The Backyard DIY Photography Blind and Habitat

by Mike Matenkosky | April 14, 2010

© Mike MatenkoskyA few years ago, I decided to set up a few bird feeders and a small blind in my backyard. I didn’t buy a “standard” blind because first off, I’m cheap. Second, and most importantly, both of my legs have been fused straight – no more bending – so I couldn’t fit inside most of those blinds. What to do? I used an old play house that my kids used to play in as a substitute. It worked, but I still had to sit sideways and shoot which was not very comfortable. I needed something larger.

My new blind had to be long enough and wide enough to sit down and rotate into position. I drew up a set of plans. I went out to the local hardware store and bought $20 worth of 3/4″ schedule 40 PVC pipe and a few fittings. I had an old tarp so I used it to cover the PVC framework using a few spring clamps from my old photography blind. Since I sit on the ground, I needed something comfortable to sit on. My old wheelchair cushion did the trick.

The Framework

Framework © Mike Matenkosky

I also wanted to add a small water feature to my habitat set-up. I was tired of using a clay pot as a bird bath and wanted something more realistic. So the next thing I had to do was decide where to dig for the pond. Since I still have two kids, I needed a place that was out of the way. I also wanted the sun to be at my back, and a place that offered some cover for the birds. We have a small Orange Tree in the back corner of the yard and beyond our back yard we have a row of large Juniper trees that made the ideal location.

I originally dug the pond around 2 feet by 4 feet and no more than 4 inches at the deepest point, but soon found out it was too small. I could see the other shore on some of the photos so I added another 2 feet each way, keeping the depth the same. Now I can shoot at one side and not see the other shore.

The Pond

Pond © Mike Matenkosky

To line the pond, I used a 3.5 mil plastic tarp to keep the water from seeping into the ground. I find that I have to re-fill the water every couple of days, so I think I may have a small leak or very thirsty birds. I may have to switch to a rubber liner at some point, but for now I’m fine with re-filling the pond as it keeps the water fresh anyway.

I also wanted a small waterfall. I found a Waterfall Kit from Zoo Med Laboratories at the local pet store. The kit comes with 12″ of plastic tubing, and elbow, and a small submersible pump powered by an extension cord. To make it look natural, I drove out to the foothills and found a bunch of rocks. I then put the rocks, small logs and branches around and in the pond.

The Waterfall

Waterfall © Mike Matenkosky

The Submersible Pump

Small pump © Mike Matenkosky

My backyard habitat is still a work in progress. I recently added a hummingbird feeder right by the pond since I’ve seen photos of hummingbirds bathing right under small backyard waterfalls. I also add or remove rocks, twigs and logs to suit the occasion.

If I can build my own backyard photography habitat, I’m sure you can too! I hope I’ve inspired you to build one for yourself that meets your own needs and shooting style. Have fun with it and happy shooting!

Inside the blind © Hannah Matenkosky

Me inside the blind. My 11-year-old daughter, Hannah Matenkosky, took this.

White-crowned sparrow © Mike Matenkosky

A White-crowned Sparrow Taking an Evening Bath

About the Author

Mike Matenkosky lives in Atwater, California with his wife Stacy and his two daughters, Hannah and Sarah. He's awestruck by the beauty of God’s Creation. From the smallest bird to the largest mountain; he loves it all, but his passion is landscape photography.

A few years ago, he began to experience joint pain in both of his knees. Unfortunately, his doctors were not able to repair his knees, and now, both have been permanently fused straight. This has prompted him to publish his first coffee table book called, “Along the Road A Photo-journal by Car, Wheelchair and Other Accessible Locations.”

You can view Mike's website at:

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