The Rule Of Thirds for Bird Photography

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The Rule of Thirds is probably the only Photography Composition technique that is necessary to kick start your Bird Photography. It is the most simple composition technique to understand and apply.

The Rule of Thirds photography composition can be applied to birds portraits, birds behavior, birds in action, birds in flight or any other type of bird photography.

In my previous article, we looked at the definition and basics of the Photography Composition and the Rule of Thirds. Now let us take a look at its specific usage in Bird Photography.

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Does Rule of Thirds make Your Photographs More Compelling?

Not really!

Rule of Thirds or any other photography composition techniques gives you a framework or skeleton to work with in order to make your photograph compelling. It is important to understand that it is just framework. You have to use this framework in the appropriate way to make your photograph compelling.

Instead of randomly taking a photograph, a composition technique will let you organize the elements in your photograph to make it more interesting.

Let us look at the application of the Rule of Thirds to different types of Bird Photography.

Rule of Thirds for Bird Portraits

Bird’s eye and the catch light in its eye is one of the most important aspects of Bird Photography. If you do not get this right, then it will be mostly unusable image.

The Rule of Thirds states that the main subject of interest should be placed on one of the 4 intersection points to make a photograph compelling.

The Rule of Thirds Grid showing 4 intersection points

The Rule of Thirds Grid showing 4 intersection points marked in red circles

 If the bird fills the frame or is the only subject of interest in the photograph, then place the birds eye or head on or close to one of the 4 intersection points. This will ensure that you have enough space left surrounding the bird’s head which balances the photograph and also makes bird comfortable in the frame.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. A Bald Eagle portrait.

A Bald Eagle portrait with the eyes on the top 2 intersection points of the Rule of Thirds grid

Rule of Thirds for Static or Perched Birds

Usually birds are in standing position or vertical. By placing the bird on either the left or the right third line, you can give enough space on the opposite side to balance the photograph. This will also make a photograph look more dynamic than if you place the bird in the center.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography.  Red headed sparrow.

A Red Headed Sparrow perched on a bed of grass. Its eye is placed closer to the top-right intersection point and its body is aligned to the right third line making it an interesting photograph

Rule of Thirds for Birds in their Habitat

A bird usually occupies anywhere between 25% and 50% of the frame when it is shown in its habitat. Which means bird acts as a primary point of interest with its habitat acting as secondary point of interest. Both are important elements of the photograph.

The photograph will look more dynamic by placing the bird on one of the 4 intersection points or on left, right, top or bottom third line in the rule of third grid. This will allow enough space for its habitat to balance the photograph and make it visually interesting.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. A Great Egret perching on its natural habitat.

A Great Blue Heron perching on its natural habitat. I placed the bird on the left third line of the Rule of Thirds grid to give enough space for its habitat on the other side

Rule of Thirds for Birds in Action

Birds are always active. Apart from their natural beauty and their magnificent flight, studying their behavior can be very satisfying and gives us an insight into their life.

For preening birds, you can apply the same principle as that of perched birds. Place the bird on either left or right third line.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. Common Grackle Preening.

A Common Grackle Preening while perched on a tree branch. Its body is aligned on the right vertical third

It is not uncommon to find the birds walking, leaning forward to catch the prey, fishing, etc. In these cases, it is very important to make sure that there is enough space for the bird to gaze or move towards.

This is easily achieved by placing the bird on either left or the right third line based on which side the bird is moving or leaning or looking.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. Green Heron Leaning forward to catch its prey.

A Green Heron leans forward in search of its prey. By placing its head on the top intersection point I have left enough space for it to look towards

If the space is cramped, the photograph becomes unbalanced, leading to uncomfortness to the viewer.

Rule of Thirds for Birds in Flight

Since the birds fly parallel to the ground, and generally above us, it is recommended to place the bird’s body on the top third line of the Rule of Thirds grid.

This will ensure there is enough space below the bird giving an indication to the viewer that bird is flying high.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. A Seagull in flight.

A Seagull flying into us with its body parallel to the ground. It’s body is placed on the top third line to give more space in the bottom giving a hint that it is flying high

Also, apply the rule of gaze and movement by leaving enough space in the front of the flying bird to fly into.

The Rule of Thirds Photography Composition tip for Bird Photography. A Belted Kingfisher in flight.

A Belted Kingfisher flying across the photograph from left to right. By aligning its wings on the left vertical third and its body on top horizontal third I have given enough space in the front and in the bottom of the bird

Conclusion

As quoted in the beginning of the article, Rule of Thirds is probably the only composition technique you need to kick start your bird photography.

However, it is just a guideline. If it does not make the bird photograph better, then go ahead and break it. The aim is to make a photograph that is more compelling to you and to the viewer.

I generally start composing my bird photographs with Rule of Thirds in mind. If it does not make my photograph any better, then I break it.

Always remember, that it is not necessary to get the composition right in the field. Make sure you have enough space around the bird so that you can re-compose it later.

It is almost always necessary to re-compose a bird photograph in the post processing stage, because you cannot miss that moment trying to compose in the field.

I would love to listen to your experiences, thoughts and opinions in your comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to get all the updates.

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Check out another interesting article 9 bird photography composition mistakes you should avoid.

 

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8 Responses to The Rule Of Thirds for Bird Photography

  1. R.L.Deshpande April 3, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Inspiring

  2. Benedictus Tang August 31, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    thanks for sharing your bird photography experiences and guidelines.

    I learnt from it for improving my bird photography.

    take care and wish you all the best!

    • Prathap August 31, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Dear Benedictus Tang, Thank you very much for your kind words!

  3. Carlos Rodrigues June 22, 2015 at 7:45 am #

    Thanks for so didactic explanations.
    I started following your blog recently. I signed up to receive the newsletter and I am enjoying it. Always learning something new or reinforcing what I already knew.
    Congratulations, for a new reader in Brazil.

    • Prathap June 26, 2015 at 11:59 am #

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Carlos Rodrigues. I hope you keep getting useful information from my blog and newsletter in the future too.

  4. Carlos Rodrigues June 22, 2015 at 7:47 am #

    *…from a new reader in Brazil.

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