Master Basic Bird Photography

It’s important to aim to get your basic bird photography right whenever you’re out photographing birds. The more of the basics you can achieve in your shot, the more successful it is likely to be.

Bring the eyes to life with a catchlight

A catchlight in your photograph of a bird is a bright spot in the eye that is a reflection of light, usually from the sun. It brings the eyes to life and draws attention to them. The eyes can look lifeless without it, especially for birds with black eyes. Most bird photographers strive to get a nice catchlight in the eye and will keep trying until they achieve it.

It is usually very subtle. Compare the two Barn Owl photographs below. The first one has a catchlight but the second one doesn’t. You will need to enlarge each one by clicking on it to see the catchlight properly.

Barn Owl with Catchlight

Barn Owl without Catchlight

How is a catchlight achieved? It is simply a reflection from a light source, usually the sun. Hence the bird must be either front lit or side lit. If the sun is too high in the sky or the bird is backlit then no catchlight will be produced.

The direction that the bird is looking also influences whether a catchlight will be present.

This brings me to the next basic bird photography topic…

Get The Head Angle Right

When taking a photograph of a bird, your shot is more likely to succeed if you get the right head angle.

The bird should never be looking away from the camera.These first two shots of a Peregrine Falcon just don’t work……wait until it moves its head a little and it works. There is eye contact, making it more intimate.The head should ideally be facing in the same direction as the body or preferably facing towards you a few degrees.When the bird is completely side on, the head should also be side on Even better is if the head is facing towards you you a few degrees. If the sun is directly behind you then the face will be perfectly illuminated and you’re most likely to get a catch-light in the eye.

If the body is angled towards you then try to keep the head either looking in the same direction as its body is facing or straight at the camera.

Images where the birds head is facing away from the camera rarely work. Most of the time birds constantly rotate their head so if you’re patient you will get a shot with a good head angle.

Beyond Basic Bird Photography

Knowing how to get a catchlight and a good head angle are essential for basic bird photography. You should strive to master these when out in the field.

The next step to becoming a great bird photographer is to know how to take sharp well exposed shots.

Further Reading

Taking Sharp Well Exposed Photographs of Birds – Taking Sharp well Exposed shots of birds is a skill that you’ll need to master whether you’re photographing songbirds in your backyard or eagles in the mountains.

Lighting, Composition and Exposure – Discover how to make the best use of lighting, achieve perfect composition and expose your images correctly on this page of bird photography tips.

Field Craft for Bird Photography – Discover how to take your wild bird photography to new levels by getting close to them. No matter how long a lens you have, there’ll always be plenty of occasions when you need to get closer.

Photographing Birds in Flight – Taking flight shots of birds is one of the most challenging parts of bird photography. Discover how to master this here.

Backyard Bird Photography – A great way to get some amazing shots of wild birds.