Three Lessons – One Photograph

Quail Photograph by Scott Bourne

This male, Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii) that I photographed in Arizona, gives me a chance to share a few ideas that some of you may find helpful.

First, try to get at or near eye-level with these birds. 90% of photographers shoot down on them because they are ground feeders and are almost always on the ground. A low-angle shot is more intimate and shows off the bird’s coloration. With modern camera (like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 X and many others) there are swing out and tilt LCD viewfinders. You can sit comfortably on a bench or a stool, hold the camera low to the ground, frame the scene in the tilting LCD and there you have it. You don’t even have to get dirty. Also note that the depth-of-field is vert skinny here. I am shooting at f/4.5 and I am very close to the bird. As subject to camera distance decreases, so does depth-of-field. This is a rule – no exceptions. This rule is even more pronounced when using telephoto lenses.

Quail Photograph by Scott BourneHere, I was about 10-12 feet from the bird and my aperture was set to f/4.5. The back foot is out of focus and the front foot is in focus. Use this technique when you want to make background distractions disappear. Just get closer to your subject.

(By the way – the opposite is true too. The greater the distance between the subject and camera – the greater the depth-of-field. If you understand this concept it is a very powerful tool in your photographic arsenal.)

Lastly – know the rules of composition – and then break them when you have a good reason. In this case, the bird is looking out of frame. In the old days, this wouldn’t have flown. (Sorry – a little bird humor – I can’t help it.) The old rules say he should be looking INTO the frame. But his shadow is a nice anchor in the photo and I needed it to be where it was – which means – he’s looking away. Like I said – know the rules – then break them when you feel like it.

Happy picture taking!

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