Nature Photography Tips     

Photographing Birds from your Car

OK, so you're asking yourself why on earth anyone would want to photograph nature from a car? That's a fair question - it's not the most romantic method of pursuing nature photography. But don't dismiss the notion so quickly. Shooting from your car is one of the easiest ways to make great bird photographs. Here's why and how...

Even with a big telephoto lens, making a reasonable-sized image of a bird is difficult at best. Most birds are extremely weary of humans (and with good reason). Approaching them on foot, lugging a camera system and tripod takes an incredible amount of knowledge, patience and commitment. The same is not always so with your car. In fact, birds are quite tolerant to the approach and presence of a vehicle, compared to a person on foot.


To begin photographing birds from your car, you're going to need some basic equipment (in addition to a car). A window mount for your camera is the staple of this gear. Several companies make these including Manfrotto, Kirk Enterprises, and Leonard Lee Rue. I use the Kirk - it's rock solid and my ball head attaches to it easily. Instead of using a window mount, some photographers choose to set up their tripod in the front seat of the car, or rest their camera on a beanbag. I don't have room in my Honda to set up a tripod, nor believe that a beanbag provides a steady enough platform. 

The approach: 

You're driving and notice a bird you'd like to photograph perched near the road. If it caught your eye at the last minute, resist the urge to slam on the breaks. This is a sure-fire recipe for scaring the bird off. Rather, keep driving past the bird, and pull over a few hundred yards further. Decide which side you'll shoot from and get your gear set up - mount the camera, turn it on and have spare film set aside. Once you're ready to fire away, begin your approach. The key to success with your approach is to drive slowly, smoothly, and well onto the shoulder of the road. As you get close to the bird, coast in gently and turn off the ignition when you get to where you want to shoot from. If the bird is still perched - start photographing. If it flew away, keep on trying. I have about a 50% success rate with this method, which is pretty good for bird photography. With a bit of persistence, you'll be making great photos this way, too.      


Sedge Wren photographed from my car in
Bruce Peninsula National Park.

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