Sleeping Bird Horizontal Composition « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Sleeping Bird Horizontal Composition

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First winter Dunlin resting, Barnegat Jetty, Barnegat Light, NJ Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1/250 sec. at f/8 set manually.

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First winter Dunlin resting, Barnegat Jetty, Barnegat Light, NJ Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1/250 sec. at f/8 set manually.

Sleeping Bird Horizontal Composition

Given your druthers–with all things being equal–would you have placed the bird on the right side of the frame as in the top image or on the the left side of the image as immediately above? (Note: In these two images all things are not equal.) Which one do you like better, and why? Could I have done anything different in the field to have created a better image?

I went to the Barnegat Jetty for the last two days with Denise Ippolito. We had great chances with Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Brant, a hen Common Eider, and a variety of wintering shorebirds including Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Purple Sandpiper, and Sanderling. It was obvious that many folks who showed up to photograph at the jetty had not purchased Denise’s Barnegat Jetty Site Guide. As a result they showed up at the wrong time, missed lots of great opportunities, and inconvenienced other photographers (including us) 🙂 I will share additional details in the next Bulletin.

I hope that everyone enjoys a happy, healthy, and productive 2011 filled with travel to wondrous places and lots of wonderful images.

Shopper’s Guide

Here is a list of the gear that I used to create the images above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body And this is the very best professional digital camera body that I have even used.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
Double Bubble Level You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card Fast and dependable.
NEOS Navigator 5 Insulated Overshoes My brand new pair of NEOS Navigators kept me warm and dry and provided safe footing and a good grip on the slippery jetty rocks.

If you are considering the purchase of a major piece of photographic gear be it a new camera, a long lens, a tripod or a head, or some accessories be sure to check out our complete Shopper’s Guide.

42 comments to Sleeping Bird Horizontal Composition

  • after posting the previous, it suddenly occurs to me what it is about the rock’s edge in the background…I think it’s the juxtaposition of peaceful sleeping and perilousness, the dialectic of peace and danger…it is a picture of loving “what is”

  • Both are great pictures for me, but if I had to choose I would choose the second one. There’s something about the rock edge in the distance behind the bird in the second one…a sense of the perilousness of its perch, or something, that intrigues and invites further wonder.

  • avatar Jim Kranick

    My first reaction was that I prefered the first one and then wondered why. Usually I am very aware of having room for the subject to look or move into the picture. Looked closer and found many of the reasons people prefered the first were the same things I found.

    Thanks for the testing of our composition skills.

  • Artie, definitely the first one for me. I find the rock very distracting in the second one. In the first, I like the leading line created by the rock. If, instead of rock, this was a low angle angle shot of a sleeping shoredbird on the beach, I’d have prefered the subject placement the way it is in the second shot.

    In the field, going lower, if possible, would have been better….if the BG did not have anything distracting. But you never miss these things…so am guessing getting lower wasn’t possible.

    Additionally, I think I’d prefer a tad more room at the bottom. just my 2 cents.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Hey Loren, Thanks. You turned the light on 🙂 If anything changes before the IPT begins on 9 FEB, please shoot me an e-mail. Thanks.

  • Artie –

    Yes; I was responding to and expanding on your earlier question about nesting GBH’s at the Venice Rookery.


  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Loren, It sounds as if you were describing the Venice Rookery. Can you confirm that please?

  • The space to the left of the bird in the first photo appears a bit vacant. I prefer the second where the bird is looking into the space. The rock in the second photo also seems to balance the image and fill the space. Happy new to year to viewers of this informative blog.

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    I was always told as a birder that birds simply didn’t care about human voices“.

    Unless you were told that by a bird, I wouldn’t rely on it as gospel – I’ve seen umpteen instances of birds flushed by loud voices.

  • I have the idea that sleeping birds with their head turned are one of the cases in which you can more often “violate” the “look into the frame” rule… Of course, as you and others said, there are a number of differences in the two shots, in addition to the bird position. In particular the rock. I don’t like a lot it in the second shot, its peak just behind the bird distracts me too much.

    On the other hand, I’m attracted by the bird’s feet. They seem to be strongly grabbing the rock to avoiding slipping away… that’s why I’m more interested in the downside of the slope. I’d be curious to see a third shot similar to the first, but with the bird more upward and more slope.

    PS Elliotte, it’s fun to meet you in a non-software-engineering blog! (Sorry for the personal communication, guys ;-).

  • avatar Justine

    Hello all,
    I am in the camp that likes the first image better — for reasons that have already been expressed — rock is less obstrusive, bird’s body is pointing into the frame even though the head is looking out. Somehow the having the “weight” of the subject on the right seems more balanced to me.
    Regarding placement in the frame of a sleeping or preening bird, I had a similar “problem” just a couple of days ago with a Green-winged teal standing on a partly submerged log. I tried both placements in a horizontal frame and didn’t realize until I was looking at the images at home on the computer that I should have used a vertical framing, especially since there was a reflection of the bird in the water. Perhaps a verticle framing would have improved these images as well.

