• EDUCATIONAL TOPIC #6- TAKING UNIQUE IMAGES

    Describing what makes an image unique is often hard…it is an even tougher proposition to try and give advice on taking one.
    My approach is to break down the common elements of avian images and trying to keep an eye out for something unique about that particular element. The real key is to aim for more than one of the elements to have a unique aspect.
    The elements I'm referring to (of which there are ten) can best be described as follows:-

    1. Angle/Perspective
    2. Background/Foreground
    3. Behaviour
    4. In camera
    5. In computer (Post production)
    6. Lighting
    7. Perch
    8. Pose
    9. Surroundings (Habitat)
    10. Composition

    Angle/Perspective

    On most occasions the ideal angle/perspective for bird photography is one as close to eye level as possible. This can give an image an intimate impression by enhancing the viewers feeling that they are being given a "privileged view" into the subjects world.
    Low angles work particularly well with ground dwelling birds but will be effective with most birds captured on the ground.
    Higher angles can often be utilised to good effect as well. For example, a bird of prey looking out from a clifftop could be captured from a slightly above to give the impression of the bird surveying its territory.

    Background/Foreground

    Quite often an interesting background or foreground can make an image of a common species really come to life. I am always on the lookout for interesting colours and textures to incorporate into my images (as well as interesting birds of course).
    Bright yellow fields of flowering canola is one such scene that I have tried, on many occasions, to include in a bird image (with no luck to date).
    Try to imagine what the background will look like when thrown out of focus…better yet, use your camera/lens to gauge how the background/foreground looks when completely blurred.

    Behaviour

    This element is pretty self explanatory. Capturing a bird doing something that represents its character or nature can make an image stand out from the crowd. Feeding, preening, fighting etc can all be considered interesting behavioural aspects. Capturing these situations while incorporating another unique element will yield particularly interesting images.

    In camera

    This element requires some knowledge of your cameras specific functions and abilities, the most basic of which are shutter speed and aperture. Using a shallow depth of field and selectively focusing on a point of interest (a single bird amongst a flock perhaps) can be used to great effect, as can slow shutter speeds which result in interesting motion blur images.
    Any shutter speed below 1/100th can normally be used for such images. A flock of frantically feeding shorebirds is a good example of a situation that might lend itself to a motion blur capture. Keep in mind that a tripod may be necessary for such shots.

    In computer

    Using your computer and imaging software is another way of enhancing unique elements of your images. The original image must still, of course, be of good quality but using things like saturation/de-saturation, dodging/burning, white balance adjustments etc can help to heighten interesting elements.
    One example is that I will often de-saturate backgrounds slightly to bring the bird out from its surroundings. This works very well if the bird is a very similar colour to the background/habitat that it occupies and/or the colours are competing for attention with the bird.
    Remember, you are only trying to either enhance or soften something present in the original image. Trying to fabricate something that was not there in the original will, on most occasions, lead to an unnatural looking shot.

    Lighting

    A lot of bird photographers will tell you that shooting 2 hours after sunrise/before sunset is the only time to shoot birds. The light at these times is particularly nice but birds do of course exist at other times of the day. I try and shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions…cloudy, midday sun, after/before the sun is up…it doesn't matter much to me. Being able to deal with difficult lighting situations will make you an even better photographer in the long run. Taking shots in different lighting will also make sure that your images don't all have the same lighting "mood". Overcast conditions can still make for good images an often more subtle detail can be seen in the images taken in such light.
    Also, using back lighting, rim lighting and even silhouetting to your advantage, can make your images even more unique when executed properly.

    Perch

    I am not one to introduce perches or setups in my bird photography so most of the time it is to do with pure luck but I do always keep my eyes open for birds using interesting perches. Gnarled fenceposts or other interesting man made perches can make for interesting images as can natural, branch perches with attractive curves or features. Keep this in mind when you encounter birds using a particular area and keep an eye out for the most attractive of the perches…you may just get some luck so be ready.

    Pose

    When shooting birds try to be ready for the bird to strike an interesting pose. Many birds (particularly seabirds like Terns and Gulls) will yawn quite often when roosting/perching and wing stretches are also quite common (and often predictable). After a good preen, many birds will shake themselves to try and put all there feathers back in place as well trying to shake off any loose feathers or dirt. Be ready for that split second moment and you may just be rewarded with a really unique shot. Singing poses with the smaller passerines are also a great moment to capture.

    Surroundings

    "Habitat" shots are some of my favourite types of images. Taking these sorts of images requires an eye for a scene that has the bird balanced within its surroundings. The bird can be small in frame as long as it stands out enough from the scene and its habitat does not dominate the image too much. Ground dwelling birds can be great subjects for this style of image as it is normally quite easy to include their habitat in the image.

    Composition

    With the right image, composition can be a great way of enhancing the uniqueness of a photograph. Going against the "rule of thirds" and placing your subject (or the point of interest) in centre of frame or near the edge of frame can make for very engaging image. This works really well if the subjects pose or perhaps the balance of the surroundings suggests the image needs a slightly unorthodox composition.



    Summary

    Here are a few other things that I would suggest you think about when it comes to creating interesting shots:-

    * Try not to be too precious with your equipment. If the shot requires that you take your camera near water, mud, sand etc then don't be afraid to put your equipment at risk. Your gear may be expensive but the image that results is often "priceless". Its a matter of "risk vs. reward" as one of my workshop participants noted quite astutely.

    * Shoot in all sorts of conditions. As American wildlife photography veteran Moose Peterson often says…"sometimes the worst weather makes for the best photographs".

    * When you encounter a tame bird try shooting from all sorts of angles. You may not have the same opportunity again and coming home and realising that a different perspective would have been better is not a good feeling.

    * View as many images as possible and try to isolate what makes them unique.

    * Try and accentuate a particular aspect of your subject. For example, trying to capture the long neck of an Egret or perhaps the diminutive size of a smaller species.

    * Try and visualise the image you want to take while approaching a situation.

    Most of all EXPERIMENT…and try to have fun!!

    I hope you have found this helpful. As I said to start with, "unique" images are hard to describe and often quite subjective depending on the viewer. Give some of these tips a try when you next venture out birding and you might find that you think a bit more the eventual image on your approach which will be of great benefit to you and your photography.

    Paul Randall (wingsonwire.com)

    The brilliant yellow/green of the algae on this canal wall was something I wanted to include in the image. The low angle helped to accentuate the colour as well as showing off the shallow depth of field.


    This is a good example of an "in camera" effect. The slow shutter speed used has meant that the background has been suitably motion blurred while keeping the bird in flight in quite sharp focus.


    I realised that a shot of this Kite sitting on the pole was going to be a bit boring so I decided to get down low and shoot the bird through the canola flowers that surrounded me for a different sort of image.


    Sometimes, combining image styles can make for really unique photographs. This shot combines a portrait image with a touch of action with the wings uplifted.


    A good example of an "in computer" enhanced effect. The original already had quite a monotone feel so I decided to roll with it and give the shot a slightly sepia feel while enhancing the contrast of the image at the same time.