Taking pictures through windows is a great way to capture wildlife with your camera; a veteran photojournalist offers tips to help get you started
George H. Harrison
IT'S NO SECRET that photographing wildlife can be difficult and require an enormous amount of patience. But when you can do it from the comfort of your home, on your own schedule, it also can be a lot of fun. You don't need expensive, complicated equipment. Even point-and-shoot cameras produce excellent images. Following are some ideas to get you pointed in the right direction:
Eliminating reflections: To help reduce reflections from the glass, darken the room as much as possible where your equipment is set up. The auto-focus capabilities of the camera should not be affected by the window; the camera will focus through the glass on the subject outside as it should. If you use a flash, place it against or as close to the window as possible to eliminate any bounce-back reflection.
Avoiding glass problems: Most, if not all, modern home windows are made of high-quality glass. Even thermopane (double-glazed) windows, with gas between the panes, provide high-quality visibility. Storm windows may cause problems because the space between the inside glass and outside window is greater than it is in thermopanes. So it's best to remove the outer storm window before attempting photography. Tinted-glass windows also may present problems; they may not be the best choices for your photography.
Keeping steady: To eliminate any camera motion, which is the greatest cause of out-of-focus images, use a tripod or other stabilizing device to keep the camera from moving when you click the shutter. Tripods work well against windows, because you can lean the camera forward until the lens is touching the glass.
Using the house as a blind: Perhaps the greatest advantage to shooting through windows is that you are inside, warm or cool depending on the season, and less visible to the wildlife. Birds become accustomed to seeing movement inside the house and eventually pay no attention to a photographer. They also will get used to seeing the camera beside a window if you leave it in place for an extended period.
Bringing the subject up close: You don't need a long telephoto lens to take close-up pictures. You can get the same effect if you position a bird feeder, birdbath or birdhouse close to one of your windows. When doing so, consider where the sunlight will fall so you can get attractive, natural light on your subjects. Sunlight coming in from the side usually is good; light coming in from behind the subjects may require using a flash from inside to eliminate shadows.
Keeping settings natural: If you want photographs of birds in a natural setting, place a twig, branch or flower above or to the side of your feeders or birdbaths where the creatures will land naturally before moving in to feed or bathe.
Looking at backgrounds: Before taking a picture, look through the camera's viewfinder to make sure you're happy with the background that will be included in the scene.
The author of more than a dozen books on backyard wildlife, Field Editor George H. Harrison has been photographing wild animals around his home for four decades.