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 be 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 loose that opportunity.

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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 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.

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, 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 the clean or reasonably blurred background as much as you can.

4. Avoid The Centered Compositions

This is another common mistake committed by the 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 eye is sharp focus is the most important aspect in the 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, loosing 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 background completely white, but generally it should be avoided.

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

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 high-light 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 is overexposed, then it will loose the details which can be much worse compared to loosing 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 image becomes unusable.

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

A photograph of a Black-capped Chickadee with very interesting pose. But the white portion of it’s face is overexposed loosing 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 shadow cast on the bird’s body.

Bird Photography Composition Tips. Great Blue Heron in Flight.

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 back lighting 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 to the viewer to connect with it. Eye connection is the most important aspect in bird photography

Don’t be confused with 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 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 to 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 chance to take it in the eye level

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

Conclusion

You are now ready to get decent bird photographs. Go through the list several times and check each of your image 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!

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Feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to see all my photographs and learn how I am composing them. You can interact with me often since I am generally very active in social media.

Also, 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.

If you feel you are learning something from my articles, please go ahead and share it with your friends. Your involvement is a reward to my work.

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36 Responses to 9 Bird Photography Composition Mistakes That You Should Avoid

  1. Jeff January 4, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    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 ]

    • Prathap January 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      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 🙂

  2. Prabhath January 8, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    Very Nice Shots and good explanation Prathap. The most important aspect of bird photography is patience. Also, try to locate pearching place where the bird/s return often, and get your best Shot 😉 :

    Some of my bird shots are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/prabhathkudaithur/sets/72157627750432535/

    • Prathap January 8, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      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.

  3. Rajesh January 19, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Very good explanation with examples. Earlier before reading your blog, used be happy that I got perfect shot ( In my words, perfect shot is sharp, focused), now I can see there are few points which need to be considered and avoided.

    Thanks for sharing the information.

    Some of my bird shots:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gundaphotography/sets/72157631654495136/

    • Prathap January 20, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      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.

  4. Joao Henrique Hollerbach June 14, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Very usefull information. Congratulations from Brazil.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/123813957@N06/

    • Prathap June 15, 2014 at 6:32 am #

      Thank you! Joao Henrique Hollerbach

  5. Rosemary September 3, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    Thank you for this most interesting article. I love birds, but it is not always easy to get perfect photographs of them.

    • Prathap September 5, 2014 at 4:01 am #

      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.

  6. Linda February 28, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    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.

  7. Pinakin July 29, 2015 at 9:35 pm #

    Thank you for the book.

    • Prathap July 30, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

      My pleasure! Pinakin.

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  8. Sarguna Packiaraj September 12, 2016 at 6:12 am #

    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.
    Regards,
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    • Prathap September 12, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

      Hi Sarguna, Thank you for your kind words. I am glad that you were able to recognize the mistakes. That’s very important for the growth. All the best!

  9. Viivi May 29, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    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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