Tim Boyer Photography

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Sanderling

My 5 Things to Make an Image Successful

Photography TipsTim Boyer2 Comments

Here's a short list of the five things I think have to be right for an image to be successful.

SHARPNESS

 The image has to be sharp.  If the subject is sharp and the background is blurred, that's okay, but sharpness really can't be fixed in post-processing, so it needs to be right in-camera when the image is created.  There are several ways to ensure you get a sharp image; check the shutter speed, use fill flash, use the professional newspaper photographer grip, use a tripod, with a big lens press down on the lens with your left hand to dampen vibrations, etc.  For bird photographers, if the eye is sharp, then the rest of the bird can be out of focus.  People connect with the eye!  On the flip side, if the image is supposed to be blurry, it needs to be blurry enough, so the blur is obviously intentional.

The eye is sharp and so ar ethe facial feathers on this immature Bald Eagle on the Washington Coast.
The eye is sharp and so ar ethe facial feathers on this immature Bald Eagle on the Washington Coast.
The near Sandhill Crnaes eye is sharp enough so the rest of the blurred bird doesn't matter.
The near Sandhill Crnaes eye is sharp enough so the rest of the blurred bird doesn't matter.

LIGHT

The quality of light and the direction of light make a huge difference between a successful image and one that's just so-so.  The quality of light means shoot at dawn or sunset when the sun angle in the sky is low.  This enhances the yellow or golden tones in the light and thus makes the image warmer.  For the angle of light ask yourself, where is the light coming from.  Is it in front of you, sideways to you or behind you.  The basic formula for bird photography is the light should come from behind you.  Front -lighting works best for bird photography, but Backlighting makes great silhouettes, and Side-lighting which works great for human portraits doesn't seem to works as well for birds but can work if the light isn't too harsh.  If you shoot before the sun is on the subject, like the Peregrine Falcon below, you might need to adjust the White Balance of the image, shooting in Auto White Balance will work most of the time, though.

Front-lighting on a Black Phoebe.
Front-lighting on a Black Phoebe.
Difused-lighting - before the sun is fully up.
Difused-lighting - before the sun is fully up.
Back-lighting on a Bald Eagle getting mobbed by a Red-einged Blackbird.
Back-lighting on a Bald Eagle getting mobbed by a Red-einged Blackbird.
Side-lighting that does work with this Peregrine Falcon.
Side-lighting that does work with this Peregrine Falcon.
Harsh side-lighting that doens't work.
Harsh side-lighting that doens't work.

BORDERS, EDGES & BACKGROUNDS

 When you're looking in the viewfinder, look at the background.  Is there a branch, light pole, building, Eiffel Tower or anything else coming out of the subjects head?  Does the horizon cut the subject into two pieces or is it at the neck and make it look like the head is getting cut off?  Then as you look through the viewfinder, take a quick glance around the edges of the viewfinder to see if there is something protruding into the frame that shouldn't.  A branch, building, another bird etc.

Nice blurred background, no distracting bright sticks etc.
Nice blurred background, no distracting bright sticks etc.
Cluttered background, bright stick coming out of the Gree-tailed Towhees head.
Cluttered background, bright stick coming out of the Gree-tailed Towhees head.
A Western Sandpoper sneeking into the frame of the Sanderling on the beach.
A Western Sandpoper sneeking into the frame of the Sanderling on the beach.

EXPOSURE

Why is Exposure fourth?  Well, to a degree (within a few stops of light) you can fix Exposure in post processing. But, start by reviewing your Histogram and exposing the image to the right when you're shooting.  If you can get even some data into the far right sections of the Histogram the image will be close to an accurate exposure.  The Histograms in the Canon cameras I use had five sections to the Histogram.  I always try to expose the image so some data reaches halfway into the fifth section.  It's very easy then to make any adjustments with the Blacks, Whites, Shadow and Highlights Sliders in LightRoom to finish the image and get an accurate exposure.

LightRoom Histogram showing expsoue to the right, and get data in the last section or box of the camera or LightRoom Histogram.
LightRoom Histogram showing expsoue to the right, and get data in the last section or box of the camera or LightRoom Histogram.

