Have you ever been disappointed when browsing through the bird photographs in your own portfolio? I was, in fact many times! Even today I get disappointed to see several of my own bird photographs and keep thinking why did I take that photograph in the first place?
In most cases, the reason for failure of not appealing bird photographs is the boring or distracting background.
Take a look at your portfolio again and see if the culprit is the background. You will be surprised, shocked, and probably start thinking why did I take this photograph? What was in my mind?
The reason is very simple. It’s our natural behaviour. We are accustomed seeing only what we want to see. Imagine a situation like this. You have your camera and a decent telephoto lens, when you see a magnificent bird like a Bald Eagle perching on a lone tree.
What do you do? You will most likely start capturing photographs in burst mode. Don’t you? We all do! The urge to capture the beauty, and the fear of losing that opportunity doesn’t allow us to think. Unless. . .
By following these very simple bird photography tips, and making a few changes before you press the shutter, you will be able to create bird photographs that stand out.
Your Background Makes the Picture
Remember that we see our world different than the Camera. We tend to see only what we want to see. Meaning, we are so tuned to looking at the world using filters. Our brain passes only the information which is very important to us filtering out all the unimportant things. So, we see only the bird and its beauty, but don’t see the background, or the distracting elements in the background.
But the camera doesn’t filter, it records everything that it sees.
No matter how beautiful the bird is, you have to make sure that the background is either clean, or interesting enough that it will complement the bird, which is your main subject of interest.
Use Your Legs
Do you use your legs when you are photographing? Does this question sound crazy? Think again. Once you get to see the bird, it is a common tendency to capture it immediately. In that urge to capture, you generally forget to move around.
In order to get a clean and appealing background you have to move around sometimes, or rather most of the time. But remember to move very slowly. Most of the time moving just few feet to the left, right, forward or backward will give wonderful results.
After all you are not a tripod!
Patience Always Pays Off
There is no substitute for patience when it comes to achieving anything worthwhile in your life. It is no different in the case of bird photography.
Why do we want to always move? Why can’t we sit in one place for several minutes to hours?
If you think deeper about it, you will understand that we are almost always restless. Also, we believe in the future or something that is non-existent. Learn to live in the present. Learn to embrace what is there in front of you. Rather than moving on in search of the next bird, spend time with the bird in front of you.
I would recommend you to spend hours to days in succession. You will fall in love with the bird and ultimately with nature. Patience is the key to making great photographs of any bird.
Use Depth of Field (DOF) to Your Advantage
Depth of Field plays a major role in making your bird photographs look beautiful. By using DOF you can either isolate the subject from its background by using shallow DOF, or give importance to both the bird and its background by using deep DOF.
If the background does not convey anything about bird’s habitat, then using larger apertures like f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 yields a pleasing bokeh in the background helping the bird to stand out in the frame.
Otherwise, including the habitat by using smaller apertures like f/8, f/11, etc., helps to narrate a story to the viewer.
Fill the Frame
If you go through the bird photographs across the net, you will find that the majority of bird photographs will have the bird filling the frame.
There are three main reasons for filling the frame with the bird:
- Most of the times, it’s all about the bird and its beauty. So, there is no reason why something else should be occupying the frame.
- The bird will be lost in the frame if it occupies only a part of the frame. Unless it is in its habitat, or there is a directional light illuminating it more than anything else in the frame.
- Filling the frame with the bird avoids any distractions in the background which is usually the case.
Remove Distractions in Post-Processing
This is a debatable topic for sure. Is it ethical or unethical? It depends really.
Are you sharing it only on social media sites? It shouldn’t bother you much. If you feel that removing distraction makes it a more pleasing image, it should be fine. However, it should not be overdone. Also, you should never do that if you are submitting your images to competitions or bird ID sites or any other place where it is not allowed.
You should always try to achieve a distraction free image in the field. But, that is not always possible. My suggestion is to remove only the distractions that are by no means possible to remove in the field. Things like a tiny branch running across the bird, bright elements like aluminum foils, papers, etc., could be removed as they don’t contribute to the final result.
Cropping is another way to remove distractions and recompose the scene. It is an essential tool for the bird photographer since it is not always possible to have the longest telephoto lens.
Keep the background clean and make the bird stand out in the frame
You will make excellent photographs by following the above simple tips on bird photography. Now go out and shoot. That’s the best tip I can give if you want to seriously improve you bird photography, enjoy!