If you have a backyard, odds are that you also have animal visitors from time to time. Most urban backyards see their fair share of birds and squirrels. In more rural areas, backyards might even have deer, coyotes, raccoons, and bears come through from time to time.
Photographing wild animals from the comfort of my home is one of my favorite pastimes. I find it gratifying when I’m able to create a beautiful wildlife image on my property, especially knowing that a warm fireplace and a refreshing drink are just a few feet away.
Here are five tips for successful backyard wildlife photography.
Always have your camera ready to go with a lens mounted. I make a habit of leaving my telephoto lens & camera mounted on a tripod in my office, so all I need to do is grab the setup and start shooting. Backyard wildlife is often on the move, so you want to be able quickly get into position whenever an animal enters your yard. Rifling through your camera bag while trying to find your gear usually means missing the shot.
I’ve installed driveway alert sensors at a couple places on my property to indicate whenever something is moving outside. They are very inexpensive and are an easy way to have something always on the alert for wildlife. These sensors allow me to carry on with my life, but be alerted when something is happening outside. (Here’s a link to some driveway motion alert sensors at Amazon)
Shooting from inside of the home is a great way hide from wildlife. I recommend opening a window or door so you don’t shoot through the glass. You might need to remove a window screen so you can shoot through the open area.
Whenever I get lazy and photograph through a pane of glass, I find that I get “OK” photographs, but they just aren’t super sharp. Take the time to open the window. You’ll thank yourself later.
Your shots will look much better if you are able to photograph the animal at eye level. Whenever possible, get outside and lower your tripod legs so the camera is low to the ground. Shooting from this perspective will produce much more dramatic images. Also, a lower perspective has the added benefit of moving the background farther away so the animal pops from the scene.
Most of the wildlife you photograph in your backyard will be skittish. Since they’ll probably be moving around a lot, I suggest shooting at 1/500 second or higher. This will help freeze movement from turning heads, twitching eyes, and sudden movements. I you are having difficulty reaching 1/500 second because of low light, then increase your ISO to 3,200 or 6,400 (or higher) in order to get the shutter speed you are after.