Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Take Better Winter Photos

This Article appeared in the December Issue of Birds and Blooms Magazine

As I get older, I find myself spending more time in the bathroom. No, this isn’t an article about men’s health. It’s just that I find my bathroom to be the perfect location for taking pictures of birds in the winter.

Cardinals, White-throated Sparrow and Junco near a feeder
Many people look at my photos and assume that I must be in an exotic location using a lens the size of a small car. In reality, I find that I take many of my best shots in my own backyard using 300mm and 400mm lenses. The real secret is to get the birds to come to you, and winter is the perfect season to make that happen. All you need is a camera, a birdfeeder, some old logs and a piece of cardboard.

Blue Jay on a stump in snow in front of a black background (garbage can)
The first thing to do is to find a spot in your yard, near the house that gets good light. A wonderful thing about winter photography is that the sun is low and offers nice conditions for much of the day. It is important to position yourself so that the sun comes from behind you. A location on the north side of the house may be ideal for taking advantage of the winter sun which tends to be in the southern part of the sky.

Pair of Cardinals in an Apple Tree waiting for their turn at the feeder
Next, place a feeder or two in this area, making sure that you can easily view them from a nearby window. The better you are about keeping your feeders supplied with food and the more varieties you offer, the more birds you will attract. To increase the number of birds at your feeder, make sure that there is cover nearby. An evergreen tree or pile of brush will help the birds feel safe from predators.

Carolina Wren in the snow near a feeder
Finally, get a piece of cardboard that will cover your window when it is open, cut a hole in it to shoot through and you’re ready to go! Take some practice shots and reposition your feeders as necessary. That’s all you need to do to make some nice pictures.

But wait! Anyone can take pictures of birds sitting on a feeder and you want your shots to look like they were taken by a pro. OK. Here’s the pro’s secret. Get a couple of old logs and branches – the older the better. Place them around the feeder at approximately the same height as the feeder. If one has an old knot hole, stuff it full of peanuts and you won’t be able to keep the birds away.

Red-bellied Woodpecker on a snow-covered branch near a feeder
Another great addition to your new “outdoor studio” is a garbage can. Turn it upside down and cover it with evergreen branches. Throw on some bird seed and wait for the snow to come. Better yet, build a snowman and put seed on his head.

Titmouse on a Snowman "feeder"
When your friends and family start complimenting your pictures, don’t tell them how you got them – remember, it’s a secret!
You can see thousands of my photos at http://www.stevebyland.com/  They are all available for sale as prints or licence. I have a section where you can find birds by species or hard-to-find vertical shots for your next magazine cover


  1. I especially love that last shot - don't think I've seen that one before. I've been meaning to do this but never gotten around to setting it up like you do -- so many missed opportunities!

    Well, I did take a hollowed out log and fashioned it into a nesting spot - maybe I'll have luck with that!

  2. Marty - Many thanks! I liked the last shot so much I moved it to the top