Wildlife in Watercolour

The Devon Artist

How to Photograph Wildlife Close Up

Paul Hopkinson taking bird photos at Slimbridge wetlands

I’ve always really wanted to take my own photographs of wildlife to use for reference photos for my paintings. But how to photograph wildlife close up on a budget, that was the question? Unfortunately, I am rather constrained by time, so I cannot currently justify a good camera with a decent zoom lens! I simply wouldn’t have the opportunities to use it. I think I need extra hours in the day, then I could choose to be a photographer and a painter.😉
Occasionally, however, I do get the time. This is what I do and how I built up to this way of taking photos without breaking the bank.

Juvenile robin photographed by Paul Hopkinson
Juvenile Robin

I am really fortunate to have some fantastic photographers who allow me to use their amazing photographs for my paintings. However, being able to take my own photo and create a painting from it is just a really nice thing to do.
A few years ago I therefore decided to buy myself a bridge camera at around the £250 mark. I went for a Fuji FinePix HS20 *  with a cracking little zoom. OK, on an overcast and dull day, it simply won’t compare to a professional camera. But it does take some cracking close-ups, and I just choose a nice day for taking my wildlife photos! 📸

Nuthatch photographed by Paul Hopkinson

So I got to thinking….what else do I need to take some decent photos? A tripod and a portable bird hide. Well, a tripod wasn’t a problem and not too expensive, but the bird hide was another matter. Well, let’s just say a purpose made popup bird hide was sooo expensive, so what else could I use? Well……..here goes…..

Most simple homemade bird hide
Bird Hide - Mark I
Mark I

Now I had the ideal kit, including my first ever bird hide set up in the garden. I know you are thinking, ‘that’s a clothes drying rack and an old bedspread!’ Well, yes it is, but beggars can’t be choosers! I simply set up the clothes rack in the garden, draped the old cover over the top and cut a few camera holes into it. I even had cushions.🤣 I sat behind with my camera and tripod and got some really nice photos of our garden birds!

Take close up bird photos from a homemade bird hide
Male Bullfinch
Mark II

The Mark II featured seating, more head room, some waterproof trousers, some pegs and even a bit of ‘carpet’!!

Cheap and easy homemade bird hide
Bird Hide - Mark II
Home made bird hide
Bird Hide - Mark III
Mark III

But then came the Mark III. Made with a garden cane framework and a bespoke cover made by Jo on the sewing machine. The Mark III featured various window slots. These were covered when not in use with net curtaining. (How posh!) The whole thing was easier to set up, taller, and very nice to sit inside. I even made a little table for my cup of coffee and biscuit!

Ringed bird photographed in the garden from a homemade bird hide
So close to the birds, I could later make out the ring details on this Goldfinch
Mark IV

But then of course came the inevitable Mark IV. Now this final bird hide was actually bought, are you ready for this, are you sure………..it’s a portaloo tent! *   Yes, it really is. This is tall and ideal to fit a chair and tripod inside, and it’s even in a camouflage material! Unlike purpose made bird hides, this retails at a lot less and folds up into a small, lightweight bag.

Cheap portable bird hide
Bird Hide - Mark IV

You had better not be giggling to yourself! Remember, it works, and it goes to show you don’t need much to be able to take some nice photos of your garden birds. Just using your mobile phone through a tent hole (moving your hand very slowly) will get some nice photos too. I hope this little insight into how to photograph wildlife close up on a budget is helpful. Do let me know how you get on, I would love to know.

Robin photographed by Paul Hopkinson
Good enough for a painting……
Original robin paint from a Paul Hopkinson photo
You bet!

So if you take photos of birds or wildlife, do you have a homemade hide you can tuck yourself inside?

Until my next blog, bye for now,
Paul 🤓


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10 Responses

  1. Great blog…really enjoyed it…I have tried taking pictures of so many birds and I get right to where I need to be to take the picture and they fly off…we have many games of hide and seek…my favorite one is the Red Winged Black Bird and I think I will try harder this year to get some good shots of him!!

  2. I’m interested to see that you have a bridge camera. I’ve got a Nikon coolpix B700 which is a bridge camera, but it won’t bridge! I’ve tried many many times, following all the instructions, but no joy. However, it’s a lovely camera with a brilliant zoom lens and I love using it for bird pics. My son has a hide which I’m going to borrow this spring.

    1. I feel I answered this question recently Sue, but I can’t quite remember where. I must be going daft or something.
      A bridge camera is really the type of camera that is in between the usually point and shoot, pop in your pocket palm camera and the professional very expensive cameras. So for me a £250 bridge camera ‘bridges’ the gap between the two types and gives you the large body size of the expensive cameras and some of the settings (certainly not all) for a much cheaper price.
      I do find that dull light is not my friend though, after all the sensor in a bridge camera doesn’t compare to the qualities of the expensive camera sensors, where they can take cracking photos in very dull settings.
      However all said a good weathered day, nice and bright and the photos are really good. 🙂

  3. Oh that cracked me up. It’s amazing what you can come up with when needs must. Such a brilliant idea Paul. Superb photos. I’ve heard the term “bridge camera” before but wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I have a Panasonic Lumix TZ15 which I play around with but haven’t read the booklet or used all of the settings. It serves my purpose. Many of the garden birds are English species brought over with the settlers in the 1850s such as Blackbirds, Sparrows, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Thrushes and Starlings. I think they tried with Bluetits and Robins but unfortunately they didn’t survive. The Blackbirds seem a bit more “bolshi” and thuglike over here. Guess they have to put up with more extremes and harsh weather. It may be imagination but their faces don’t seem so gentle as English ones.

    1. Hi Carol, firstly thank you for coming along to my blog! I never thought that you would have some of the same birds over there. As you say though with the hotter environment they much have different competition over there.
      The bridge camera is simply a way of saying bridging the gap between the usual pocket affordable cameras say in UK pounds up to £300 and the more professional SLR cameras for a couple of thousand and much more! So the bridge camera is the idea between the two prices and has a similar size body of one of the DSLR cameras, not the pocket type. All said it’s got a great zoom but when the weather is dull that’s where the expensive cameras come into effect. 🙂

      1. Hi Paul, thank you for your quick reply. Think you should be in bed by now as we’re twelve hours ahead of you until our clocks change next month.
        I’m not sure what catagory my camera falls into. My late husband bought it over seven years ago and I just “fiddle”. The zoom is good when needed and is great to have when wandering along the river Maitai watching the Pied Shags and other cormorants. Once I saw the seal which had come up and was sunbathing on the rocks. It’s very interesting as it’s where the river joins the sea.
        The weather here is amazing and blindingly bright and stable each done. We’ll have a shock when the normal rains come.

  4. Great minds think a like. My husband and I wanted to take photos of our garden birds. He built a quick frame and I used some cheap camouflage material to make the cover. We also made different types of perches from interesting materials so that every photo wasn’t of the same set up. Looked strange but it was great fun. I now have a picture in my mind of the two setups next to each other. You could pass coffee cups and have talking ‘tents’

    1. Hi Floss, yes I’ve watched a few YouTube videos where people have made a variety and inventive bird perches for photography, I will have to do that one day when I get a bit more time. As you say it must be great fun to do. 🙂

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