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9 Bird Photography Composition Mistakes That You Should Avoid

9 Bird Photography Composition Mistakes That You Should Avoid

I see many beginners committing these 9 composition mistakes in Bird Photography over and over again. I thought it will be more revealing to write an article to understand why you should avoid these compositions altogether to make your bird photographs more compelling.

Check out The Rule of Thirds composition for Bird Photography, so that you know how to compose compelling bird photographs.

If you just avoid these 9 composition mistakes that I mention here, you can rest assured that you will always get the decent bird photographs.

Since birds are very active subjects, it is quite possible that you will commit these mistakes often. But, it is important to check the LCD monitor immediately and see if you have done any of these 9 mistakes. If you have, then avoid it in the field before you lose that opportunity.

Download the FREE eBook: Bird Photography — 10 Mistakes & Solutions.

1. Avoid Cropping the Bird’s Body Parts

This is the most often committed mistake I see all over the internet. It feels so awkward to see a bird’s body part cut. The bird looks handicapped just because of this reason!

Bird Photography Composition. Great Blue Heron with Red Fish.

Great Blue Heron’s legs are cropped in this photograph making it handicapped. One should avoid cropping the body parts of a bird unless it is a portrait photograph.

However, in the case of  Bird portrait photographs, you will crop it or compose it to include only their head and shoulders which is fine.

Bird Photography Composition. Great Blue Heron with Red Fish.

Blue Heron Portrait showing only its head and shoulder. It is fair to even crop it tighter than this, but not beyond this point

Always include the entire bird’s body unless it is a portrait photograph.

2. Avoid Very Tight Compositions

How many times have you seen bird photographs that are so tightly cropped that there is no space left for the bird to see or move? It makes the bird look cramped making the viewer uncomfortable.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Great Egret in Flight.

The very tight composition makes the Great Egret very cramped. There is no place for the bird to move or flap its wings which is bad

Just by following The Rule of Thirds composition technique you can avoid it altogether.

3. Avoid Cluttered Background

Clutter background makes the bird lost in the photograph. Background elements start to compete for attention making the bird, the main subject of interest, lost in the photograph.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Juvenile Green Heron struggling to land on a tree branch.

Juvenile Green Heron struggling to land on a tree branch makes it a very interesting photograph. However, the background is very cluttered which ruins the photograph as a whole

Always remember that it’s the background which makes or breaks the bird photograph. Always try to get a clean or reasonably blurred background as much as you can.

4. Avoid The Centered Compositions

This is another common mistake committed by beginners. Keeping the bird in the center makes a photograph static and uninteresting because it leaves unnecessary space around the bird.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. A Sparrow perched on a nail in front of an apartment.

A sparrow perching on a nail with an artistic background would have been more compelling if placed on either left third or the right third of the Rule of Thirds grid.
Center placement has given equal spacing around the sparrow making it static

Just follow The Rule of Thirds for Bird Photography and you will avoid the center composition.

5. Avoid Blurred Eye

If the bird’s eye is blurred or not in sharp focus, then it makes the viewer uncomfortable, even if everything else is in sharp focus. The reason is, we cannot make an eye connection with the bird.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Green Heron spreading its wings.

An excellent pose of a green heron was ruined just because of the out-of-focus eye. A blurred eye is generally unacceptable

I believe getting an eye in sharp focus is the most important aspect in bird photography. Read the article 5 steps to get bird’s eye in tack-sharp focus to know more.

6. Avoid Overexposed Backgrounds

An overexposed background will make the background or portions of the background completely white, losing all the details. We always want to relate the bird to its background. So, it is important to avoid overexposed backgrounds.

Sometimes, you can make some creative images with the background completely white, but generally, it should be avoided.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. A Canada Goose with its wings widespread.

The completely overexposed background makes this Canada goose photograph uninteresting. Imagine a clear and blurred background with this same pose…!

Review your photograph in the LCD monitor or check the histogram. Use the Highlight indicator feature in your Camera to see if there are overexposed backgrounds. You can compensate for the overexposure by using exposure compensation.

7. Avoid Overexposed and Underexposed parts on Bird’s body

If parts of the bird’s body are overexposed, then it will lose the details which can be much worse compared to losing details in the background. It generally depends on how much of the body part is overexposed and most importantly, which part of the body is overexposed. Even if the overexposed portion is small but it is in the face, then the image becomes unusable.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Black-capped Chickadee perched on a tree branch.

