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Almost all of us have photographed birds through a window at one time or another to verify an identification, document a rare bird, or create a memory of a cool sighting. Unfortunately, images through the glass can be marred by glare and reflections or obscured by screens, dirt or moisture between the panes. And the autofocus can focus on the window itself, blurring the bird.
One of my best shots, of a Pileated Woodpecker with its long tongue fully extended, was taken through triple-glazed glass. The bird flew just minutes after the brand new window was installed, so the glass was spotless. But even the best photos taken through glass would almost always look better with the window open.
My dining room, family room, and home office serve as photo blinds, with easy-to-open windows overlooking feeders, birdbaths, and bird-attracting vegetation. Unfortunately, opening a window without a screen invites mosquitoes, wasps, and other insects into the house along with the warm or freezing outside air, so I only do this when I’m actively taking photos. Before opening the window, I pull the blind on the upper pane of my double-glazed window and close the blinds on the other windows in the room, turn off all the lights and close the doors to the rest of the house. The rare times a bird entered through a window when I photographed, it instantly turned its tail and left through the same open window, the only bright spot in the room.
There is no trick to taking pictures through an open window, but if the window is closed when a good bird appears, opening it may scare the bird away, and some windows won’t open not. Here are some tips for taking usable photos through glass:
- If you have a window ideal for birdwatching, keep the screen off except when you want to open the window for fresh air.
- Keep the window clean. Even the smallest speck of dirt, and sometimes the glass itself, can fool a camera’s autofocus.
- Hold the camera as close to the glass as possible to reduce the area of glass you are shooting through. Bringing your camera closer to the window beyond its minimum focus distance also makes it easier to focus on the bird.
- Whenever possible, shoot straight through the window rather than at an angle to minimize the effects of glass. Window screens still spoil photos, but the effect will be minimized if you shoot at right angles to the screen.
The principles of taking photos through a car window are similar, with a few additional considerations:
- Turn off the motor to prevent its vibrations from blurring your images.
- Photos through the side windows, even when closed, are consistently better than those taken through the curved windshield.
- To hold a long-lens camera steady from a car seat, mount your camera on a specially designed car window mount, rest the camera on an ottoman placed at the bottom of the window frame, or attach a short length of foam water pipe insulation or a pool noodle on top of the glass. The pipe insulation has a longitudinal slot that facilitates fixing to the window; you will need to cut a pool noodle yourself.
Ironically, windows that give us a splendid view of birds endanger the lives of those same birds. Double hung window screens are placed on the outside and make the window more visible to birds. In my home office, rather than removing the screen, I cut out a large chunk of it where it attaches to the frame and velcroed the edges to keep it closed when I’m not photograph no birds. Screens on crank windows do not protect birds since they are inside the glass. However, you can find other ways to protect birds at these and other windows on the American Bird Conservancy website.
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