Bird Photography: Framing

So you’re all set up to go take photographs, you have your expensive lenses and a camera body; you’re hauling around a heavy tripod so that your images are blur-free. And yet, when you go home and look at your photos on the computer, they still aren’t very pleasing to the eye. What’s wrong? The composition of the photograph and the subject's relation to you are often leading factors in the result of a good image.


Perhaps the most important step towards a good composition is where you place the bird (or whatever subject) in the frame. However, when shooting birds, you’re often simply trying to make the simplest image possible: a bird against a solid background of color. So, how do you compose a pleasing image of a bird?

The answer is to give the subject breathing room. If you’re shooting a bird in flight, always give the bird in the frame somewhere to fly. If the bird is flying to the right, and you frame the bill right up against the right side, the image is going to look awkward. Always give your subject somewhere to go.

The same applies to a bird sitting still. Always give your subject somewhere to look.

Always be clear about what you want your image to show. If you want a close-up shot, make it close-up. If you want the whole bird, make it the whole bird. Don’t just chop off the feet or the tail.

Always give your subject breathing room. Don’t frame the shot too closely, especially around the head, as that will almost always be the main focus of the image.

However, in photography, all rules are made to be broken. Stick to these general rules and only break them when you feel the image will be better or more artistic.


Even if the image’s composition is pleasing, you may often find that the image lacks some interest. Something important to keep in mind is your relation to your subject. In general wildlife photography, a good rule of thumb is to shoot at your subject’s eye-level. A photo of a sandpiper, for example, is generally much more interesting if you take the photo from his eye-level rather than from a tripod 5 ft in the air. While that might mean crawling around in the mud, you will find your images much more pleasing and interesting.

While photographs taken shooting up at a bird are usually more pleasing than down on a bird, the same concept applies to subjects higher than you. If you’re shooting up at a bird in a tree, you may find it hard to have pleasing results. However, with birds in trees, you'll often find you can get nice results if the bird looks down at you in the right way. In the image on the right, you would almost not think that the hawk was 15 ft in the air.

Again, every rule in photography is made to be broken. While these are general rules that I follow 90% of the time, there are circumstances where theses rules do not yield the best results.

That is where photography becomes more of an art rather than simply pressing the shutter.

Photo credits: Silasfirth.

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Thanks for the comment! Checked out your portfolio... very nice shot of the red parrot. Beautiful lighting and nice composition!


good and thanks; I have two nice birds




Just saw your blog on Dreamstime's homepage when I logged in. Good tips!


Thanks for useful & interesting blog!


Yes, it is pretty tough in the winter here. I've kind of slacked off my bird photography for the winter, and am eagerly awaiting the spring migration.
I'll look forward to bumping into you sometime.
You've got a fantastic Alaskan portfolio! Good luck! :)


Another Alaska Nature and wildlife photographer here. Birds are my major focus also. I'm sure we will bump into each other one day. Pretty tough duty here in the winter. ;((


Thanks so much everyone!
Glad you enjoyed it.


Thanks for sharing this great blog... Great images.


very interesting-thanks for posting :)


Great blog!


Thanks for the comments!


Thank you for sharing !


It 'a very interesting blog, great work, congratulations!


Nice work.

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