A photograph of a Black-capped Chickadee with a very interesting pose. But the white portion of its face is overexposed losing it’s feather details which makes it less than perfect

Underexposure or Shadow cast on the bird’s body is generally annoying depending on how much of the body is obscured. Harsh lighting or the side lighting are the main reasons for the shadow cast on the bird’s body.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Great Blue Heron in Flight.

The shadow cast on Great Blue Heron’s wings makes this image not interesting. Deeper the shadows, more unusable the image becomes

Always try to use front lighting so that you get the entire body lit properly, which means Sun should be behind you.

Contrary to this is the backlighting photography or silhouettes where most of the bird’s body is in shadow. Backlit bird photographs will yield creative results if done properly.

8. Avoid Bird Facing Away

If the bird, which is the main subject of interest, is facing away from the viewer, then the viewer will not be able to make an eye connection with the bird. This will generally lead to uninteresting photographs.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. American Robin perching on a tree branch.

American Robin faces away in this photograph making it difficult for the viewer to connect with it. Eye connection is the most important aspect in bird photography

Don’t be confused with the bird looking sideways. That is still valid and yields interesting compositions.

If the bird is facing away, then don’t take the photograph! or change your position so that it is either facing you or sideways.

9. Avoid Shooting From High Angle

This is another most commonly committed mistake from the beginners. Most of the birds are very small and stands only a few inches to feet on the ground. If you take photographs from your eye level, which is often 5 to 6 feet, then you are looking down at the bird. This makes the bird look dwarf or intimidated in the photograph.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Common Grackle bathing in the water.

This photograph of a common grackle is taken probably from an elevated place making it look, bit dwarf. Though it might seem acceptable in this photograph, it would have been much better if I had a chance to take it in the eye level

Always shoot the bird at eye level by sitting down or lying down!


You are now ready to get decent bird photographs. Go through the list several times and check each of your images while composing to see if you are committing any of these mistakes. Correct them then and there. You will see that your bird photography is improving day by day.

If you want to see how to compose on all different situations, then look at the photographs of your favorite photographers. Understand how they are composing their bird photographs. You will start taking better bird photographs instantly!

Learn how to take better bird photographs in less than an hour! 

Please share your opinions in the comments. It would be definitely helpful to the readers if you know of any other important mistakes that one should avoid.

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Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has 36 Comments
  1. Some very good points. When I photograph birds, I am going for one of two things.

    1. – A record shot that just denotes that I saw a particular bird in a particular place on any given day. And for this, as long as the bird is identifiable, I will except a less than perfect picture.

    2 – A very good picture of the bird in the wild – For this, all your points make very good sense. Trying to do everything correctly is what makes it a challenge and fun.

    Thanks for the good tips.

    [ Jeff ]

    1. Dear Jeff…Thanks for your wonderful comments.
      You are absolutely right with first point. When you want to ID a bird, it is fair if you get less than perfect picture.
      The last sentence in the second point is very nice indeed. It is a challenge but fun after all 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot Prabhath. Well said! Patience plays a very important role. I will emphasize on the bird’s behavior of perching on the same place often. Thanks for reminding. I am glad to see your bird photographs especially the ones from my favorite place, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary.

    1. Thanks for sharing your comments Rajesh. I appreciate your honesty. I am sure that you will really be a very good photographer. Your photographs of pigeon are really good. Keep up the good work.

    1. Dear Rosemary, You are most welcome! I think that’s why we normally get hooked in to bird photography. It’s simply not easy to get a perfect photograph of them.

  2. Great info for amateur fotonut and bird lover. How to get the eye in focus when birds never stay still is a real mystery for me.

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  3. Dear Prathap,
    Your pictures are amazing! Thank you for sharing your experiences in photography.
    After reading the tips, I realized all the mistakes I am making while taking pictures of the birds.
    I will try to correct the mistakes and recheck how I am doing.

  4. Hi!

    I’m a beginner in bird photography, but i took a picture yesterday with a bird taking flight on a branch. should i crop the picture so the bird fills the entire frame or leave it as little as it was. to crop zoom so to speak. (I’m finnish so i can’t describe it so well…)

    If i crop (or zoom) too much it becomes blurry. And i do like the background as well. I just don’t think that the viewer is going to connect to the photo since the bird is a little small and far away. Even though i took it with my SIGMA 70-300mm.

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