Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What makes a Bird Photo interesting?

I saw this question asked today and thought this would make a nice hook for a short beginner article about bird photography. The following is a list of what I think are the most important things to try and include in your bird photography.

1) Eye contact... A good photo will have eye contact, be the sharpest part of the bird, and preferably have a "catchlight".

2) Try to have the bird facing or flying toward you. Wait for the bird to turn towards you before shooting if needed. The over the shoulder look is also a very pleasing photo as long as you have eye contact.

3) Avoid shooting at midday and instead use early mornings and late afternoons. The light at noon is harsh and rarely makes for a good photo. 

4) Use the rule of thirds when you crop your photo leaving more room in front of the bird so it has somewhere to walk or fly into.

5) Pay attention to what's behind the bird. Nothing ruins a bird photo quicker than square lines or a man-made object in the background. Even worse is some object growing out of the bird's head. 

6) Shoot the bird at eye level. It might mean getting wet or dirty to get that perfect shot, but it will be worth it when everyone is in awe after you post your photo online.

7) Is your photo telling a story? A shot of a Mallard maybe be OK, but the same photo with her ducklings is much more interesting. A Songbird singing or Eagle with a fish can also make for a great photo. (Showing movement or action in the photo will help make it more interesting. suggested by +Fred Brundick )

8) Depth of Field... Use the longest lens you own for two reasons. First it brings the bird closer to you without it flying away, and secondly it blurs the background and creates depth to the photo. Also use the lowest f stop that your lens will allow and still be sharp. 

9) Horizons... If you can see the horizon in the photo make sure it is level. It's very hard to get it perfect in camera, so it will have to fixed in Photoshop. Even 1 degree off can be very disturbing to the brain even if it isn't noticed by the viewer. There are exceptions of course, but if it is close to being horizontal... make it perfect.

10) Another important point to bird photography is to photograph the whole bird in most cases. A photo can be jarring to those who view it if the legs are clipped when the photo is made. Unless; of course, it is a portrait or a close up of the bird. If the bird is in the water I try to leave room in the frame for the part of the legs that are under water. If the bird is perched I try to leave room for the length of the tail if it is hidden. Added by +Mia McPherson 

Ignore any or all the above rules if you can get a shot of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. :-) In other words if the photo has such a great story or is a rare bird this trumps every other rule. 

This is just some of the things I believe make for a great photo. You might only get one or two of them in a photo, but sometimes that is enough. If you can cover all of this in a photo you will have a great photo.

Don't be afraid to post a photo online that you think is good. The feedback you will receive will help improve your bird photography. If you are posting to Google+ add the hashtag #PlsCritique to the photo. This is the ONLY time others should critique your shot and the replies you get will help a lot.

My hope is that others will post any points I have missed below in the comments.