Published on February 25, 2020

An Introduction to Digiscoping

Digiscope image of a Greater White-fronted Goose in Sheffield
Greater White-fronted Goose (digiscope)

Digiscoping is a great and popular way to capture a fleeting nature moment without a fancy camera or a lens the size of your arm! It's a technique widely used by birders to capture a rare bird before it flies away.

This is a digiscope photo of a Greater White-fronted Goose that was seen in Sheffield in January. It was taken using a smartphone camera aimed through the lens of a spotting scope.

Greater White-fronted Geese are a rare sighting in Berkshire County, so getting a quick photo to document and share it with other birders was important!

3 Tips to Help You Catch that Bird

With a little practice, you can achieve some awesome photos—all you need is a smartphone camera and binoculars (or a spotting scope). 

Find the Moon

With your camera function turned on, use the screen of your smart phone to find the eyepiece of the optic. From further away you will see a bright spot in the eyepiece which will look almost like the moon. When you find this "moon," slowly move your phone closer to the optic until the image becomes clear and fills your screen.

Zoom Out

Digiscope image of a Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier (digiscope)

Be sure to have your phone's camera zoomed-out all the way to 1x zoom. If you're using a spotting scope, keep the spotting scope on the lowest power before focusing and then attempting to digiscope. Once the image is stable and clear, you can zoom-in with your phone's camera. Zooming in with the spotting scope can also give you better magnification, but it's much more difficult to steady.

Keep Still

The most difficult part about digiscoping is keeping your hands and the optics as still as possible. If using binoculars, find a tree or something to steady yourself upon. A spotting scope is perfect for this because it is already on a tripod. You can also make digiscoping a lot easy with a mounted attachment that holds your phone to the optic. This reduces the need to hold your phone, which makes digiscoping a lot easier!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Give digiscoping a try. Then try it again, and again, and again. Getting it right takes a lot of practice—particularly with binoculars—but it can be a lot of fun to see your improvement!

Once you get the hang of it, you can document those great nature moments that happen in just the blink of an eye. Plus, digiscoping can be extra helpful when you don't know what a plant or animal is and would like to ask someone for help.

Don't have your own scope or binoculars? You can borrow some from Pleasant Valley whenever you're taking a program or just visiting the sanctuary!