Wildlife Photography from the Car

Wildlife Photography from the Car

Photographing brambling

Using the car as a hide can be a quick and efficient way to get close to wildlife with minimum disturbance.  I used this method recently to photograph brambling Fringilla montifringilla and other woodland birds in Cumbria, northern England.

Arriving at a new location I tend to do some research online and scan any available books that I have for the area and the potential wildlife it might hold.  Starting with some of the closest woodlands and reserves identified through my research I set out on a drive with binoculars and camera in hand.

Talkin Tarn Country Park

I visited Talkin Tarn Country Park to check out the lake for birdlife and any potential rarities that had been recorded in previous winters.  The Talkin Tarn (tarn meaning lake – had to look this up) is surrounded by farmland on most sides and broadleaved woodland along the northern section.  The tarn is regularly used for water sports activities and I found that all birds except for the very tame ducks tended to stay in the middle of the lake.  After a walk around the tarn, I found that my interest landed instead on the woodland birds in the parking lot!

Feeding woodland birds

Large boulders line the woodland at the northwest end of the parking lot and the place was teeming with birdlife.  It turns out that someone was regularly putting out bird food on the boulders attracting woodland birds such as blue tit, coal tit, great tit, robin, blackbird and chaffinch.  Though one bird caught my interest, in particular, the brambling.

The brambling which looks kind of like an orange chaffinch spends its winter in the UK and though not particularly rare, it’s a bird that I only see occasionally in Scotland.  Naturally, I wanted some images for my portfolio.

Check out the YouTube video here!

Car Hide

As the boulders were perfectly placed next to the parking lot I decided that the best way to take photos would be from the car.  I approached with the car to take some test shots and decided to come back with some essential gear.

The next day I came back with a camo scrim, bean bag and some tools to make a YouTube video out of the session.

As you may have seen in the video, I got lucky as the lady that feeds the birds came around just as I had decided to go buy some bird food, as there was a serious lack of activity and barely any feed left.  After the nuts and seeds were out it didn’t take long until I had my first arrivals.

Brambling (male)
Chaffinch (female)

Chaffinch (male)

Blue tit

First I got a couple of coal tits feeding near me, but they were quickly scared off by the larger great tit.  Followed by blue tit, blackbird, chaffinch and a welcome visit by a nuthatch.

I got a few good captures of the main bird I was here to photograph, the brambling and although I really liked the reddish soft background of dead leaves, all my images were starting to look very similar.

Moving the car further down the road I found that there were branches in between two of the boulders that the birds would often land on before feeding.

Here I could get some more natural looking photos of birds on branches.

Photographing birds in a natural environment

Capturing the birds on the branches was definitely more challenging than when they were feeding on the boulder.  There were many branches to choose from and often they would only land for a brief second before moving on.


Blue tit
Brambling (male)
Coal tit

I think, however, that the results were much more pleasing when I got a good image of a bird on a branch.  It looks more natural and the backgrounds and twigs would vary so I got much more varied images.

Great tit

After a few hours of photographing and watching the birds come in to feed I started to notice some interesting behaviours.  Some of the species seemed to have favourite branches they would land on before going for the feed on the rocks.

The great tit would always land briefly on a small bramble twig.  I was never fast enough to turn my camera on it, but when I saw that it came back, again and again, I prefocused on the branch and waited for it to come back.

All in all, I really enjoyed using the car as a hide to photograph birds.  I was able to get really close views with minimum disturbance to the birds.  Though probably not suitable for all situations as I often want to get closer to the ground for a good perspective.  I’ll definitely experiment to find other subjects that might be good to photograph from the car.

Please let me know in the comments if you have experience of photographing wildlife from the car.

Check out another video I did from the Isle of Mull while photographing from the car below!


  1. Kath Sheridan

    Wonderful article and video, Espen. Here in Oregon and Washington State, there are numerous wildlife refuges where you can shoot from the car. It’s such a luxury being warm and dry, isn’t it? I drive a full size van so I have easy access to all of my camera gear, food and drink, and even a porta-potty for when I stay out all day! Sometimes I shoot from the open van side doors on a tripod when I stay in one place for a while.

    Good luck with your shooting and thanks for all the videos!

    • Espen Helland

      Thank you Kath, and apologies for a delayed reply. Your setup sounds ideal! I’m hoping to one day have a van to travel around for photography 🙂 Oregon is high up on my wish list of places to go, heard so many good things about it and I really loved Seattle when I was there a few years ago 🙂

      Thanks for watching 🙂

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