Skip to main content

Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Lesson 11 of 14

Perch Options - Pygmy Nuthatch

Ben Knoot

Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Ben Knoot

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

11. Perch Options - Pygmy Nuthatch


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:00:25
2 Location Scouting Duration:12:54
3 Gear Duration:07:43
4 Camera Settings Duration:05:54
6 Composition Duration:01:51

Lesson Info

Perch Options - Pygmy Nuthatch

We're coming to the sapsucker nest from yesterday. When you come up to an active nest site, I would highly recommend you go nice and slow. That way, in case the adult is around, you don't spook it off. Also, the less noise you make coming into it, the less they'll fear that object that's still there, so if you come into it really slow and you kinda park a little ways away, chances are you're not gonna scare them off to the side of that vehicle, so that's good. So I've parked just about 30 feet back from the nest, and what we're gonna do is I'm just gonna get out and listen and look around, and if I see 'em, then we'll position ourselves for the nest. There's some other birds around as well. Get out, take a little wander, bring the speaker, bring the binoculars, and we'll give it a go. There's some pygmy nuthatches that are calling. They're usually fairly responsive, so we can try to bring those in. I haven't seen or heard the red-naped sapsucker, so we're just gonna go for the nuthatch...

es at the moment. If I hear the sapsucker though, 'cause that's my main target, I'll break off from the nuthatches and go for that. But for now, I think we'll just give the nuthatches a call. So the first thing you wanna do is find a spot that you wanna put them. The pygmy nuthatch is a small bird, it's got kinda this slate-blue back with kind of a beigeish, creamish-colored chest, so I think he'll look really good on one of these burnt tree trunks. Again, they're a small bird, so they like the smaller branches and the smaller trunks, so I'm not gonna put 'em on a big tree. I'm gonna find something smaller. Kinda something actually like that on the ground over there. They really like those kind of piles of sticks and wood, so I think I'm gonna give that one a go over there. There's a couple different options here, but I'm not honestly very pleased with any of 'em, so that's okay. So you just gotta find something else that works for you. And what I'm seeing, actually, there's some pink flowers over here to my right, and those actually might look pretty good, but I don't want this bird backlit, just because it's a very compact and round bird. It's not gonna look super great backlit, in my opinion, so I want something with the sun behind me here, so I think what I'm gonna do, there's a old tree trunk just to the right of me here with some of that burnt wood that I was looking for, and also, it's gonna have the sun behind it. Yeah, I'm gonna be shooting with the sun behind me, and I'm gonna shoot this way. So I think I'm gonna try to put him over there. It might be a bit large tree for him, but I think it's gonna be a better perching. Pygmy nuthatches are a speaker bird, sometimes, so they'll come right to the speaker. I want him kind of on this section here, and then I'll shoot this way with the sun at my back. Again, pointing your shadow at the bird as best as you can. So I'm gonna be about, maybe about here, but I see that there is this stick right in front of me here. I want the bird to land here, and I'm gonna use the background over there. So what's gonna happen with a shallow depth of field, is this is gonna be a blurry stick going right in front of my subject, which I don't want, and since this is a fallen down tree and there's broken limbs all over the place, I'll simply just snap that off. That still looks perfectly natural, whereas if you do that on a perch that you're setting up in the middle of a field, that's gonna look completely weird. Now that I've got my speaker set, I'm gonna get into the position where, again, my shadow is pointed relatively at the bird and the subject and get a nice background. So it's gonna be about here, and then I'm gonna go ahead and see if this guy will respond. And again, we're looking for pygmy nuthatch here. (bird chirping) Pygmy nuthatches are usually high up in the trees in groups, so you wanna keep an eye up for little tiny birds flying towards you. (birds chirping) Okay, I hear them responding, so that's good. He's in the area. So I just gotta bring him down now. (birds chirping) So if you can hear that in the background there, that's their response. And they like the call that I'm playing, so I'm just gonna keep goin' with that one. Okay, so I see them flying, so they're coming over. Here he comes. And he's directly in this tree. So now this part is a little tricky if you're by yourself. I usually flip my tripod foot up. That way I have a little easier grip, and what I kinda have to do is play, and then hold with just a few fingers, but it's really easy with this camera, just 'cause it's super light, but this is kinda the strategy here. (chuckles) And it's tricky, 'cause you have to pause when they come down. (bird chirping) You don't want this playing when they're right in front of it, then they get really freaked out. Okay. Bird's in the area. (camera shutter clicking) Awesome. Okay, that was pretty good. It wasn't the perch that we wanted him on, though, so we're gonna keep trying. (birds chirping) Okay. So he's back over here. So again, with this bird, because it's got that kind of buffy, pale breast, and we're looking, we've got him in some good light. Need to underexpose just a little bit. Okay, he's hopping up towards our perch. Here he comes. (camera shutter clicking) Come on, you're almost there, there he is. So right now, the perch that he's on has that problem that I was talking about with the first one. Because I have a branch coming towards me, my depth of field is too shallow to capture that branch and him, so I got that branch that he was on, that first part of it is gonna be way out of focus. You can determine now if you want, there's a whole group of 'em, these birds, in my experience, are fine with playback. They usually just come in as a group, so in my opinion, for these guys, you can keep playing 'em until you get the shot that you want, as long as you're not doing it for like, hours. But I'm gonna give him a couple more here, 'cause I really want him on that perch right above the speaker. Just keep an eye on your subjects. Like I said, if they start flying away while you're calling, it means they're done. That's when you stop. But if they're still interested, you can keep going for these guys. (birds chirping) They don't have a nest nearby or anything like that, so these ones are okay. One thing you may have to do, 'cause I've noticed they've started getting a little less interested, is just change up the call. It doesn't confuse 'em, but they might think there's another bird down there, rather than the first one. So, okay, we've got one over here on our left. Come on. So this is just a patience game, really, you gotta just, wait, okay, he's comin' in. Okay, so we'll stop it there. Come on, hop up, hop up. (camera shutter clicking) Again, he's on that branch that has the depth of field problem. So if you notice that they really like a branch, if you want, what you can do, is you can actually just manipulate that branch. It might not be the one that you wanted them on, but you can always make yourself, or, sorry, you can always make that branch a better option, but unfortunately, that one's just at a way that I can't see a way to get good light and a good background on it, so I'll have to just pass on that and just keep trying on my perch here. There's a pretty good one here making it's way up, ooh, two on one shot, nice. So now, in that instinct, you may think you need to up your depth of field, your F-stop, but you actually don't, because they're on the same plane, they're on the same plane of focus. Two things can be away from each other, but if they're parallel, or they're on the same focal plane, you can use the same F-stop, that won't affect the focus. So for those two, because they were so close plane-wise, it was fine, f/5.6 was fine. So that was pretty good. Now that they're gone, there's actually a western wood pewee, the bird that I was trying to call earlier, who's just over there, so I'm actually gonna see if he's gonna respond. That's often the case when you call in different birds that make a lot of noise, like nuthatches, they'll attract other birds, so again, keep an eye out for other opportunities. They're always coming in. I've had tanagers come in to pygmy owl calls. Actually, a lot comes in to pygmy owl calls, because they mob the bird. But just to normal bird calls, western wood pewees come in, tanagers will come in, hummingbirds even will come in to regular calls. That pewee's actually just making his way over, and has just landed nicely right there. Keep your camera on. (camera shutter clicking) Pretty good, I'd like to see if I can get that pewee a little closer, so I'm gonna give him a call. (bird chirping) Just a couple of notes here, see if he's interested. I didn't get a great shot of that pewee, so I'd like to see if he can come back in here. Yeah, he's all the way over there, so we'll let him go. But, yeah, that was a good nuthatch shoot. So, yeah, nuthatches have left. I'm gonna stop calling 'em, I'm not gonna bring 'em back in, but that was a good, successful shoot. One thing that I would recommend after a shoot is resetting your camera to kinda some basic, standard settings, something like, you know, ISO 500, neutral compensation, for sure, definitely move that to zero, and then F-stop, again, I would just leave that wide open for the most part. And then you should be ready for your next shoot.

