It’s tough enough to get good critically focused single images of birds, but it’s neigh on impossible to get two or more in a group composition. Let’s take the above shot for discussion. Four storks. There are some very real challenges to overcome so let’s list them:

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS  @F4  1/800th  ISO 100

 

It’s tough enough to get good critically focused single images of birds, but it’s neigh on impossible to get two or more in a group composition.  Let’s take the above shot for discussion.  Four storks.  There are some very real challenges to overcome so let’s list them:

· Finding two or more birds in an aesthetically pleasing composition

· Properly exposing all the birds if not equally, then adequately

· Achieving critical focus throughout so large prints are saleable

If you’re a bird person (which I’m not, though I do enjoy my parrots) finding pleasing compositions is easy, you’ll like everything.  But if you’re trying to form a composition which will be attractive and pleasing as a ‘photograph’ and not a favorite subject matter, then it’s damn difficult.  You’ll need to look for the same elements you strive for in other compositions:  Foreground, mid-ground, background, symmetrical pairing/separation, reflections, colors, motion, and other compositional elements.

As difficult as composition might be, adequate exposure with birds can be even more difficult.  In the sample picture you’ll notice like most birds they have a bright white on the tops of their heads and/or backs.  These whites are very easy to blow out and all too common, the next most common mistake is not having the right light to balance the scene – so you end up underexposing most of the frame just so you don’t blow the heads/backs.  And if that isn’t difficult enough now you’re trying to balance the exposure across an entire frame with several birds and not just one.  See what I mean?

Small prints of 11x14 and smaller aren’t too demanding of critical focus, web images especially are easy to fake.  But if you’re trying to make marketable prints of 13x19, 20x24, or larger.. then you’ll need to maintain critical focus throughout the frame.  What’s the problem?  Depth of field.  Most bird photos are captured at 300mm+ and at F2.8-5.6, which makes your DOF razor thin.  You’ll need to look for subjects on the same focal plane, and perhaps even reposition yourself to line up the focal plane.  It’s tough, but doable.

 

Just in case you were wondering.. ;o)  Look at the exposure along the back first.  Clear feature detail, nothing is blown out.  Yet, this could have been exposed better in a softer light.  Critical focus as you can see is spot on.  These elements hold across the frame.

 

Just in case you were wondering.. ;o)  Look at the exposure along the back first.  Clear feature detail, nothing is blown out.  Yet, this could have been exposed better in a softer light.  Critical focus as you can see is spot on.  These elements hold across the frame.

Give bird compositions a try, but be prepared to work for them.  And be prepared for your single bird compositions to become much more polished for your efforts.  As you think about composition, exposure, and focus in a group, you’ll naturally isolate subjects and think through these as well.  It’s a great amount of fun just because it’s so challenging!