How to Take Bad Bird Photos

Today I’m going to explain how to take bad bird photographs. I’ve had years of experience doing just that, so I consider myself an expert. After reviewing various online photo galleries, it seems that anyone can take very nice bird photos but it takes a master to create truly horrible images.

(If, to see a particular point, you need a larger version of an image, simply click on it.)

DingDarlingNWR-FL_LAH_7329Photograph birds when the light is bad. A thick overcast steals the color from your subject, turning everything into a silhouette. In addition, the low light means that you have to use a high ISO to keep your shutter speed and depth of field at suitable levels. As a result, your photos will be “noisy”—the digital equivalent of grainy. Dark, drab, speckled photos of birds won’t impress anyone.

DingDarlingNWR-FL_LAH_7123Amputate part of the bird. Zoom in closely when the bird is sitting. That way you’ll automatically cut off the wings when the bird launches into the air. To make even worse pictures, set your in-camera focus point near the edge of your frame. That way, when you take your picture you’ll exclude the feet or, even better, the head.

Snowy Egret_MerrittIsland-FL_LAH_3296Everyone photographs birds facing the camera. You can be different! Take your photos of birds facing away. Even better, get them flying away! The best way to photograph birds from this angle is to get nice and close to your subject. If they don’t turn and leave, get even closer. Soon you will have an entire portfolio of retreating tails.

Don’t just pick a single subject for your photo. Try to take a picture of all the birds at the same time. Just think of all the disk space you’ll save. This technique also eliminates the need to take multiple shots to capture multiple birds. Another advantage is that it’s nearly impossible to get all the birds in focus at the same time. Voila—a truly bad photo (on left). A corollary to this point is to pick one subject, but be careful not to isolate it.

no subjectWait until the bird is looking away (left, below). Who needs to see the face? Or shoot while the bird is preening the side away from the camera, giving it a startling “headless” look. Photos taken anytime the subject is contorted in some bizarre position are bound to be awkward, to say the least.

turned away and flying outCompose your shot so that the bird is flying out of the picture, rather than into it (right, above). Leave a lot of space behind the tail so you can imagine where the bird has been.

Black Skimmers_MerrittIslandNWR-FL_LAH_4400-001Focus on the beak, or wings, or any part of the bird except the eye. This is particularly effective with big birds or in low light (where you have a wide-open aperture with minimum depth of field. Even better, focus on the branch behind the bird, guaranteeing a blurry subject. In this portrait shot of a Black Skimmer, notice that the sand behind the bird is tack sharp.

Make sure the bird you are photographing is buried in a tangle of twigs and leaves, hopefully obscuring all field marks. You don’t usually get a clear view in the field, so why should your photo be any different?

obscure and underTake your shot from under the bird, looking straight up (above, right). We all need more practice identifying birds from underneath, since that’s often the angle we see them from.

MerrittIslandNWR-FL_LAH_3536Take your photo from far away. You won’t have to consider such annoying details as shutter speed, depth of field, or ISO. No one will question your ID, since they can barely see the bird. Just think of all the money you’ll save, not having to buy an expensive telephoto lens. As a bonus, you don’t have to worry about all the above points, since the bird is just a speck in your picture.

Purple Gallinule_SharkValley-EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_5866 In this shot, you can see how I have combined various elements into one photo. The bird is facing away, it’s buried in the foliage, and I’ve even included a bright, distracting object.

With some practice, you too can excel at making bad bird photos!

One thought on “How to Take Bad Bird Photos

  1. You call these bad bird photos?! Remind me never to show you my “good” ones! (That said, I excel at the “focus on a nearby object like a branch” technique.)

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