Class Description


  • Learn the habitat and behaviors of a variety of birds
  • How to make the best light choices based off your subject
  • Turn the ordinary into the extraordinary using color, shadows, and symmetry
  • Fast post-processing techniques to take your images to the highest level


Make the most of your wildlife adventures with Ben Knoot in this beginners guide to bird Photography course. Ben Knoot has a background in environmental policy and education as well as a keen eye and love for birds. He has honed his skill into becoming a professional photographer guiding tours around the world to help enthusiasts understand their cameras and their subjects. In this course- Ben will walk through the importance of researching and understanding your subject and the habitat they dwell in. He’ll discuss how to interact and engage a variety of birds so you have a stronger opportunity to capture them while out. He’ll walk through camera fundamentals, how to set your camera, think about composition and work with a variety of lighting. Ben will even talk through his switch to an Olympus mirrorless camera to help improve his ability to make and craft the artistic images he does.


  • Bird Enthusiasts
  • Beginner Photographers
  • Wildlife Photographers


Adobe Lightroom CC 2019




Ben is a 23-year-old nature photographer originally from California. Before graduating in 2018, he studied Environmental Policy and Environmental Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham Washington State. Ben now leads educational and instructive photography tours and workshops for Tropical Birding Tours; Ben’s goal while guiding is to provide a memorable, exciting and successful experience so that other people can enjoy photographing earths beauty as much as he does. Ben has been published by several organizations including, Natures Best Photography, Audubon, Ranger Rick, NANPA, Wildlife Photo Magazine, and the BBC. His deep love and passion for nature has guided and will continue to guide the way he chooses to live his life, with a sense of wonder and curiosity of all things new and exciting.



I liked this class. It gives beginners a great place to start photographing birds. I especially liked his lesson on post-processing. Too many classes skip that part. The use of bird calls is what it is. To be competitive in bird photography you probably have to use them. I personally won't; it's just not worth it to me. So nice to see a young person active in this field!

Colleen Church

This class is wonderful. Ben give you some very helpful information to starting your photo birding adventures. The apps he suggested are very helpful. The tips for scouting and what to look get you going. I will definitely be watching it again.

a Creativelive Student

I really enjoyed this course. The instructor doesn't beat around the bush. He gives you useful information that you can implement. I especially loved that he talks about apps on your phone that could be used to make your experience more fruitful. The only thing I didn't like was the advertisement for Olympus, but you can just skip that part.