The art of composition

In this post I want to talk about composition relating to bird photography.
I only way I know how to do this, is to explain and show you how I would approach this myself.
I use Adobe Lightroom combined with Photoshop exclusively.
After initially importing my images of the days shoot into a temporary holding folder that sits outside my main Lightroom library, I sort through my days effort discarding all out of focus and unpleasing images.
The next step is to look at shots that are similar (many shots of the same bird in the same situation) and select the very best shots and deleting double ups.
Once I have sorted out the images I want to spend time on processing, I get down to the nitty gritty.
Once I have selected an image I’m pleased with, the first thing I consider is the composition (the placement of the subject within the image) and the crop ratio.
Do I want a close up of the bird itself with as little distraction as possible or do I want to show the bird in relationship to its environment.
Many people including myself, especially at the beginning of my photographic career just wanted to fill the frame with bird.
Now days I’m more inclined to present the bird as part of the environment.
Crop ratio
Crop ratio and the posture of the bird are directly linked.
Often the posture of the bird dictates the ratio.
Compact upright birds like Kingfishers and Dotterals are not restricted to landscape crops like long necked Herons and Swans when they are stretched out length ways.

Please click on the images to see the full size

This Swan does not lend its self to a portrait crop

Kaki anau the Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)


This New Zealand Dotteral,  or known by the  māori as tūturiwhatu, being very upright does lend its self to a portrait type of crop.

The New Zealand Dotterel, Red-breasted Plover, or New Zealand Plover (Charadrius obscurus) Māori names include Tūturiwhatu, Pukunui, and Kūkuruatu

Im going to use an Image of a kingfisher, taken in the early morning light for this exercise.
He is upright so I can choose either to use a upright (portrait) crop ratio or a (landscape)

Here is the original image

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)
I like both aspects, portrait and landscape with this bird so I will go both ways and save both versions to my library.

First off I will deal with the landscape version.
I have a few options here
I can choose the original aspect of the image  , 16 x 9   which is a wide screen aspect  or 16×10.

Because the bird is upright, 16×9 looks a bit long and narrow for me , I like the 16×10 option so with that chosen I now have to choose how tight I want to crop my image .

I don’t want to crowd the bird and as the bird is looking out across the flats for crabs I want to leave plenty of room in front of the bird.

Here the kotare is cropped way to tight .
he is squeezed top and bottom.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

I don’t want to crowd the bird height wise and squash him into the image, I want plenty of space for the bird to breathe   so to speak.

The line up

One common mistake I see is that the bird is positioned wrong in the image.
Rule of thumb is one third behind and two third’s in front is a pretty safe bet.
this gives the bird room to stare out .
A photo should always be about telling a story.

Below the bird is positioned to the wrong side.
The bird is gazing out across the mud flats looking for crabs.
The image does not convey that story clearly.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)


Now we have the bird in a much better position.
He is not cramped in and has the breathing space in front and the image now conveys a much clearer story of the bird on its perch in its place in the world.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)


Next we will look at the portrait version.
again this bird is far to cramped in with no room  to breathe.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)
Because with the portrait aspects the focus is nearly always on the subject and not on its place in the environment we can crop a little closer but notice there is more room ahead of the bird than behind.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

I hope this has been of some help
I do one on one workshops for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Cheers and thanks for showing interest in my blog.


4 thoughts on “The art of composition

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