Tips to photograph wildlife in your woodland garden

Bridge camera can be best choice for garden photography

One of our neighbourhood foxes dropped in for its daily visit. It helped that I was armed with my camera on a monopod and my favourite lens.

One of our neighbourhood foxes dropped in for its daily visit. It helped that I was armed with my camera on a monopod and my favourite lens.

This fox image is an example of how the right environment created an opportunity to capture an image that presented itself.

It began with a decision to work on getting a good image of a hummingbird feeding at a native Cardinal flower, but ended hours later with a memorable image of a fox.

Let me explain.

The cardinal flower was at its prime and I knew that, if I wanted to use it to get an image of a hummingbird feeding, I needed to act swiftly. So I set the camera on a tripod, filled up my coffee and waited.

(If you are interested in exploring garden photography at a higher level, be sure to check out my comprehensive post on the Best camera and lens for Garden Photography.)

If you are looking for a new camera or lens, check out B&H Cameras & Video for a complete line of cameras and lenses.

And, if you are wondering how a point-and-shoot digital camera that’s more than 10 years old can perform in the garden, be sure to check out my post on the Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS.

The hummers came to the feeders surrounding the Cardinal flowers but only stopped at the flowers three times for a brief moment.

About three hours into the shoot, I noticed a fox standing by our shed looking my way. It was by no means stressed by my presence. In fact, it seemed perfectly happy to share the yard with me provided we stayed at a comfortable distance.

How often have you been in the yard and a great photographic opportunity presented itself to you? Too often, we are not prepared. Chances are, all we have is our smart phone by our side and the resulting image is nothing but a poor replica of a memorable moment.

But on this day I was in luck. The camera was already set up with my favourite 300mm F4.5 lens on a monopod.

I couldn’t ask for a better situation. Even our dog Holly had yet to notice the fox that trotted over to our three large water bowls and helped herself to a long drink.

A few quick bursts of photos from the 35mm DSLR camera and off she went. Like a ghost. There one moment … the next, gone. It was over as quickly as it began.

The lesson learned was simple: Be prepared.

Today, even if I just go out to enjoy my morning coffee, I always have a camera by my side ready for action. Sometimes it’s a simple “Travel camera” (read my travel camera review here) with a wide angle to short telephoto lens that is great for basic garden shots but will not likely get you close enough to most wildlife.

This Carolina Wren was photographed at a bird feeder with the Pentax X5 Bridge camera.

This Carolina Wren was photographed with the Pentax X5 Bridge camera that comes equipped with a super telephoto lens capable of shooting wide angle images as well as telephoto shots and even close-up macro type images.

Most likely, it is my versatile “Bridge camera” that allows me to shoot everything from long telephoto images of wildlife, including birds and butterflies, to sweeping wide-angle garden vistas, to macro shots of flowers and insects.

On this day, I happened to have my 300mm lens on the camera and ready to go, which made capturing the fox image possible.

A young fox poses in the garden when I reached for the Pentax "Bridge" camera, the impressive X5.

This young fox decided to pose for me for a minute giving me time to focus the Pentax X5 “Bridge” camera to capture the image. I needed to use the full zoom power of the X5 (500mm) to capture the image.

More recently, however, I have a “bridge camera” with me. I have used the camera for more than a year now and have come to appreciate its versatility, with its ability to go from extreme telephoto to wide angle and even a very usable macro mode.

Bridge cameras, which are offered by all the major camera manufacturers, can be the perfect camera choice for garden photographers looking for a single extremely versatile camera that is at home photographing garden vistas as it is birds and other wildlife. Add to that versatility the ability to get in close to flowers for macro photography and it’s hard to believe that everyone is not lining up to purchase one. These cameras can be described as mid-priced cameras situated between a simple point-and-shoot and a more serious 35mm SLR with a complete line of lenses. Bridge cameras look like a typical digital single lens reflex (DSLR), but without the interchangeable lenses.

