Composition Lessons for Bird Photography

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To create stunning bird photos you need to pay attention to your photography composition. Composing for bird photography is not very difficult but there are a few things to consider when doing so.


First you’ll need to consider the subject and the environment. How much of the environment do you want to include while photographing birds? If the environment is stunning or holds a lot of interest than you will likely want to include more of it. I often like my images to give at least a hint of where they were captured. If the background or perch is not pleasing than I will go in for a tight head shot and exclude the distracting elements.

Example of smooth background for bird photography

Bird Photography – Example of smooth background

Orientation – Horizontal or Vertical?

Many folks forget to turn their camera vertically but sometimes you will have a situation that works best as a vertical.

Bird photography example with vertical composition

Bird Photography – Vertical Orientation Example

Other things to consider are sun angle and wind direction; when photographing a bird having the wind and sun at your back is usually optimal. Why? well, birds take-off and land into the wind. Have you ever heard the words “ruffled feathers”, birds don’t like to ruffle their feathers so they will flap into the wind, stand into the wind, etc.. Having the sun behind you and pointing your shadow at the bird will help to eliminate shadow lines and illuminate your subject.

I usually try to avoid mixed, dappled light or harsh light in most situations. Sometimes a backlit subject can have a lot of appeal. It is best to evaluate the available light before deciding your shooting angle.

Size in the Frame

I consider the bird and the action that I am capturing before I decide what is the best size to frame. For example: A bird flapping it’s wings needs room around the frame, especially at the top. Another thing to consider is room for virtual feet.

Bird Photography example of pleasing head angle

Bird Photography – Example of pleasing head angle

Head Angle?

We hear a lot about head angle. For me it makes a lot of sense to capture an image of a bird when it’s head is slightly turned towards you. Having a bird looking out of the frame can work but it needs to make sense. If you have a bird that is small in the frame and it is looking off into the distance that can sometimes work very well. When birds are interacting then I see no reason why they need to be totally engaged with the photographer, however I do like to see some kind of head angle because even when the action is incredible it almost always makes a better image when you see their eyes or heads turned towards you.

There are so many things to consider when photographing birds but this should get you started or at least headed in the right direction.

About Author Denise Ippolito

Denise Ippolito is a full time award winning professional photographer, workshop leader, and artist living in New Jersey. Denise travels extensively presenting slide lectures and seminars and teaching photography and Photoshop. Her workshops feature a variety of subjects including: avian, flower, landscape and creative photography.
Denise’s love for nature started at an early age; she has always felt very passionate about wildlife. Knowing, that every living being, depends on the human race to conserve and preserve our natural environment. Through her photography she hopes to broaden awareness and inspire others to share her love for our planet and its resources.
In 2017 Denise’s image titled, Snow Globe was selected as the First Place "Winged Life" category winner for the BigPicture: Natural World Photography Competition. Her image of a Moseley's Rockhopper Penguin was selected as the "Birds" Category Winner in the prestigious Nature's Best 2016 Windland Smith Rice International Awards Competition. In 2015 she also won the Category for "Art in Nature" in the Nature's Best 2015 Windland Smith Rice International Awards Competition.
In 2010 and again in 2014, Denise received a Highly Honored award in the prestigious Windland Smith Rice Nature's Best competition. Also in 2014 one of her images was selected as part of the People's Choice Awards Top 50 Images in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. She has also won several PSA (Photographic Society of America) awards. Her images have been published in the Wall Street Journal, magazines and books, sold as greeting cards, calendars and featured in a Sierra Club Documentary. Most recently, Denise appeared in an episode of Xploration Awesome Planet for Fox 5 television.