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Bird Landscape Photos
Wednesday January 9, 2019   |

Early in the development of my photography skills, I had an appreciation for positioning the subject in the frame of your camera somewhere other than the center of the frame. It is a natural reaction when composing a photo to center the subject in the photo frame. But from a design standpoint, and to make your images more interesting, it’s best to place the bird to one side of the frame. Give it some space to look into, give it an area to fly into.

I have long been a fan of the framing of celebrated Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, who is famous for positioning the animals in his illustrations in a lower corner within a grand mountain and forest landscape, or positioning a flying bird in an upper corner of a sky above a vast marshland. Famed wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen has also utilized this kind of framing in his spectacular wildlife photography during the past 50 years with remarkable success.

Artists and designers will bring up the “rule of sixths,” in which you imagine a tic-tack-toe cross-hatch (#) on your image, thereby dividing your photo frame into six parts. The four locations where the lines intersect are considered the strongest points to position a bird, its head or its eye.

If you aren’t already a disciple of these techniques, give ‘em a try the next time you have an opportunity – in the field, or while cropping photos on your computer. Your photos will quickly improve as your editing eye is enhanced in the process.

Taking the Process into the Field

Last week I was afforded a great opportunity to work with positioning my subject in an interesting winter landscape. A pre-New Year’s blizzard drifted snow that was carved by intense horizontal wind to provide some interesting snowscapes in the post-storm sunshine. But I didn’t see a single bird during a 12 mile drive south of home. Then, soon after I began my return drive north, I noticed two Sharp-tailed Grouse on the ground near the road, and six more flying low to the east. Ah-ha – potential.

The two grouse materialized nervously from some leafless bushes, and after a few moments one took flight; but the remaining Sharp-tail settled down, walked into the open, and began picking buds from the ends of the low buckbrush branches. If it continued to walk in that direction, it would clear the brush and enter a beautiful wind-scaped snowdrift that would provide a signature winter image. I was tensed with each step but the bird acted just as I hoped, walking to the top of the drift with the clear blue sky providing a dramatic backdrop. Now I could compose!

A Sharp-tailed Grouse winter landscape photo (above), and a closer portrait-landscape image (below).

First, I turned my camera upright to create a vertical photo frame to show the dimension of the scene and to include the full size of the snowdrift. This also permitted me to include the interesting snow-encrusted plants in the foreground to add depth of field and perspective to the tall snowdrift. The grouse provided the perfect winter subject, and it stopped at the perfect location to allow me to take a little extra time to compose the image and emphasize all the elements in the frame. Without the grouse, it would be a pretty sterile photo; with the grouse, it added the necessary life element to bring all the elements together for a fine composition.

It’s fun to note that as the Sharp-tailed Grouse walked along, and as it stood at the precipice of the snowdrift, it called rather soft but regular clucks – location calls to the rest of its flock that had relocated. By the time I had taken all the photos I wished, when I expected the grouse to take flight, it took a some quick steps forward to hustle down the snowdrift and over the edge of the little hill behind it. Indeed, this was the only flock of birds I encountered that day – and the only individual I was able to photograph post-blizzard.

In my electronic darkroom (my laptop, using my photo editing software), I filed the best of my photos, then cropped a copy of that image to closer focus on the Sharp-tailed Grouse that provided me with ample opportunity to compose a pleasing species landscape photo – my last photo of 2018. Imagine all the fun and excitement we will have photographing birds during 2019!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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