Teaching Slide – What NOT To Do When Photographing Birds

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Okay – so I’ve posted lots and lots and lots of great eagle pictures online but you learn more from your mistakes than you do your successes.

Long ago, back in the 90s, when I taught photography workshops for people like Bill Fortney’s Great American Photography Weekend I used to shoot slide film. And on every trip, most of the instructors would shoot some slides that were designed to teach WHY we don’t do certain things.

I decided to bring that back and start doing it (digitally) because I think it might better illustrate why I say the things I say.

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Teaching Slide by Scott Bourne

Look at this picture. There are three big problems with it.

Let’s start with the obvious – sun angle.

I constantly preach – STAY ON SUN ANGLE – POINT YOUR SHADOW AT THE BIRD – and once in a while someone who is contrary says “Why – who made that a rule?” The short answer is every editor I have ever worked with. But there’s a simpler reason – the picture sucks if you don’t follow that rule.

See the ugly shadow on the bald eagle’s head? It’s caused by the sun being behind the bird – not on sun angle. This is why I always want you to get and stay on sun angle when you’re photographing birds.

Lesson two – don’t press the shutter too late. This bird needs room to fly into the frame. It’s a stronger composition. In this case, I pressed the shutter late and he’s crowding the outside edge. No bueno.

Lesson three – you want to make sure you put the focus point on the bird’s head – not the bird’s body. In this case, the head isn’t tack sharp because I put the AF on the bird’s body and at f/5, I don’t quite have enough depth-of-field to cover the entire bird. Eagles are large and you need more DOF than you think to get the shot.

So there you have it. Hopefully you’ve learned from this and about once a month or so I’ll post more like this to teach new lessons.


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