Tim Boyer Photography

Small Groups, Cool Birds in Fun Places, Create Award-winning Images!

photo workshops

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

Winter Birds of the Skagit & Samish Flats Workshop Update

The Canon 5D Mark III, Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment

Wow what a winter, it's quieted down, but at one time there were half a dozen or more Short-eard Owls, two Long-eared Owls and a swarm of Northern Harriers just south of the Skagit.  Then there was almost an irruption of Rough-legged Hawks this year.  More then I've seen in a long time. I did the last of this season's Winter Birds of the Sakgit & Samish Bird Photogoraphy Workshops last Sunday.  Here's a recap of the images from the winter months.  

A Long-eared Owl near Stanwood, WA.
A Long-eared Owl near Stanwood, WA.

Both of these images were taken with the Canon 5D Mark III at high ISO.  It was pretty dark.  But, with the 600mm lens a 1.4 Extender, I did not have to get so close I was pressuring the birds.  Someone said to stay 30 feet from the birds, but I had them land within 15 feet of me while I was walking back to the car.  I think it's better to use a long telephone lens and just not pressure them, then let them decide how close they want to get.  They're curious birds so often,  given a chance, without pressure, they'll come to humans to see what we're doing.

Long-eared Owl with dinner.
Long-eared Owl with dinner.
Short-eared Owl shaking it's feathers.
Short-eared Owl shaking it's feathers.

For a few short weeks the Long-eared Owls were the main attraction, but there were also a bunch of Short-eared Owls working the same area.  Then suddenly it all stopped.  I think the owls must have exhausted the food supply and moved on.

Rough-legged Hawk on a wire near the West 90 on the Samish Island Road.
Rough-legged Hawk on a wire near the West 90 on the Samish Island Road.

Mean while, up in the Samish there were a lot of Rough-legged Hawks this year, not as many as in the 1980's but enough that it reminded me of earlier years when there were more birds then people in the Skagit on the weekends.

Snow Geese at sunset at Port Susan.
Snow Geese at sunset at Port Susan.

For the first half of the winter I found more Snow Geese in the Stanwood area then on Fir Island.  Later in the season (see the image below) I found them in fields near the tulips.  This was the first year (the tulips are early) that I have had tulips and Snow Geese in the same image.  It was a cloudy day, but by adding some contrast to the image in post processing I was able to get some definition between the sky and the Snow Geese.

Snow Geese and  tulips in the Skagit Valley.
Snow Geese and tulips in the Skagit Valley.

What's Next?

The next workshops are April 17th through 19th at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge -  for the incredible birds that migrate through the refuge in the spring, (One opening remaining)  Then April 25 & 26th the Spring Migration of Shorebirds in Grays Harbor.  (Three spots open.)  Check out the  Workshop tab on my website for more info:

Enjoy!   thanks    Tim