The Importance of Pixels on Subject

In response to reader requests, I’ve been pondering how to best address the subject of post processing bird images. After giving it some thought I’ve decided that doing one article based on a sample image (as I did for landscape photography) isn’t the best solution. So, I’ll be discussing post processing in a small selection of articles instead. This first article deals with the importance of pixels on subject.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 275mm, efov 742mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200, V3 pop up flash

Those of us who love bird photography can become a bit over zealous when it comes to our shutter finger, especially when it comes to birds-in-flight.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200, V3 built-in flash used

It certainly can be an exciting experience to get a bird nicely framed in our viewfinder and capture the magic of a bird-in-flight. If we aren’t disciplined we can waste opportunities by firing too early, filling up our buffer, and ending up with photographs with too few pixels on subject to make them worthwhile.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 572.4mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200

Getting too few pixels on subject results in us having to do quite aggressive crops with our images. In terms of post processing this is akin to trying to tee off with a driver when our ball is in a sand trap. When we start with a severely cropped bird image the results in post will be sub-optimal, regardless of our relative skill level with the software we use.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 141mm, efov 381mm, f/5.3, 1/500, ISO-1600

Step one to improve the results of our post processing of bird images is to get more pixels on subject. For birds-in-flight I’d suggest filling at least 1/2 of your frame with a subject bird before pressing the shutter. For static bird subjects the ideal is to compose theĀ  image without the need for any cropping at all. Once we increase the number of pixels on subject with our bird images, our results in post will improve significantly.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro/PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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10 thoughts on “The Importance of Pixels on Subject”

  1. Wonderful images Tom though with you, that’s a given.

    Anyway, I agree with you especially in the area of aggressive cropping especially when I had the D800 awhile back. Now, I’m back to shooting as a hobby and reverted back to a Coolpix LOL, the B700, since I don’t have to print big anyway and go birding as a way to document wildlife/fauna in a particular area.



    1. Thanks Oggie – I’m glad you enjoyed the images! I’m edging ever closer to shooting for my own enjoyment and less and less for clients so I can relate to your comment!

  2. Great lesson against aggressive cropping. Most photographers will not crop more than what is needed. The limiting factor, especially in birds photography is the limit of zoom lens.
    I like to know how you were able to use the built-in,/popup flash at such an extreme zoom and get such outstatanding results. I know that there are flash extendors available for external flash but to my knowledge they cannot be put on the pop up flash and you did not mention. Thank you

    1. Hi Urodoc45 – I’m glad you enjoyed the photos! Nothing special was done at all. The pop-up flash on the Nikon 1 V3 is offset slightly so it fires past the left-hand side of the lens rather than over the top of the lens. I was likely about 7-8 feet (~2.5 metres) away from the hummingbirds to get the images.

  3. Guilty as charged. I can only throw myself on the mercy of the court. In my defense I can only say that longer lenses are heavy (and tend to lighten my wallet too much).

    1. Hi William,

      I think that the vast majority of us have also been guilty! I know when I used to shoot with a D800 I relied a lot on its 36MP sensor as I could still put quite a few pixels on a subject even when it wasn’t 1/2 of the frame. After I sold my D800 and full frame glass and began using my V2s for all of my needs, I realized how much more disciplined I needed to be with Nikon 1 gear given its 14.2MP sensor. I had very little cropping room if I wanted to get nicely detailed images. I find the V3 with its 18.4MP sensor is a bit better for birds for this reason.


  4. Thomas, your results with the Nikon CX format camera are inline with mine, especially the 70-300 lens combination.
    I have the J5 combination and added a loupe to the LCD display which Thom Hogan approved. Its a pity Nikon does not really support this format any more since the results cane be stunning as your examples illustrate.

    1. Hi Jack,
      I’m still hopeful that Nikon will end up keeping the Nikon 1 system in its line-up, even with the arrival of full frame Nikon mirrorless cameras. As you know, the Nikon 1 system is quite a capable little system as long as one understands how to work around some of its challenges. I’m glad you enjoyed the images in the article!

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