Can a 1 1/2 degree head angle difference be a big deal? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Can a 1 1/2 degree head angle difference be a big deal?


Sunday was a lazy day filled with mostly crummy NFL games. I cut down one small, skinny dead tree and sawed off a long, sturdy branch from a fallen dead tree to serve as perches once I plant them in the lake a ways out from the shore. Boy, that wood was hard!

Folks did a good job yesterday commenting on the Herring Gull with whelk image. Below is another head angle challenge. It will be interesting to see everyone’s thoughts.

I was glad to learn of that the sale of Steve Cashell’s Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens is nearly complete; he is waiting for the check to clear.

The Streak

Today makes one hundred twenty-two days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took more than an hour to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections willing.

Wanted to Buy

Please contact me via e-mail if you are interested in selling a used Canon EF 500mm f/4L is II USM in excellent condition as per the usual terms.


Booking.Com came through for me twice again recently with both the DeSoto Fall IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those might include system, camera body, accessory, and lens choices and decisions.

These two images was created on the morning of October 21, 2017 with the Induro GIT304L Grand Series 3 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite tern photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/200 sec. at f/6.3 in Av mode. AWB in predawn light.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -2.
One row down and four AF points to the right of the center AF point/AI Servo/Expand/Shutter Button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was on the bird’s cheek directly below the bird’s eye.

Winter Plumage Common Tern on Beach

Common Tern on Beach

What I really liked about this situation was that this bird isolated, well away from the rest of the flock: about 40 Sandwich Terns, 6 Forster’s Terns, and another few commons. None of the birds were going anywhere.

Head Angle

Are you seeing much of a difference in the head angle in A and the head angle in B? (Note again that the two images were created in the same one one-hundredth of a second.)

Image Question

The beach was dry. The bird was tame. What is the most likely reason that I did not splay the legs of my tripod and get down flat on the ground and create a more intimate image?

Winter Plumage Common Tern on Beach/tight crop of head

Head Angle Nitpicking

I’ve been told often that my comments on head angle are nitpicking, the one or two degrees difference in head angle cannot possibly be important to the success of an avian image. As nitpicking is defined as looking for unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily. I humbly disagree. In my opinion, differences in head angle as small as one degree or even less can make a huge difference with bird photographs.

With today’s two images, what would you say about the heads angles:

a-Image A clearly has the better head angle.
b-Both images are the same; the head angle makes no difference.
c-The head angle in image B is vastly superior to the head angle in image A.

If you chose either A or B, please let us know why you made your choice.

Cropping Question

Whichever image you prefer, would you crop it? If yes, how?

If In Doubt …

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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19 comments to Can a 1 1/2 degree head angle difference be a big deal?

  • avatar James Saxon

    Artie, have not been receiving your recent blog posts and thought you were travelling. Decided to check your website and found I have been missing the current posts. Checked my blocking filters, malware, etc. and do not see anything that prevents me from receiving. Please add me to your list if I have been deleted. Thanks

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART


      To solve the problem, please go here:


      with love, artie

  • avatar Carlotta Grenier

    I prefer the head angle of image B as I feel a communication and acceptance from the subject

  • Great demonstration of how a degree or two can make such a difference (greatly prefer B). Do you think the reaction time (i.e. the bird’s…) is fast enough to turn toward shutter noise in such a short fraction of a second?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Sometimes birds will react to the sound of the shutter; that almost always happens with the first click. As this was the sixth frame I made I doubt that that was the case here.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Johann Mey

    Image B is best – it contains character and interaction with the viewer. Also because I believe the focus is on the eye, the slightly rotated bill is still in the same focus plane as the eye and thus still sharp.

  • I prefer image B because the head angle is better in that it is slightly turned towards you. If you had lowered your tripod would you have included a distracting horizon?

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie,
    c – the head angle in image b is vastly superior to image a
    I think that Elinor’s suggestion about a sand mound in the foreground is a good one. Perhaps, if you had gotten lower it would have introduced a OOF distracting element into the image. I think I would try a long thin crop, removing some of the OOF background from the top.

  • avatar Jack D Waller

    Fully agree, for me even before reading the comments it was the eye contact aspect of B more than anything. I think as humans communicating we like direct eye contact.

    Seems to me the activity of sitting low in the sand is better represented by the higher angle.


  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: A degree or two of head angle difference can be extremely important. That is why your position of Chief of the Head Angle Police is an important one. 🙂 in this case, I prefer image B but only somewhat. The eye in image A seems a bit bigger and clearer to me, which I like.

    Image question answer: you didn’t get lower because you didn’t need to, because the nice smooth sand behind the bird wasn’t distracting.

  • avatar Dale Cunning

    Image ‘a” look’s like a wanted or description pic.
    Image “B’ has character and is engaging to the viewer.
    Tells a story and makes the viewer want more of the story.
    Well done.

  • avatar john farnsworth

    I suppose we could theorize that Angle B lends a bit of counterpose, classically known as contrapposto, to the subject. Counterpose is certainly important in human portraiture and sculpture–it seems natural that we’d find it aesthetically pleasing in bird photography as well.

  • avatar Warren H

    I also prefer B as it engages the photographer and viewer. I would not crop.

    As for getting lower, you indicated there were several other terns on the beach. I assume you did not get lower in order to keep the other birds out of the frame.

  • avatar frank sheets

    I prefer image B. The bird appears to be looking at you so to me there is some sort interaction going on which I like. With A, the bird is looking away from you and the images creates the question, what is the bird looking at. The image can never answer that question so it kinda leaves the viewer hanging.

    Re the crop question. I don’t particularly like the position of the bird in the frame, so a relatively large crop to get get the eye more centered would help IMO. But I might also consider adding canvas to the right so I wouldn’t end up with the bird’s head too tight in the frame.

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    B for sure. Bill is sharp to the tip. Eye just a little more clearly defined by the lighting. There is contact with the viewer.
    Is there a slight mound of sand this side of the bird that would have covered some of the bird’s body if you had been lower?

  • avatar Arrow Myers

    I prefer angle B over A for the reason of the bird looking more personal. You can feel that the bird has a story unlike the other which could be a stuffed one if it wasn’t on a beach.

  • avatar Jon

    I prefer Angle B for the reason that the bird seems to be more engaged with the photographer. Angle A is more of a record shot, I would say B more intimate or portrait style image.

    My guess that you didn’t go lower was because:
    1 The foreground sand would have been a little high/intrusive
    2 Something we cannot see but perhaps there was something in the background that you did not want to appear
    3 Maybe your joints were aching!