Ok, let’s get into it!
I’ll be honest with you; I don’t photograph birds at tube feeders much anymore because all I have are finches and sparrows. BUT, tube feeders work well for capturing fluttering birds, and especially if you have a small space to work in. A good tube feeder can be purchased for about $10- $20 from most any hardware, farm supply, or department store. This technique works for small birds like House finches, Goldfinches, or any small bird that likes a tube feeder. You won’t normally see Cardinals or Blue Jays on a Tube feeder although I have seen one or two hanging off the feeder. But those Blackbirds, yikes!!
We need to set ourselves up for success so what we have to do is block off all feeding ports except one with duct tape or a similar product. Avoid using scotch tape because the birds will see the seeds and poke a hole right through the tape. Been there, done that!
What I mean is if the tube feeder has 4,5,6 feeding ports, we will only leave one available for our photo shoot. I’ll show you how I modify the feeder shortly.
The reason we block off all ports but one is to concentrate all the birds in one area (much like a traffic jam, and also the area we will focus our lens on) and increase the odds of seeing birds fluttering around the one open port.
We want birds fluttering and jockeying for position. These movements are how we create our final image. The final image will hopefully be a shot of a cool bird with wings fully down. My favorite shot. NOTE: I have 2 feeders, one with blocked ports for photography, and one with all ports open. Replace this photography feeder with one that has all ports open when you’re done shooting, otherwise you’ll be spending time taping and removing the tape, plus the feeder ports get sticky. And the birds will be happier.
Here is an example of what I mean by birds fluttering. This is your get – ready moment!!
Because the incoming birds have nowhere to land, (one feeder port, right?) they will flutter around the bird that is eating and try to butt in.
When I see other birds coming in, I start shooting. There is no exact time to shoot. We don’t want the incoming bird to land, that’s too late! Begin shooting as other birds start fluttering around. The idea is to take as many shots as we can in hopes of getting one or two in focus. Remember, we are using manual focus or back button focus.
Secret…where to focus?? You can place a pencil or stick in the feeder port and manually focus on that, then remove the object, or wait for a bird to land on the perch and focus on the bird. I prefer to wait for a bird. Make sure thou the bird is sitting straight on the perch and looking into the hole or has its head in the hole. This way when a new bird comes in, it will line itself up with the perch and the hole and you’ll be ready.
This is the shot! This Finch was fluttering around the feeder and I took as many shots as I could. Looking at this, would you think it was trying to get a spot at the feeder or simply flying through the yard? Hard to tell, right, and who cares? Not only will you get some great shots, but you’ll get a lot of great comments on social media also.
Below is a photo of the tube feeder you can easily modify.
When hanging the feeder, we want the sun to light the front or side of the bird, not its back. So, what you’ll have to do is hang the tube feeder in a way that gives you the best light. And that’s going to be in the morning or the evening as the sun rises and sets. Of course, if it’s overcast but bright, it won’t matter.
NOTE: It’s possible that the pole that the tube feeder hangs from will cast a shadow on the bird so be aware of that.
Something else as equally important is where to focus. Do not place the tube feeder in the middle of the frame because we don’t want to see any of the feeder in the final image, only a fluttering bird. This brings me to another point. You will have to do a bit of Photoshop or some other software to crop out or mask out any parts of the feeder if needed.
So, what we need to do is with the camera on a tripod, swing the lens to the side where the birds will congregate until the feeder is just barely visible. It should look like this.
You should see this when looking through your viewfinder. Or you can go a little bit more and have it completely out of the frame if you’re not into editing your images
- Modify a tube feeder
- Set up a background board if needed
- Remove competing feeders
- Use a modified feeder for your photo shoot and replace with a normal feeder when done
- Camera/lens mounted on a tripod
- Good lighting!
- Focus on the perch
- Shutter speed at least 1/2000/aperture 5.6 – 8/Auto ISO
- Keep the tube feeder out of the middle of the frame
- Use a cable release
- Wait for a bird to fly in or wait for birds that begin to flutter around as they jockey for the open port
- PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!