and purchased some wild bird food, spread it around where I wanted my subject to be and set up my camera and lens.

The equipment I used was a DSLR with a telephoto zoom lens. Any lens in the 200-400mm range will work, but the new EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II would be ideal. In my case, I used an EOS 7D Mark II with a combination of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM and the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lenses.

Photo by Jim Rose


Preparation is key to this type of photography. Everything happens incredibly fast, so make sure you have your camera settings preset. Birds can come and go in just a split second, so if you have to mount your camera on the tripod and then adjust the camera settings, you will probably miss the shot. Having the camera ready, on tripod in the shooting position, will also help because your movement when setting up your camera and tripod will not cause the birds to fly away. If your EOS DSLR (except for Rebels) camera has “Camera User Settings,” have one set for action photography and you will be ready almost instantly. Here are my recommended camera user settings. Remember, these are only starting points. You may have to adjust these settings based on your own situation.

  • Aperture priority starting at f/5.6
  • ISO 400
  • Picture Style set to “Landscape”
  • White balance set to Automatic (AWB)
  • Evaluative metering
  • Drive set to “High Speed Continuous”
  • Auto focus set to AI Servo AF
Photo by Jim Rose


Photo by Jim Rose


Birds are extremely quick, so a fast shutter speed is a must. Stay at a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 to stop the action. Make sure your camera drive setting is on “High Speed Continuous” because the birds will be eating the food for just a few moments. Having the fast drive will help you get that perfect shot (please refer to your camera instruction manual if you need help setting “High Speed Continuous” on your camera).

One of the keys to making a great backyard shot is watching the background. Even though we are in the backyard, we should try to make the photograph look as natural as possible. Backgrounds that contain fences or other distracting elements can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Keep this in mind when you put out the bird food so as to position the birds for the best possible picture. Also, as with any portrait, make sure the eyes are in focus. Use a single focus point that allows you to have the composition you want. There is usually not enough time to focus and recompose.

One last tip: have patience. I have waited for the birds to come around for hours. Fortunately, my computer workstation is right next to the door so I can be working and waiting at the same time. So set yourself up and enjoy your favorite beverage and the bird will come to you. I guarantee it will be worth the wait.

Photo by Jim Rose


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