Cardinal Composition - Bird photography
Published in - Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXII, No. 2, April, 2002

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Quite frequently, one sees bird images that are correctly exposed and sharp, but lacking visual appeal, making them uninteresting and drab. This missing ‘something’ is usually the dislocation or lack of a focal point in the image – composition makes or breaks a photograph.

For some, composing an interesting image can be quite difficult while to others, this comes naturally. Composition is a matter of perspective – the art of conveying the three-dimensional world in the two-dimensions of a photograph.

In bird photography, one of the most effective perspectives is to get to the eye-level of the subject. If this fails to add zing to your picture, try separating the bird from its background by reducing the depth of field (opening the aperture), zooming in or out to take in less or more of the surrounding habitat or switching from horizontal to vertical mode.

Familiarity with a bird’s behaviour is invaluable, as one can then predict its movements. If this doesn’t work, the camera position can be shifted from left-to-right or top-to-bottom to change both the angle of view and the background. While photographing arboreal birds, it is always better to position the birds in the top half of the frame so that the branches lead the viewer to the subject.

Try to leave more space in front of the bird than behind it, and you will see that the bird appears to move in, rather than out of your frame. Avoid placing tree trunks or branches in the centre of the frame. Eliminate unwanted colours or objects from the fore or background by changing the perspective.

The basic principles of composition are not difficult to learn. For starters, try to follow the one-third rule. This suggests that when a rectangular format is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, the points of intersections of the lines mark the points of power – the points where the focus area of the subject has maximum effect.