Andy Hawthorne

Andy Hawthorne

Projects, photos and running

17 Jun 2020

Why Garden Birds Are Good for Your Photography

Reading time: 3 minute(s) - 600 words


Photographing the birds in your garden is a good way to keep your photography skills sharp. Here’s why…

Coronavirus lockdown has  made it hard to get out and about with your camera. But you can look no further than your back garden to find challenging subjects.

Garden birds flit about at random. The smaller ones are even more flighty. You get a nano-second to line up the shot and press the shutter release. Because they’ll be up and away before you know it.

Here’s why an hour spent photographing them will hone your skills.


Photographing wildlife in general means you need to work fast. Not bird is going to sit and wait for you. 

Your camera needs to be set right. That includes focussing. Even then, garden birds move fast. You’ll miss as many as you catch in pixels.


You better know your camera well if you are going to work fast. Trying to catch a small thing flitting about is hard enough. 

But not being sure about your exposure settings make it impossible. So know your exposure modes. Using shutter priority is a good idea. You’ll need fast shutter speeds to keep up with garden birds.


One thing you need to get good at is high speed focussing. If you are using auto-focus, how good is it? Does it get confused? Is it fast enough?

You’ll learn this about your camera when you start photographing garden birds.

You need to know when it’s right to switch to manual focus. And it’s good to know focus points around your garden. That way, you can almost point and shoot.


Learn about your camera’s sensitivity to light. DSLRs have sensors that can cope with huge ISO levels. 

That doesn’t mean you should be shooting at a high ISO setting. I try to keep mine as low as possible. Grain will ruin a photograph of a small garden bird. 

Learn where the dark spots are in your garden. Some birds hop about in the undergrowth. It’s dark in there, even on a sunny day.



It’s still important to think about subject placement. Sometimes you’ll be glad to catch the bird in your viewfinder at all. But composition still matters.

In the photo of the Robin above, the garage roof serves to focus your eye on the Robin. And the depth of field keeps background distractions out of the way.

The blurred leaves in the foreground in this shot of a Blackbird serve to suggest what the bird was looking at.

Some people might argue I should have cropped it out. But it adds depth to the photo.


There will be times when you have to trade-off detail. In the photo of the Blackbird, the grass is a little over-exposed. 

The reason for that is so I could bring out the details of the birds plumage. 

I also wanted to emphasise the brightness of the beak and eye. 

So there was a trade-off. But it works in the context of this photo.

Final points…

Having to work fast brings you closer to your camera. And that’s a good thing.

Photographing garden birds is challenging. But when you get a good one, it’s worth the effort.

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