10 Common Bird Photography Mistakes and Their Solutions

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Do you commit mistakes in photography?

I bet you do. I have made mistakes. As a matter of fact I have committed many. But we all learn from our mistakes. What you don’t have to necessarily do is to re-invent the wheel. Instead of learning about these common mistakes the hard way, why not learn from other’s mistakes? That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Sandhill Crane Family Flying on a Beautiful Autumn Morning in Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Medaryville in northwestern Indiana. Every year around 10,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate to this location during Autumn. The calls of thousands of Sandhill Cranes that reaches several miles is an experience that is next to none. It is one of the best locations to photograph them as they fly past the Autumn trees at the Sunrise to feed in the close by farms.

Sandhill Crane Family Flying on a Beautiful Autumn Morning in Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Medaryville in northwestern Indiana. Every year around 10,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate to this location during autumn. The calls of thousands of Sandhill Cranes that reaches several miles is an experience that is next to none. It is one of the best locations to photograph them as they fly past the autumn trees at sunrise to feed in the nearby farms.

Here is the list of 10 common bird photography mistakes and their solutions. If you learn and apply these bird photography tips you would see the results immediately in your images.

#1 BAD EXPOSURE

This is the biggest mistake. A bad exposure would ruin the photograph. Most common is overexposed (blown-out) highlights.

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Overexposed – highlights blown out.

The issue is that your camera has much less dynamic range than your eyes. This means you can see the details in both brighter and darker regions of a scene, but the camera doesn’t.

You have to make a choice whether to keep the details in the brighter or the darker region. Your choice would almost always be to keep the details in the brighter region. Because our eyes are more sensitive to brighter areas (or highlights).

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Correctly exposed for the highlights.

In short – always expose for the highlights.

#2 BAD LIGHT

Photography is painting with light. If you underestimate the light, then you are bound to get bad photographs. It’s not an exaggeration to say most photographers seem to ignore it.

More the time is spent debating about equipment, than studying the light. No equipment can save your photograph if the light is not favorable. Look how boring this silhouette of an India peafowl is.

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Just before minutes, it was like this.

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Isn’t it evident? Learn to see the light. It’s all about light.

#3 BAD COMPOSITION

Bird photography is not demanding in terms of composition. Even so, a lot many bird photographers don’t seem to understand simple techniques. All that you need to know is the rule of thirds, the rule of spaces, and fill the frame composition techniques.

How many times have you seen a photograph like this? A subject in the center!

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Just by following the rule of thirds, this is what I got.

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Next time you are out in the field, remember to compose well.

  • Place the bird off-centered and give enough it breathing space.
  • Or, fill the frame with the bird.

That is as simple as it gets.

#4 BAD FOCUS

Blurry bird photos are everywhere. Birds are always active, making it harder to achieve sharp focus. But that doesn’t mean you don’t recognize it. If you rely heavily on your LCD monitor, this is what happens.

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Nothing seems to be wrong in this photograph, right?

Wrong. It’s a blurry photograph. Can you see the out of focus eye now?

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Fixing it is easy. Check for the critical focus by zooming in on your LCD monitor. If it’s not sharp, make the adjustments until you get the focus perfect. The initial focus was on the bird’s body. By shifting the focus point to the eye of the bird, I got this tack-sharp image.

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#5 WRONG POINT OF VIEW

How do you see your world? From your eye level…isn’t it? But, how does the bird see its world? You got the point. But more than 90% of the bird photographers do not seem to understand this simple concept. They shoot from their eye level. Can you believe that?

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If you are doing it too…stop it right now. It’s not your portrait but the bird’s.

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Get down and shoot from a bird’s point of view, and see the magic unfold.

#6 WRONG HEAD ANGLE

Your eyes follow the lead. You will follow the line of sight of a bird. If the bird looks left, your eye will move in that direction and vice versa. If your eye is lead in an interesting way, then your image works.

What doesn’t work is when the bird looks away. It’s not uncommon to see such photographs everywhere on the web.

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Wait for the right head angle. Take photograph when bird is actively looking for its prey. Or, when it is sensing an impending danger.

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With just the right head angle, the image became more interesting. The Great Egret is actively searching for its prey. The head angle is diagonally inclined adding dynamism to the photograph.