    I’ve just started following your blog and website, Artie, and am enjoying it very much. Thanks.

  • No comment on the walking or carrying of big lenses like guns, but with respect to the talking I was always told as a birder that birds simply didn’t care about human voices and that it was much preferable to talk rather than gesture.

  • avatar Jonathan Michael Ashton

    As usual both are very well exposed and sharp. The first shot would be very useful if you wanted to put a caption in it. The second shot is a little better balanced – the bird is looking into the open space. Regards improvement I would be tempted to clone the top part of the rock, along the ridge so that there was a clear space under the tail of the bird, I think this would provide a clearer view of the bird. What d’ya think?

  • First one, because my eyes are drawn to the bird’s eye, and this composition keeps my focus on the subject. The second image, while my eyes first go to the bird, my eyes are then pulled to the darkness above the rock to the right.

  • avatar Esther Corley

    I much prefer the 1st one. It is sharper, more defined.Also where it is placed in the photo is better…the main part of the body is in the right spot. I like the less of the rock is showing, too. Number 1, definitely!!!

  • I have a very slight preference for the second one. The bird’s head is pointed to the right which justifies that framing, and I like seeing the rise in the rock which gives the image better lines and makes it feel softer.

  • avatar Monte Brown


    Like the second one, the bird is looking into the frame, plus it is positioned at the highest point on the rock. The little bit of lighter blue in the upper right hand corner balances nicely with the lighter blue in the lower left hand corner, the light adds life to the image. Both images are tack sharp and exposure appears perfect. The slope of the rock in the first image tends to lead the eye away from the subject and out of the frame. On my monitor it appears the bottom toe has been clipped in the second image. Both images are “killers”

  • Top image is my favorite. Because:
    1-I like the diagonal line of the rock. In the lower frame the rock and bird make a lump smack dab in the middle.
    2-the birds eye is looking down and leftish so it seems there is enough room in front of the eye direction.
    3-I like the darker top. Light area at top of lower frame draws the eye away from the bird.
    4-OOF rock is less predominate, smaller than the bird, and back farther. In lower frame it’s a large area of OOF and equal in size to the bird

  • Hi Artie, Happy New Year! I prefer image #1. The rock is less distracting and allows me to focus on the bird. The second image is too distacting with the rock being more of the composition.

  • Hi Artie, happy New Year to you. I prefer the first image. I think that is because, even though the bird’s head is looking out of the picture it’s body gives the impression that it is actually pointing into the image if that makes any sense!

  • avatar Randal C. Jaffe

    I much prefer the first one. This is very “new ageish” but I feel tension from the second one.

  • I like the first one with more room in front of the bird although it isn’t moving.

  • avatar Doug Faulder

    I prefer #2. Like Aravind I like to see more of the rock, especially the way the line rises and falls under the bird.

  • I like the second image.

    The first has too much negative space to me.

    In the second, we get to see more of the interesting shape of the rock. Yes, it competes in the scene, but it’s enough out of focus that it’s clear the subject is the bird. There is negative space in the upper right, but the slightly lighter part at the top helps fill that space without competing with the subject.

    Could you have moved the camera a few inches lower? That might have prevented the body (at least the tail) from visually overlapping the rock. I’m not sure what that would have done to the background.


  • avatar Bob Abela

    I prefer the first. The bird’s position on the rock with the single diagonal line is more to my liking.

  • Artie –

    Funny you should mention that; I was just there yesterday for the first time since I got back to FL.

    Yes, there were a few, although the total population (all species) seemed pretty thin. There were maybe 4 or 5 GBH’s who kept flying over to the shore to grab material and flying back, handing it over to the mate, then doing it again. In some cases they landed so close to us that I couldn’t get them in the shot (I was using the 7D, (100-400), or swing the camera fast enough (because they were so close) to follow them and keep them in the shot. I have quite a few clipped bodies from yesterday! What a spot!

    Just as we were leaving, however, a flock of snowy egrets swooped in (maybe 50 individuals) and all of a sudden, the island was dotted with white, so , all of a sudden, there were a lot of birds, when a few minutes ago, there had been just a few. It was starting to get dark, I had everything packed up, and we were driving out when they arrived, and, most importantly, Mrs C wanted to get going, so I didn’t go back, but I’ll get back over the next few days.

    Not sure when your last visit was, but, since I was there last (May), they’ve cut down most of the vegetation surrounding the lagoon…that “private” feeling is gone, and you can see across from the entrance area right through to the trailer park that abuts…kinda disturbing to see all that greenery gone. My wife said she saw a sign (I missed it) that it was a poisonous species and will be replaced, but, right now, it’s pretty bare. I’d imagine that all that work probably scared much of the population away while it was happening. Hopefully it’ll happen soon.

