This article discusses photographing a perched raptor, outlines various composition considerations, and shares some photographs to illustrate issues. It is important to keep in mind that the subject bird featured in this article did not change its perched position.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Yesterday I was out with a friend capturing some photographs on a ‘catch as catch can’ basis at Hendrie Valley. While we were on the bridge by the ponds a raptor surprised us by landing on a close by tree. Like most photographers, my immediate response was to wheel around and grab a quick image before the bird flew away.
As you can see with the EXIF data the raptor was perched only 11.7 metres away from me. This meant that I had to shoot up through some branches to acquire my image. This was no problem at all even though I was using my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI subject tracking feature.
Unlike some photographers who have all of the AF points active with Bird Detection AI, I only have a single AF point activated. This allows me to position that single AF point on the head of a bird when I need to shoot through branches, and not have to change to a different auto focusing method.
Shooting up at a bird does not produce very attractive images. The initial reaction that many photographers have… especially when first starting out with bird photography… is to move in as close as possible to a subject bird. Even if it means shooting up at it.
It is often a better strategy is to move away from the bird to create a less severe shooting angle. This has the effect of making it appear that you are at are a similar height to the bird, rather than being well below it. This helps to create a more intimate feel with the resulting photograph.
In the EXIF data for the image above you’ll see that I moved away from the raptor and captured this image at a distance of 16.9 metres. The shooting angle is more pleasing, but there are some distracting branches in front of the bird. After quickly assessing the position of the branches I rotated my position clockwise to get a less obstructed view of the raptor.
In the photograph above we can see that a more open view of the raptor has been achieved. And, while there still is one branch the partially obstructs the raptor, it is much lower on its body and much less distracting.
As you examine this photograph you’ll notice that the nictitating membranes of the bird’s eyes have been lowered. This makes the raptor look odd.
Getting these unexpected details in photographs is one of the reasons that I never shoot single frames of perched birds. Instead I always capture short continuous auto focus image runs. Shooting in this manner gives me more choices in terms of a bird’s head and body position, and lessens the chance of a lowered nictitating membrane spoiling what could be my only image if I was shooting single frames.
Getting the eye of a bird in sharp focus is a fundamental component of a good bird photograph.
The photograph above was my favourite one from the selection that I captured. The shooting distance of 18.4 metres was far enough away from the raptor to flatten out my shooting angle and make it appear that I was at about eye level with the perched raptor. This creates a more visually pleasing image.
While I seldom make spot adjustments with my photographs, in this case you’ll see that I removed a distracting twig from the left hand side. This cleans up the photograph and creates a strong ‘V’ shape to frame the perched raptor.
If time permits it is always a good idea to try different composition approaches including shooting vertical compositions. The raptor was perched long enough for a bit of experimentation. All of the photographs in this article were captured within a 2 minute time frame. Having this much time to work with one subject bird is often a luxury!
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All images are displayed as full frame captures without any cropping.
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