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Backgrounds Can Make or Break Bird Images

As a bird photographer, I always prefer to see birds perched or flying against colorful backgrounds that accentuate their beauty. As beautiful as birds are, in bird photography that almost amounts to nothing if one does not take into consideration that it is in the hands of the photographer to bring birds to life thru carefully crafted images. I say this because to most people birds are a distant moving or sitting subjects. Many photographers go into a shooting spree when they see a bird, often not taking into consideration about the background behind it. By virtue of considering and practicing the following concepts, your bird images can go from looking ordinary to spectacular.

1/160 sec F/8 ISO 800, Canon 5D Mark III, 600mm, 1.4X

1/160 sec F/8 ISO 800, Canon 5D Mark III, 600mm, 1.4X

Distracting objects in the background just look bad and draw focus away from the bird, essentially making it look ordinary.

Common Kingfisher

1/125 sec F/9 ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, 600mm, fill flash

Change Your Perspective – Look behind the bird and see if there is an area where there is a clean patch, this means that you may have to go lower, higher and move side to side to find a position so the perch is away from the distraction. Birds are a creature of habit and will often return to the same area, frame the image and wait. Always think about and look at the elements that will distract your audience away from the bird and eliminate them while framing the image. Both the images above are of the Common kingfisher, it is evident that the second image clearly makes the same bird look very attractive due to the clean green background

Coppersmith barbet

1/800 sec F/8 ISO 8000, Canon IDX, 600mm, 1.4X, fill flash

Get Creative With Depth of Field – Take into consideration that when using a telephoto lens, a large aperture will give you a shallow depth of field and throw the background out of focus. While a clean background is pleasing it can make your images look redundant and boring. It is ideal to use the DOF to your advantage and get creative. By closing down the aperture, essentially increasing the f-stop number you can introduce some amount of background with subtle and creative effect. A textured look with varied tones can be pleasing and can compliment the bird. By simply moving slightly to the left, I was able to bring in some tree branches in the distance, behind the Coppersmith barbet.

Sandhill crane. Bosque, New Mexico

1/1600 sec F/8 ISO 800, Canon IDX, 800mm

Avoid Blue Skies – Unless there is a spectacular aerial fight happening between some birds, generally avoid the friendly blue skies. It is much more appealing to show the bird in its habitat, it tells a story about the birds life and where it spends its time hunting or feeding. In the image above, I was tracking the Sandhill crane in the sky, as it was coming into land I waited till it was low enough so the background included the surroundings in which these birds are found, I then pressed the shutter.

In Conclusion – It is extremely important to keep in mind that when photographing birds, the background is just as important. The background complements the bird and accentuates its beauty as well as helps tell the story. Before you press the shutter next time, pay attention to the background and think how it will impact your bird images.


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 One Response 

  1. Debankur Lahiri

    I have recently stumbled across your website and watched it with awe. While reading through your blog postings I got concerned reading on your poor health conditions, but I hope you are doing better now given that you are still blogging. I sincerely wish that you continue your great work for many more years to come.
    I have been trying to improve on my photography and bird photography is where my heart lies. I say that because even if I want to do a lot more photography I seldom get any time. So for me it’s more of a struggle against my own time 🙂
    Wish you the best.

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