#7 WRONG BACKGROUND

Do you care for the background? Most often bird photographers just don’t care about anything other than the bird. Why? Are you saying because it’s a bird photograph after all! Do you know it’s the background which makes the picture?

Okay, take a look at this bird photograph.

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That’s a fantastic action shot of two Indian Darters or Snakebirds fighting. But, is it amazing? Take a look at this one now.

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You see how beautiful the action is. It just couldn’t get better. Here’s the best bird photography tip I can give you – put more importance on background than the bird and you’ll make great bird photographs.

#8 BAD PROCESSING

Is post-processing good? There’s probably a hot debate around every corner about this topic. If you do post-process here’s what you shouldn’t do.

Here’s a simple and useful post-processing tip for bird photography. Don’t over process your image. Over sharpening and extreme noise reduction are typical mistakes of many bird photographers.

Rose-Ringed Parakeet displaying all its color in soft Sunlight in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. I sm so lucky to have been able to capture this beautiful parakeet. I love it!

This one has too much noise reduction

Rose-Ringed Parakeet displaying all its color in soft Sunlight in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. I sm so lucky to have been able to capture this beautiful parakeet. I love it!

This one is over sharpened.

It destroys your image. It makes it either look like a wax statue or a wired toy.

Take it easy. Keep your processing to a minimal. Just do enough processing to bring back the details and colors in the bird. Reduce noise only in the background. Sharpen only the bird with just enough to bring out detail.

Rose-Ringed Parakeet displaying all its color in soft Sunlight in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. I sm so lucky to have been able to capture this beautiful parakeet. I love it!

Rose-Ringed Parakeet displaying all its color in soft Sunlight in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. I sm so lucky to have been able to capture this beautiful parakeet. I love it!

#9 WRONG PLACE

Do you know that location really matters? In fact, it can make or break your image. It’s a very important bird photography tip to remember. If you end up photographing a species in a wrong place, then you’ll end up with bad results.

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Find the right location where there are enough birds, good light, good feeding ground, and a good background. Assuming that you know important bird photography tips, you’ll most certainly make the best bird photographs.

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#10 WRONG EXPECTATIONS

Not many photographers talk about this. But here’s the thing: If you think that a professional or experienced bird photographer goes to a place, points their expensive gear at the birds, and take home loads of amazing photographs, then you are wrong.

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This is far from the truth. The truth is they are the ones who go to the place before anyone. Stay there until there’s no light. Come back to the same place again, and again, and again until they get what they want.

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My friend, it’s not magic. It’s bird photography. Everyone needs to pay their due respect. Birds never differentiate.

CONCLUSION

Bird photography is fascinating.

Birds attract us like crazy. They make us forget about the world around us. But, you have to get over this. You have to see beyond the bird. You have to pay close attention to everything in the frame – the bird, the background, the placement, the light, exposure, etc.

It’s easy to be a bird photographer. Not that easy to be a good bird photographer.

These 10 bird photography tips should give you a fair idea of what makes a good bird photograph. Understand them. Practice them. Your bird photographs are bound to improve.

Let me know if you have any questions. I would love to answer them.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Prathap DK is a professional nature photographer and the founder of V-BLESSED Framework, A Powerful Learning Platform for Bird Photographers. V-BLESSED is the first ever framework developed to help bird photographers to learn in a systematic manner. It’s unlike any other course ever created for novice and amateur bird photographers. Download his FREE eBook, Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions, which has helped over 10,000 bird photographers to rapidly improve their skills.

  • Someone

    good points, but disagree on the point you make about magnifying on the LCD, and choosing the right focus point. Thing is that – as you mentioned yourself – birds are constantly moving. It takes far too long to do this, and in practice might not be that helpful when DOF is relatively thin. Small movements by the bird will render this nicely focused eye out of focus.

    Also slightly disagree with your take that the background is more important than the bird. Yes the background adds the magic touch, but a boring subject with a nice background will make a lesser image in my opinion than an interesting subject with a boring background.

  • Ivor Potter

    Good article on the whole but for point 1 I think the “overexposed” photograph is by far the better one – the bird is a little lost in the second version.

    Also and without taking away from the real point the “just by applying the rule of thirds” photo is a better photograph for many more reasons than simply applying the rule of thirds!

  • James P

    Really thoughtful article for DPS. I like your first image better for example # 7. Much better.

  • Thank you! James P. It’s possible. May be you are thinking from the habitat perspective?