COMPOSITION

Try to create the composition of the image in-camera while you're shooting.  Yes, you can always crop to fine-tune the composition later in post-processing but the closer the image is to the final composition in-camera the more pixels you'll save for later use (like printing), or the less time you'll need to process the image.  The biggest thing to avoid is the DSLR classic image of a centered subject.  By using the Rule of Thirds, or placing small subjects in one of the corners the image will be better.  That said, sometimes dead center is where you want or need the subject and the horizon or the bird can be centered horizontally or vertically and the image still works. The Rule of Thirds is really, "The Suggested Default of Thirds" encase you can't decide what else to do with the composition.  It doesn't hurt to explore compositional ideas in-camera while you're in the field!

Centered Western Sandpiper. Avoid this by putting the bird in the corner or cropping to the Rule of Thirds.
Centered Western Sandpiper. Avoid this by putting the bird in the corner or cropping to the Rule of Thirds.
The Western Sandpiper is at the intersection of the left top crossing point of the Rule of Thirds.
The Western Sandpiper is at the intersection of the left top crossing point of the Rule of Thirds.

I hope this helps you create better images.

Enjoy!   Thanks   Tim

Bird Quest 2014 #12

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Shorebird migration continues on the Washington Coast.  This past week -- Wednesday and Thursday there was great weather on the Washington Coast and while there were fewer birds than a week ago, there are still thousands and thousands of shorebirds out there.  

California Gull hanging out in some good Washington Coastal weather.
California Gull hanging out in some good Washington Coastal weather.

I use the car as a photo blind a lot, and this works really well for gulls at the beach since they're used to a lot of vehicles.  Well, some people even feed the gulls from their cars ;-) so the  gulls are habituated to cars and humans.  Taken with a bean bag drapped over the window/door and the camera and lens resting on the beanbag.

Crow, let's just say American.
Crow, let's just say American.

I was really hoping I could get some more Raven  images, but the crows were more plentiful and cooperative.  Oh well, next winter then.

Killdeer trying to figure out if it should do the distraction display or if I wasn't a threat.
Killdeer trying to figure out if it should do the distraction display or if I wasn't a threat.

Killdeer are so funny, they're nervous and curious at the same time.  This one ran towards me, then ran away form me several times, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I just sat and watched, not making any noise or sudden movements.

How to Get Close:

The next three images were made on an incoming tide.  As the tide came in I was laying in the sand with my camera and lens mounted on a Skimmer Ground Pod II (made by Naturescapes) and a Whimberley gimbal tripod head.  As the birds are pushed towards me by the tide, I slowly crawl a little closer to them.  Moving very slowly it's possible to become just part of the  landscape, and they will eventually get closer than the lens will focus.  At this point I crawl backwards very, very slowly so I don't scare them and either continue to take more images or go back to my car and let them feed.  Shorebirds need a lot of fuel for their migration, and I don't want to have them waste any energy by me spooking them.  I think these eye level images of shorebirds are the best way to create an image of them in their environment, at their level we don't tower over them or look down on them, and it's easier to connect with them.  It's also possible to get even lower by using a ball-head on the Skimmer Ground Pod,  Then then lens will be only a couple of inches above the ground.

Sanderling looking for the  next meal.
Sanderling looking for the next meal.

This Sanderling is still pretty much in non-breeding or basic plumage.  Other Sanderling were already starting to get a little brown and a reddish coloration on thier necks and heads, their breeding or alternate plumage.  This is a great time of year to study molt or feather changes in birds.

Semipalmated Plover eating a marine worm.
Semipalmated Plover eating a marine worm.

Shorebird congregate wherever there is plenty of food.  The stretch on beach I was on was loaded with marine worms.  There was also a limited clam dig open when I was shooting and I was told that clam diggers look for where the birds are and that's how they know where the clams will be.  I watched the clam diggers and the shorebirds use the same stretch of beach, the birds were actively feeding within several feet of the clam diggers.  Neither bothered by the other too much.

Western Sandpiper searchiing for food.
Western Sandpiper searchiing for food.

Although it appears as if  the Western Sandpiper is looking at itself in the reflected water, it's really just a search for the next worm.

Enjoy!

Thanks & Good Birding

Tim