The 4 Essential Elements to a Great Bird Photo
I’m going to share with you 4 essential elements that will transform your images almost overnight. Once you learn and use these elements you will look at bird photography in a whole new way. In fact, you may actually take less photos because you’ll know if you can’t use these elements, then you shouldn’t be talking the photo.
The 4 elements are in no certain order, except the first one
- Background Separation
- Eye in Focus
- Rule of Thirds
Simple right? I promise you, once you learn and implement these 4 key elements in your bird photography, your images will change drastically. In fact, people may say,” Did you get a new camera”? LOL.
First things first! Before we get into gear, camera settings whatever.
Lighting can make or break your bird photos! In my opinion, the best times to photograph birds are early morning and late evening. The raking sunlight over the birds feathers really brings out the detail. I set my bird studio up so the bird is always looking into the light or flying into the light, avoiding dark shadows on the face.
Avoid shooting in mid-day with the bright Sun high overhead. The lighting is not flattering. Here’s a secret someone shared with me. When your shadow is taller than you, it’s time to begin shooting!
One other important note, I always try to get a shot with the Sun showing in the bird’s eye. In photography terms it’s called a “Catchlight”. This light brings the eye to life versus a completely black eye.
Admittedly, I don’t always do this because sometimes I just go out and shoot when I get the opportunity, it’s my therapy!
Learn to “see the light”. Use it to your advantage to create the best possible bird images you can. Birds have lots of detail, it’s our job when photographing them to show our viewers the detail. Photographing flying birds is easy when once you master the light and set yourself up for success. Don’t make it harder than it is.
In the image below, I set the prop up so the bird will face into the sunlight. That’s was easy right? You’ve won half the battle. Next you focus on the bird. Start shooting when you think it’s going to take off, when it takes off, you have a beautiful, well lit image of a bird in flight!
You can stop right now, go outside and try this, and I guarantee you will see instant improvements in your bird photos. It’s that easy.
Eye in Focus
The best lighting or cleanest background doesn’t mean anything if the bird’s eye is out of focus. I personally had to delete some awesome action shots because the bird’s eye was out of focus. It’s pretty devastating to have a really cool action shot and the bird’s head/eye are not in focus.
In the image below, the birds right wing is out of focus, but that’s okay because the eye is in sharp focus.
Almost every one of my images has a nice clean background. Why? Because I made it that way. If I can’t get the background the way I want it, I’ll move the feeder or prop to a nicer location.
The majority of the backgrounds in my images are trees and bushes across the street, and I use them to my advantage.
So, do this from now on. You can practice it on any object no matter what, even a soda can on a table. Look at the object, then the background. Is the background distracting or competing with the object? If so, move around left or right, up or down and find the best background.
Now you want to be cool doing this because if you’re like me, you’ll do it without realizing it and people will ask you what the hell are you looking at or are you okay?
Background choice is very important in a smaller yard more or if your lens doesn’t open up very far. For instance, if your lens can only open to f/8 or higher (more depth of field right?) you’re going to see a lot of detail in your backgrounds, so choose wisely. I normally shoot at 5.6 or 8 but I have a lot of room to shoot in. Heck you may even consider creating your own backgrounds, its pretty fun and easy to do but keep them simple.
Hers a few shots utilizing a nice clean background. See how the bird pops out of the photo? The bird is the subject, that’s all we want the viewer to see.
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a simple concept. In a nutshell all it means is to avoid, if possible, placing the bird dead in the middle of the image.
I always try to give my birds a space to fly into. This space helps to create a sense of motion or flight.
When using the rule of thirds, leave more empty space in front of the bird, not behind it.
It may not always be possible to use the rule of thirds, especially if you just nailed a nice shot of a fast flying bird but keep it in mind. I would not delete a killer image because it didn’t have enough empty space in front of it. As a matter of fact, on several occasions I have expanded the Canvas size in Photoshop and changed my crop.
If the bird is flying, give it some space to fly into.