How to Photograph Crows

A striking species with proud stature, jet black feathers that are iridescent only in bright sunlight, a strong beak, and a sharp croaking call – the crow is an easily recognisable bird and one that is steeped in symbolism and mysticism by both folklore and fairy tales alike.

Perhaps this historic fascination and portrayal is not only owing to their dark appearance, but also because of the knowing twinkle in the watchful eyes of these highly intelligent birds. Whether you see them as a messenger, a menacing omen, or just another garden bird, most of us probably see or hear crows everyday as we go about our lives.

In parks, forests, fields, beaches, and city centres, these scavengers can be found almost anywhere there’s food – and they’ve learnt that that’s normally where there’s people. Why waste time finding your own food when you can steal someone else’s scraps?

Over the last five years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time photographing crows in different parts of the UK and here I will be sharing my tips on how to create your own striking and unique photos of these birds.

What gear do you need?

Crows are wild animal,  and so for the best bet of getting a good image without disturbing them you should use a camera with a telephoto lens or zoom capability. That being said, in some areas where the crows are very used to humans you may be able to use a variety of different focal lengths and then the choice would be dependent on the photo you want to create and the gear at your disposal.

Almost all of my crow photos (and there’s a lot of them!) have been taken with a 100-400mm zoom lens. This versatile lens has allowed me to create a wide range of images.

Where to find crows

Crows can be found almost anywhere! If you live in an urban area, your local park would be a good place to start as the crows are likely to be more comfortable around humans and this will make your job of taking photos so much easier.

But always keep an eye and an ear out when you’re walking about as you can find crows in some unlikely places: a restaurant car park was one of my favourite places to photograph them locally to me. Look for them sitting on the tops of trees and buildings or searching for scraps on the ground, and listen out for their distinctive ‘cawing’.

If you live in more rural areas, fields and forests should both contain crows (especially recently ploughed fields), but more caution is likely to be needed when approaching these birds – remember it should always be the photographer’s goal not to disturb the species.

How to photograph crows

Once you’ve found crows, you need to decide how you want to photograph them. There are countless approaches you can take that will provide you with a diverse portfolio of images, but here I will talk through my three favourite approaches.

1. Portraits

When taking a front-lit portrait of a crow, it’s best to work in the hours closest to sunrise and sunset on a clear day. The soft, direct light will help show the details in the dark feathers and add a catchlight in the eye. These details will make your photo much more engaging.

Taking portraits of crows in brightly coloured surroundings can be a nice approach as it adds a good contrast between the bird and the environment, but be careful as exposing for the details in the crow may wash out the background as they are so dark.

Read more: How to Rescue Over and Underexposed Photos

2. Silhouettes

My favourite approach when photographing crows is to shoot silhouettes. This is achieved by positioning the bird so that it is lit from behind by a light source which casts the side you see into shadow. These birds are very striking and are distinctive in their shape alone, so silhouettes can make for some moody and intriguing photos.

Again, this is best done in the hours around sunrise and sunset for the best lighting. Crows will often sit in obvious and prominent places such as treetops, roofs, and street-lamps. This can make it much easier to approach from a distance and position the bird with the light source – be it the sun, the moon, or an artificial light. This can allow you to experiment with different compositions and settings to get the images you want.

3. Behaviour

Crows are social birds that display many interesting behaviours. In a group, look out for cawing crows and squabbling as they interact with each other. These behaviours can make for great photos.

Crows are also intelligent and, in seaside areas, many crows will collect shells and fly upwards before dropping them onto the beach below in an effort to break the shell and get the animal inside. They often repeat this process, so if you see one illustrating this behaviour be sure to get into position and you should get a few attempts.

Other tips for crow photography

Crows are opportunistic scavengers, and this means that they can easily be attracted to bait or any food left around – even rubbish bins! I’ve never actively baited an area to photograph crows, but I would often carry a handful of peanuts to attract them closer when photographing them in areas where they were used to humans.

If used responsibly, bait can be an effective way to get crows where you want them for your photograph – and if they get the food and you get the photo, then everyone’s a winner!

Always be mindful of the area you’re working in and look for ways to incorporate the environment into your photo for added interest. If you’re photographing crows in an urban area include aspects that will make this clear – like streetlights, cars and buildings as this will add to the story your image tells.

Read more: How to Take Creative Urban Wildlife Photos

In conclusion

The crow is an unmistakable, inquisitive and advantageous bird that can be found almost everywhere. This makes it an ideal species for wildlife photography. Try out the tips and tricks above with the addition of your own creative eye in your local area, and you too will be able to create some really interesting photos of these charismatic birds!

Visit Gideon's website

Gideon Knight is a 21-year-old wildlife photographer and marine biology graduate living in the United Kingdom. His photography focusses on the urban wildlife of the cities in which he has lived and he hopes his work will encourage people to appreciate the animals that share our modern world.

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