  • avatar Joerg Rockenberger

    My vote goes for the first one as well. Mainly because of the rock leading into the image from the left and providing a strong base in the LRC of the image makes the image much more balanced. The abrupt angling away of the rock in the right half of the 2nd image is very distracting IMO. I also don’t care too much about the light blue background at the top of the 2nd image although that could be mitigated in post processing of course.

    As for the positioning of the bird in the images, I am okay with the “wrong” direction the bird is looking into in the first image. As for how to improve the image in the field a lower angle would have been preferable – although most likely impossible – to avoid the merging of the birds lower body with the rock. In both images the exposure and sharpness on the bird are excellent of course.

    The described behavior of some other photographers is particularly disturbing because they are photographers themselves and should know better – even without the Barnegat site guide. Although annoying I can somewhat rationalize if the general public gets in the way – although walking with a dog through a colony of Snowy Plovers I was working at a distance from 10 feet was really pushing my patience as well – but such behavior by photographers is inexcusable IMO.


  • Artie, We had a great time and we did get some really good opportunities. I prefer #1. I usually like when the bird(even resting birds) are looking into the frame however the rock really dictated the way the bird should be framed in this image.

    Paul, I think you misunderstood Artie. When we were working a flock of shorebirds we had photographers walking into the sun and not able to get by us without having to pass the flock. You can pass a flock on the jetty w/o scaring them but not while carrying your tripod like a gun and talking loudly. Another time I had scooted up to a Black-bellied Plover that was very skittish. I managed to get on sun angle and at a position w/o any rocks in the background. Two guys were walking past me on the beach side laughing and talking loudly. I didn’t see them at first I had only heard them. The bird flew. When I looked and saw that they were both carrying big lenses I was surprised and a little disappointed in their behavior. Photographing on the jetty is difficult with all of the various obstacles already in place. It would seem that photographers should not add to that difficulty.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Loren, Sounds as if live in two rather nice places. Are there any Great Blue Herons nesting right now at the Rookery?

  • Interesting choice. Normally, I like animals looking into the space but in this case, I most certainly don’t. I much prefer image #1 mainly because of the diagonal line and uncluttered upper left quadrant. Also, maybe, because the bird’s body is facing left though its head may be facing right.

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    Number 2 for me.

    Intuitively I always want space where the bird is “looking” and number 2 has that.

  • Artie:

    I prefer the first. I like the strong diagonal line the rock makes from the bottom left to the upper right. This line leads my eye right to the bird where it stops (at least for a while). The less strong diagonal in the second image stops in the middle of the frame and there is a lesser, conflicting diagonal gong the other way that pulls my eye away from the bird.


  • I much prefer the second one. The second image to me is more ‘balanced’ with the rock serving to keep the negative space in check. For me, the first image has too much negative space in the left. I also prefer the second because there is more room in the frame in the direction the bird’s head is turned.

  • avatar James Saxon

    I like the first image because the focus is on the bird and there is a nice clean background and the rock where the bird is sitting is not dominate. For me the bird competes with the rock for my attention in the second image. Have a very Happy New Year and thanks for all you do for us aspiring nature photographers. Travel safely.

  • Not sure who you were asking, so I’ll answer, too; Cape Cod and Venice, FL.

  • I’m originally from Sri Lanka but now living in UK from last March.New to the field and learning a lot from your blog. I was following the blog for sometime even though didn’t comment 🙂


  • avatar Subhrashis

    Oh, 3 comments since I started typing!

    Also , If the bird wasn’t there, I think you could also have passed this one off as an aerial landscape!

  • avatar Subhrashis

    The light seems better in the 1st image, and it seems a wee bit sharper… Also, the bg shows a nice 1/3 – 2/3 division. So I suspect this is the one you’d have kept.
    I’d prefer keeping the 2nd image, as there is more space towards the gaze, but the rest of the image is better in 1.
    Something different? Going a bit lower down so that his lower parts didn’t merge with the lines of the rock, I guess..

    A Very Happy New Year to you, Artie!

  • Artie –

    I prefer the first one, for a couple of reasons:

    1. Even though the bird’s head is facing right, I still prefer the body facing into the shot.
    2. The rock he (she?) is standing on is less obtrusive in the first; in the second one it’s taking up almost half the area; I find it distracting.


  • Hi Artie,

    Happy new year. Difficult situation :).To me… both compositions are good but I would prefer the first one. But second one also good as the birds eyes are towards right direction.

    This is my first comment on your blog anyway 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Welcome Madhawa, and thanks for the new year’s wishes. My thoughts in a day or two. The more the merrier. Where are you from?