Bosque Photography Articles

Four Critical Bird Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Bird photography can be a tough customer. With subjects that can be shy, difficult to find, or hard to track in flight, there’s quite a lot that can work against you getting a good shot. Add in difficult lighting, bad weather, equipment malfunction, and other common maladies, it’s a recipe for more bad bird photos than good.

However, it’s important that you control what you can control - in particular, compositional and technical factors that can make all the difference in the world regarding how your final images look. Let’s explore four critical mistakes that are commonly made in bird photography, each of which is easy to fix.

Unfortunate Cropping

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Just like when you photograph a human, you need to be aware of how you crop your photographs of birds. Avoid cutting off the tips of the bird’s wings, its feet, or its beak, otherwise, the animal will look like it has lost parts of its body. Instead, give the bird some space. Not only does this allow you to avoid cropping mistakes, but it also gives you an opportunity to give some context the bird’s environment.

There is one exception to this suggestion, however. If a situation calls for cropping out parts of a bird’s body, do so with purpose! If you are going to crop, crop significantly so the viewer understands that the cropping was deliberate, and not just a sloppy oversight.

Ugly Backgrounds

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One of the fastest ways for a bird photograph to go south is for the background to be ugly. A mess of tree branches or other plants, unnatural elements like telephone poles or vehicles, or backgrounds that are too similar to the color of the bird will quickly take attention away from the subject.

When composing your bird photographs, look for a background that will complement, not detract from, your bird subject. A nice blurry background is a great canvas on which to place your subject. Muted tones tend to help birds stand out as well.

Blurry Photos

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With such an active subject, it can be difficult to get a tack-sharp image of a bird. Just ask any bird photographer and they will tell you they’ve got plenty of shots that were ruined because they’re blurry.

Blurry photos are often the result of a shutter speed that’s too slow. Especially when birds are in flight, it’s important to set a shutter speed that’s fast enough to capture their movement and do so with sharp focus.

Another culprit of blurry photos is when the focus point is not on the bird’s eye. Even if everything else in the photo is in good focus, if the bird’s eye is blurry, it will make viewers cringe. Constantly check your focus by using your LCD screen and zooming in on your images. If you find that the bird’s eye is blurry, make the necessary adjustments, like selecting a focus point that’s over the bird’s eye.

No Room to Fly

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It’s a very common problem for photos of birds in flight to be too closely framed. In the example above, the egret looks great and is set on a perfect background. The focus point is over the bird’s eye, and the lighting is highly pleasing.

But, despite all that’s going for it, the image is unsuccessful because the bird has no room in which to fly. As a result, the bird looks very cramped. It also doesn’t help that the bird is smack in the middle of the frame, making it look stuck. Simply following the rule of thirds and shifting the bird to the left of the frame and leaving negative space on the right side of the frame would take care of this issue.

Avoiding These Mistakes (And Others) is Easy!

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As we’ve discussed, addressing these critical mistakes is quite simple. Much of it involves developing your photographer’s eye and simply being aware of how you’re composing the shot. Watch your framing, cropping, and the background of your image to ensure each is adding to, not detracting from, your portrayal of the bird. Likewise, paying attention to your shutter speed and areas of focus will get you improved photos of birds every single time.

If you’re serious about bird photography and want even more detailed instruction on how to improve your bird images, we highly recommend the Festival of the Cranes in New Mexico. Held each November, the Festival of the Cranes will get you in touch with other bird photography enthusiasts for exciting educational opportunities, photo contests, a bird photography expo, and photography outings. Come experience and learn with over 165 birding and photography workshops, tours and seminars. You don’t want to miss it!

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How to Photograph Flocks of Birds

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As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. And while individual birds or small groups of birds can make excellent subjects, those large flocks of birds can be just as interesting and beautiful to photograph.

In this how-to guide, we explore two creative ways to capture images of flocks of birds and provide recommended settings to get the best images.

Go Abstract

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An issue that bird photographers often encounter is blur from the motion of a bird in flight. Unwilling to cooperate with the photographer’s creative vision for a perfectly sharp capture, birds go about their business, flapping their wings and flying around.

But you can use this movement to your advantage to create an interesting abstract image if the lighting isn’t all that great - perhaps before golden hour begins in the morning or after it’s ended in the evening. Poor weather days, like when it’s cloudy and rainy, are great times to try this technique as well.