The bridge camera offers a built-in lens sporting a wide angle to long telephoto lens. The combination creates an easy-to-carry-around versatile camera that can deliver very good results with a little practise.

But they are not by any means perfect.

My bridge camera uses an electronic viewfinder in addition to the back LCD screen to view the image. The electronic viewfinder takes getting used to and falls far short of a optical viewfinder found in traditional DSLRs. To add to the difficulty of using the Bridge camera is a significant “shutter lag” meaning an excessive amount of time between when you press the button to take the image and the time it is actually taken. This shutter lag can mean the difference between getting the shot and missing it entirely.

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In addition, because most of these cameras are so dependent on electronic viewfinders and the electronic zooming of the lens, some of these cameras tend to exhaust your batteries quickly, especially if you use the large back LCD screen as your primary viewer or to check your images regularly. My camera uses regular AAA batteries, which can be convenient when you are travelling, but compared to rechargeable batteries, can also be expensive to use. The other issue I have with the Pentax (which is no longer available) is the fact I cannot easily add filters to the front of the lens. This may not be a problem for most photographs, unless of course, you need to use a polarizing filter to remove glare from leaves or a pond.

Like most Bridge cameras, the Pentax X-5 bridge camera that I am using came with a very long 26X telephoto lens (the equivalent zoom for traditional 35mm cameras of about 22-580mm.) Most bridge cameras come equipped with a lens that provides the photographer with both a solid wide angle lens as well as a super-long telephoto lens.

Two chickadees feeding at Q&A feeder

This image taken with the Bridge Camera is an example of the type of images that are possible just sitting in the backyard waiting for the right opportunity.


Bridge cameras like my Pentax X-5 also come equipped with an impressive macro feature making it the perfect camera to carry with me into the garden for casual macro shots. For more serious macro photography, I will mount a 50mm or 100mm dedicated macro lens on a 35mm SLR camera.

Being prepared, having the right tools at hand and, of course, some luck on your side can mean the difference between getting the shot and missing it.

Even seeing wildlife, let alone getting good photos of them, depends on a lot of factors going your way.

Luck certainly plays a role in any shot, but I like to think that it plays a smaller role than most people think.


A macro image of a clematis taken by the Pentax Bridge camera the X5, on macro mode. This shows the versatility of the camera and its lens that is able to go from long telephoto (see above image of the Fox) to extreme macro without changing the lens.


Being out in the yard for more than four hours patiently waiting for the hummingbirds to cooperate creates the opportunity to be successful. Still, I was unsuccessful getting that shot of the hummingbird. Instead, I had to “settle” for the fox shot.

I like to think you create your own luck.

Setting out large water bowls meant to provide local wildlife with a fresh water source helped create that opportunity for the photograph.

Creating a natural garden, providing a source of natural food and moving water in the form of bubbling rocks and fountains, not using pesticides, having woodpiles … these all provide the right environment to getting the photograph, or the opportunity to observe the wildlife that call our property home.

PopPhoto website lists their favourite Bridge Cameras in this informative article starting with the best overall camera going to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV, the Canon PowerShot SX70 HS as the best Wildlife camera and the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 as the best budget camera.

It doesn’t have to be a fox. It could have been a bird, a butterfly a reptile, or even a photograph of a beautiful tree or grouping of flowers.

The day before this shot was taken, I was trying to capture some photographs of birds enjoying my new solar-powered fountain, when a little chipmunk decided to hang out with me for a while. So I got “lucky” and was able to get some great shots of the chipmunk too.

Getting lucky is really about creating the right environment to get photographic opportunities and then taking advantage of these opportunities.

It’s the same in your everyday life. Put yourself in the best environment to succeed and chances are you will.

Getting up early, spending time in our gardens, getting up close and intimate with flowers. These all create the opportunities to be successful.

I’ll be out again soon working on getting the shot of the hummingbird at the cardinal flower. Maybe I’ll get “lucky” and the hummer will cooperate this time.

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Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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