  • Thank you! Ivor Potter. I am not sure on your point. The profile is not clearly visible in the first photograph! In case of silhouettes, that’s the key.
    I did not quite understand your second point. Would you rephrase it if possible?

  • Thank you! I completely agree with your point.

    I think I was not very clear. And I don’t suggest you to look at your LCD while photographing. But, if you think you are done, and about to move, that’s when you should check for sharpness. Do you really have it? If not, make adjustments.

    As per the background, I can understand your point. Here’s a simplified version of what I mean:

    Interesting subject + clumsy distracting background = not a pleasing result

    Interesting subject + beautiful/complementing background = pleasing result

    Boring subject + clumsy distracting background = definitely not a pleasing result

    Boring subject + beautiful/complementing background = pleasing result

    Though I have just used your words, I don’t want to term any bird as boring. As a bird photographer we all know that every bird is beautiful in its own respect. And if you couple it with fantastic light and composition, then you would get amazing results.

    You can apply these equations to any bird photograph and you will see they will hold good.

    Bird is the core subject in bird photography. That’s given. But, what makes it a beautiful photograph is light, composition, and the background. Which essentially mean, a beautiful bird may not necessarily yield a beautiful photograph.

    I know it’s too much information. But I thought it is useful 🙂

  • Ivor Potter

    Hi Prathap

    I agree that the profile is key to silhouettes – my point was not about the detail on the bird being lost but rather the shape of the bird being less obvious because it is against a darker background. The profile is indeed better on the second photo but only because the bird turned its head not because of the different exposure.

    On my second point I was agreeing that the second photograph is much more pleasing – but trying to make the point that there are factors other than the reframing that contribute to this. Most notable the quality of light which simply does not compare between the two images.

  • Harry Snapper

    Thanks for the detailed photo

  • Hi Ivor, I got what you mean.

  • adil

    beautiful pictures. But i dont think that we should always expose for highlights. What if you are making a high-key image of a backlit subject. Dont you think That some highlight clipping in the background is acceptable there.

  • YRaj

    One of the best articles I have read on photographing birds and actually, these are great guidelines for most photography.

  • Supriya Vaidya

    very nice and Elaborate article!

  • Very well put up, Prathap. All the points are clear and in detail. Loved the sets of images as well. Going good. 🙂

    Anshul Sukhwal
    Birds Photography

  • Thank you! Anshul Sukhwal.

  • Thank you! Supriya Vaidya.

  • Thank you! YRaj.

  • Thank you! Adil. You are right. For a high-key image, you might want to do that. Most importantly, you should know why are you overexposing the highlights.

  • Thank you! Harry Snapper.

  • Rodney Appleby

    A great article with lots of useful and practical tips as usual. If you are new to bird photography please learn by the suggestions given here.

    I was fortunate enough to go to India earlier this year and was amazed by the amount and variety of absolutely stunning bird life. If I ever go get to go back again I will take my 300 mm lens with.

    I am still in the learning phase but I have attached a few of my favorite bird photos (the B&W image was actually taken in India but turned out a little noisy).

  • LMH

    I’m new to your site and fairly new to bird photography. All the tips will be helpful, but especially the one on focusing. I’m using a Nikon 5500 with an 18-270mm lens and was always a bit surprised that the images when cropped and enlarged seemed a tad out of focus … not I know why. Thanks much

  • Tomara Miller

    Thank you!! While I don’t normally photograph birds you’re comparison photos were very informative! It makes it so much easier to learn what to do when I see “right” and “wrong” examples.

  • Erika Swafford

    I love all the tips you shared! The one about how to focus clearly was very useful. Birds are tricky to photograph. I’ll keep these tips in mind the next time I head out with my camera.

    Love, love, love the photo of the India peafowl against the sun!

  • Virginia Coleman

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  • Jim Singler

    Great article. One of the best I’ve seen on DPS in a long time. Thanks for sharing.

  • James P

    The graphic and visual energy of the birds is more powerful to me.

  • We’re glad you liked it Jim, thanks for reading.

  • Haytham Mohamed Aljaili
  • Lalramdinmawia Chinzah

    Wow, great article, I really appreciate it. I’m just a little confused about point #7, though. Can you go a little deeper on what’s wrong with the first photograph and what’s right with the second one? Thanks.

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