How To Photograph Woodpeckers – Video

July 16th, 2013 by Clay Cook

 In this second installment… from the setup to the snap of the shutter, Alan Murphy provides some handy tips on how to capture amazing imagery. This time, its all about the Woodpecker!



Hi, I’m Alan Murphy. I’m in a backyard in Kentucky, doing some woodpecker photography. I’d like to share with you my tips and tricks for getting some great images. We’re going to be going over where within your property do you set up. We’re going to talk about the backgrounds in relation to the sun angle. We’re going to be looking at how you choose the right perch and what foods to use to control the situation and attract the woodpeckers to come in. So come join me as I show you how to set this all up so that we can get some great images of woodpeckers.

An important part of good backyard bird photography is going to be the quality of your perch, so what we’re going to be looking for is something that has character, such as lichens, moss, mushrooms, fungi, or some interesting bark. These are typically found in some dark forest areas on the ground, usually in areas that have been flooded or have some moisture to them. We’re going to go find one now, so why don’t you come join me and we’ll go do that.

Okay. So I found a couple of perches that we’re going to bring out and take a closer look at, and I think these will work really well. All right. So I found a few different options here. We’ve got different diameter stumps. We’ve got this kind of medium diameter, which is going to be great for Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers, and you can see that there are a lot of moss and lichen growing on this one and lots of little nubs and little branches sticking out, so this is going to work out great. Now, we also have a larger diameter stump that has a lot of beautiful moss growing on it, and got these little ferns growing on here, and this is going to turn out to be a beautiful woodpecker stump. And, of course, then we have something completely different, that we have more of a bare branch, but this has a lot of lichens on it and some fungi, and this can also make a great perch.

What we’re going to do is, in order to bring the woodpeckers in, we want to control exactly where these woodpeckers are going to land, so we’re going to be drilling some holes in the sides of these so that we can put the food in there. We actually get to decide exactly where we want the woodpecker to land, just by deciding where we’re going to put the holes. For example here, if we want to use this lichen in the frame, and we want this little nub right here to be in the frame also, maybe we could drill a hole just on the side so it’s out of the frame, so we can fill it with suet, and that way the woodpecker will land right here as he’s feeding.

So before every woodpecker shoot, what I like to do is see what I can do to bring out the natural beauty and enhance the woodpecker perches. And in this case, I want to darken the lichen and saturate. One thing I do is I use a spray bottle, and I keep these on hand at all photo shoots. So I just want to spray down the branches so that this will saturate, and it’ll darken the white lichens, which will be better for exposure control, and also to just bring out the colors and richen everything up. It’ll look fantastic. I also do that for the moss, because I want to bring that out in its full glory, and this will add a lot of interest to your imagery.

All right. So now that we’ve chosen our perch, let’s take a closer look at it, and let’s see how we’re going to set this up. First of all, you can see that this has a lot of moss growing on it, a lot of potential, and pretty much a woodpecker anywhere on here is going to look good. But what we want to do is we want to control the woodpecker to actually be on the side of the frame here so that we have the full perspective of the woodpecker. Now, you notice I didn’t use a big, large stump, which fills up half the frame with the wood and half of the woodpecker. What I want to do is have the woodpecker, and then you’ve got the beautiful perch, and then you’ve got also some of the background in the frame, as well, and I think this is a more pleasing image.

What I’m looking at here is we’ve got some moss, we’ve got some little ferns growing, and I’m looking down here. We’ve got some nice interesting bark, and we’ve got these little ferns growing out, so I think a great location to have a woodpecker would be somewhere in between here. So how do we do that? Well, we’re going to drill a hole right in the side of this wood, and we’re going to put it out of the camera frame so you can’t see it, but enough just so that we can put some suet in there and get the woodpecker feeding on it. We can actually control exactly where the woodpecker’s head is going to be.

So for this, I’m going to be using a one-inch drill bit. This is a good size to use so that it’s small enough to hold the suet, where it’s going to stay in, but not too big to where the larger birds are going to get to it. Basically, when you’re drilling your hole, you don’t want to do this at a 90-degree angle. You want to drill down at a 45-degree angle. This will help keep any seed or suet in the hole and stop it from spilling out.

Now we finished drilling our holes, and we’ve got multiple locations for the woodpecker to land on, so the next step is to set this up in the location where we’re going to shoot. Now, we have a couple different options. If you’re shooting on a lawn or a grassy area like this, a great thing to do is to get a Christmas tree stand and just place that in the Christmas tree stand, and that way you can rotate the perch and twist it so that you get the best angle. You can also move it forwards and backwards, away, so that you can complete control. Also what’s nice about a Christmas tree stand is, when you’re shooting into the woods, you’re actually using your lawn or whatever ground you have as your background, and that typically will be in the same light as your woodpecker. But today, we’re going to be using the deck that you saw earlier in the video to set this up, so let’s go do that now.

For the woodpecker shoot I’m doing on this particular yard, we’re going to be using the deck, and there are different ways to secure our perches. As you can see here, we’ve got a couple of cinder blocks that we’ve placed them into, and this creates a lot of security. You can also use Christmas tree stands. The cinder blocks are working great. The other thing you want to do is secure it to the deck, and there are different ways to do that, obviously a bungee cord, or in this case we have some industrial zip ties. Just place it around the fence line and zip tie it up together, which I have done there, and that works really well.

I’ve got two perches that I’ve set up, one that’s about five inches in diameter, and this one which is about three, and this will look great with the smaller birds, and this one will look great with the larger woodpeckers. I drilled the holes into the sides, as we did earlier, and one thing I want to tell you is to make sure that you drill your holes very deep so that you can push the suet way back into the hole. That way the woodpecker can’t feed from the back. He’s got to come all the way around to the side to get into that food source. That way he’s going to place himself right here on the side, and that will work really well. Now, the reason I chose this location on the deck is because of these distant trees in the background, those beautiful green trees, and those will be out of focus and create a nice, out of focus green background.

Now, if you live in an area like this that you don’t get early morning sun or late evening sun, the best days to shoot are typically on overcast days, or cloudy days, and that will create a nice even blanket of light.

Now, in different parts of the country, you’ve got different woodpecker species, and depending on what time of year it is, you’re probably going to have different food sources, so you want to check your local birding hotlines and also any birdseed supplies that are in your area to find out what is the best suet for your particular area and those particular species.

So I think we’re all set. We’ve got our stumps set up now, and we’ve got a location. Everything’s drilled. We’ve got our suet in there. Now we’re going to get in the blind and take some pictures.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips and tricks on how to photograph woodpeckers. If you’d like some more information on other videos, e-books, or my workshops, please come visit me at Thanks for joining me.



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One Response to “How To Photograph Woodpeckers – Video”

  1. James Clark says:

    Alan………over the last couple of days I have been viewing your how-to videos……….I have enjoyed them very much……..Thanks for taking time to make these………I know it has taken you lots of time to study these creatures and to capture them in their natural surroundings……….Keep up the great work Thanks again..Jim Clark

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