Bird photography with a Raspberry Pi and a DSLR

Tricky things, birds. Even when you’ve got yourself sorted out with boxes and feeders to entice them into your garden, it can be very difficult to get a decent photograph – they don’t stay still for long, especially if they see you coming (and it is amazing just how adept birds are at spotting the slightest movement – the sort of movement you might make to operate the zoom lens on your camera, for example), and many feeding birds will only visit the table for a few seconds at a time, even if you’re well hidden.

Enter Adrian Bevan and his Raspberry Pi.

Adrian had built a shutter release for his Canon1000D SLR, and decided to extend his new knowledge by making a DIY remote release. He’s been activating it manually, but has also made instructions available for using it with a motion detector (Adrian’s currently using a webcam and a second Pi for this part of the kit), so that the SLR can fire automatically when the Pi it is attached to senses that there was a bird on the table using information streamed from the outdoor Pi.

Your best bet here is to set the camera up in continuous shooting mode so that it’ll take several shots over a few seconds once your target has been spotted. Adrian has put exhaustive instructions on making your own setup on his blog, complete with circuit diagrams and code, alongside some video of the shutter in action.

Speaking of birds, I was, sadly, nowhere near a camera when a sparrowhawk dropped out of the sky to disembowel a blue tit on my front lawn this morning. Rotten shame, that. Oh – and if anybody has any tips on how to stop my bird-feeders being reliably emptied within ten minutes of filling by a horde of marauding starlings, I’m all ears.

Adrian has used that old Pi hackers’ standby, Tupperware, to house the webcam, battery pack and associated Pi in a waterproof environment. Securely housing your DSLR outside in a way that means it won’t get wet but can still take pictures is, obviously, a bit trickier; his is, I think, set up indoors, pointing out of a window, with a whacking great zoom lens attached to the front. If you’ve any ideas on how to set up and leave a good camera outdoors without it getting wet or stolen, please let us know in the comments!