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Switch your camera to aperture priority mode and establish a fairly open aperture, say, f/4-5.6, to account for the lack of light. Set a low ISO to avoid noise, and to force the camera into a slower shutter speed. Hand hold your camera to enhance the blur, and fire away! You may need to fine tune your aperture and ISO settings to get the best shutter speed, but those are easy adjustments to make on the fly.

The point here is that even when conditions aren’t ideal, you can still take a stunning image of flocking birds.

Try a Silhouette

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Since birds like to get together and roost in the early morning and early evening hours, you have an excellent opportunity for impressive silhouettes against the rising or setting sun.

With the gorgeous light that comes with the dawn and dusk hours, there’s a real opportunity to put your bird subjects in front of a truly stunning backdrop. But, as is key with any silhouette, you will get the best shot if you’ve got an open area with an unobstructed view of the sky. Trees, tall grasses, and manmade objects jutting into the scene can detract from the composition.

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With a large group of birds, you will need to use an aperture that will give you a good depth of field, with the birds sharp from the front to the back of the flock. Start with an aperture of f/8-f/11 and get a meter reading from the brightest part of the sky using your camera’s spot metering function. Then, half-press the shutter release button to focus and take a meter reading, and lock the reading in with the exposure lock button. Proceeding in this manner will ensure the sky has the appropriate brightness and color saturation, while the birds are underexposed, thus creating a nice silhouette.


Part of the challenge that makes bird photography so fun and interesting is coming up with creative compositions for your photos. There are thousands of amazing photos of individual birds going about their business, so why not try to capture large flocks of birds for a change of pace? Taking it a step further, use the ideas presented here to make an image with even more punch. An abstract composition has an air of wonderment and mystery to it while a silhouetted image makes use of strong colors and a wide dynamic range to create an image that has all sorts of depth. Either way, these creative bird photography ideas are sure to impress the people that view your photographs.

If you’re serious about bird photography and want even more detailed instruction on how to improve your bird images, we highly recommend the Festival of the Cranes in New Mexico. Held each November, the Festival of the Cranes will get you in touch with other bird photography enthusiasts for exciting educational opportunities, photo contests, a bird photography expo, and photography outings. Come experience and learn with over 165 birding and photography workshops, tours and seminars. You don’t want to miss it!

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These Photos of the Milky Way are Like None You’ve Ever Seen Before

Ed MacKerrow / Used With Permission

Photos of the Milky Way are a dime a dozen, but every once in awhile you come across a collection of images that totally blows your mind.

This is one such collection!

There’s just something about a photo of the Milky Way that makes you realize how small our place in the universe really is. With millions of stars shining down on you and the expanse of our galaxy stretching across the sky, it’s hard not to be humbled about the size and significance of all that’s beyond our little planet. Astrophotography is a complex undertaking, but man, when it all goes right and you’re able to document such incredible beauty, all the long nights and effort are totally worth it!

If you want to learn how to take photos like these, check out the incredible learning opportunities held each year at the Friends of the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Located in San Antonio, New Mexico, the refuge is the ideal place for taking stunning pictures of the Milky Way. Wide open spaces, very little light pollution, and clear, crisp nights are the perfect recipe for jaw-dropping photos. An abundance of satellite dishes adds some extraterrestrial flair to the images you take there as well.

The best part is that the refuge also holds an annual Festival of the Cranes that is a bird photographer’s dream event! The Festival brings together bird experts and photography enthusiasts for day after day of learning about bird behavior and photography techniques, photography expos, photography outings, and so much more.

Learn how to create breathtaking images of birds by day, then venture out at night to take stunning images of the sky by joining the Friends of the BosqueNovember 15-20, 2016 for the Festival of the Cranes. If you need any motivation to go, just have a look at the amazing images below!

Urey Lemen / Used With Permission

Peter Cai/Used With Permission

Paul Schmid / Used With Permission

Meggi Raeder / Used With Permission

Jose Lantigua/Used With Permission

John Van’t Land/Used With Permission

Bob Fugate/Used With Permission

Greg Ness/Used With Permission

Peter Norby/Used With Permission

Brent Morris/Used With Permission

Bob Fugate/Used With Permission

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