Improve Your Bird (and Nature) Photography By Leaps and Bounds: Be Sure to Bookmark and Study This Page « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

To Improve Your Bird (and Nature) Photography By Leaps and Bounds, Be Sure to Bookmark and Study this Page

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Live Life to the Fullest

Join an Instructional Photo-Tour. Better yet, sign up for both Homer trips.

Don’t Look Now

Don’t loo now, but the recent mini-streak ended yesterday.


If you re-read the last blog post carefully, you will see that I never said exactly that the young lady in the selfie with me was Caitlin Clark. She was not. When I saw the young woman seated nearby, I asked her if she was Caitlin. Smiling and blushing, she said “I am not.” Her friend chimed in, “Everybody asks her if she’s Caitlin!” I know for a fact that I got a few folks, April-Fool’s-Day style.

What’s Up?

You have heard me make this point repeatedly for many years: Many, if not most of the bird photographers whom I run across in the field own ten, twenty, or even $50,000 or more of the best gear available, yet they have virtually no idea as to how to make a good photograph. None, zero, nada. Either they have never learned the basics, or they simply ignore them. The gentleman from Vermont featured in today’s post is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I urge everyone to change their life by joining a BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour and to check out everything below. I am not gonna be teaching forever …

I continue to be baffled by folks who think that purchasing an expensive long lens and a great mirrorless camera body will make them a good (or at least better) bird photographer. Instruction, study, and practice are overlooked. And if you do not study seriously or get some good instruction, no amount of practice will help you improve.

Since I got home from North Dakota I watched every hole of the Masters golf tournament — Scottie Scheffler was too good. On Sunday, I watched about ten hours of PBA (Professional Bowler’s Association) events — Kudos to EJ Tackett who was also too good last week. I did get some work done, mostly on this blog post, but other than my swim I took things easy on Sunday. I did not even head down to the lake in the morning despite perfect conditions.

Today is Monday 29 April 2024. I have lots to do. And I will be heading down to the lake at least for a bit to see what’s up. I hope that you too have a great day.

A Life-Changing Phone Critique?

Yesterday, I did a phone critique for a gentleman from Vermont. He posted his ten best images from a recent trip to Texas. He used a Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens and the top-of-the line Nikon body, the vaunted Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera. At $12,067.90, his rig would not qualify as an inexpensive kit. Oh, I forgot that he uses a Robus RCM-439 4-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod topped by a Wimberley MonoGimbal Head. That brings the total to $12,386.85 plus at least another $500.00 or so for some flash cards.

I told him right off that the good news is that he is making sharp images and that he had captured some interesting behaviors. But. And there were lots of buts. He made just about every possible beginner mistake, and as you might imagine, most of the images were horrific at best.

We talked about sun angle, getting lower and choice of perspective, seeing the shot, head angle, subject to imaging sensor orientation, and most importantly for him, the fact that the backgrounds in bird photography are often more important than the subject. At times it was difficult for him to grasp what I was talking about, but we stuck with it, and the result was many “Aha-s.

I had him send me two raw files and was not completely surprised to see that they were both huge crops. So, he also needs help on getting closer to his subjects. .

After 40 minutes on the phone, he sent me these comments via e-mail:

Thanks for the critique! Lots to learn, for sure. I went out this afternoon to practice paying attention to the backgrounds. It was fun and I’m getting the hang of it. It was too cloudy to practice sun angle. Next time.

I replied:

Thanks. On all but the darkest, cloudiest, dreariest days, the light still has a direction, and you always want that light behind you.

The best news is that the gentleman from Vermont sought help and is looking to improve.

I promised him an improved and expanded version of the previously published list of steps that folks need to master in order to consistently create good images of birds. Here it is:

The Basics That Many Folks Ignore

1- Look for good situations. Learn to see the shot. Don’t just see the beauty of the bird, look for clean backgrounds: birds on small rises or ridges, or those perched on a clean branch or on an elevated rock. When working a group of birds, it is usually best to isolate by getting closer or adding a teleconverter. This skill is best improved by attending one of more Instructional Photo-Tours. And by getting down on the ground when photographing shorebirds!

2- See the background, not just the bird. Cluttered backgrounds, those with sticks and branches, those with unusually light or dark areas, those with crap in the water, and/or those that are too close to the bird must be avoided. Look for lots of distance from the subject to the background. As a general tule, the farther the background is from the subject, the softer, more de-focused, and more pleasing it will be.

3- Practice your stalking skills so that you can get learn to get reasonably close to a bird without scaring it off.

4- Strive to position yourself so that the plane of the bird’s body is parallel to the plane of the imaging sensor (or angled to some degree towards it). If the bird’s tail is closer to you than its head, you are shooting up the bird’s butt. Such photos are only very rarely successful.

5- Getting down to the bird’s eye level — yes, that often means getting down on the ground, will often clean up otherwise distracting backgrounds. Similarly, shooting up at a bird atop a pole or a tree will not produce pleasing images.

6- On sunny days especially, consider the sun/light angle. In general, it is best to have the sun behind you so that your shadow points to within ten or fifteen degrees (at most) of the subject. Remember that on cloudy days, the light still has a direction; you always want that light behind you. Paying attention to sun angle reduces or eliminates distracting shadows.

7- Understand that birds will generally fly into the wind, face into the wind when perched or on the ground, and take off into the wind. Thus, by understanding the relationship between sky conditions and wind direction, it is often possible to know in advance whether you should stay home of get out there. Furthermore, on cloudy days it almost always pays to keep the wind at your back.

8- Set a shutter speed that will allow you to create a sharp image.

9- Select an AF mode or point that will yield the framing that you want, and ultimately, a pleasing composition. If you are using a zoom lens, zoom in or out as needed. For images of the whole bird, be sure to avoid clipping wingtips or feet. And remember, if an object is worth including in the frame, it is generally best to include the whole thing with a small border around it.

10- Set a good exposure by adjusting the ISO.

11- Keep the lens as still as possible. With long fast lenses, using a tripod is often best.

12- Be aware of the bird’s head angle. Depending on the situation, you will usually want the bird’s head turned one to three degrees toward you.

13- Depress the shutter button gently. Do not jab it.

14- Work on your post-processing skills. The gentleman from Vermont had one decent image but executed a huge crop and ruined the image completely when optimizing it.

15- Many folks state that they want to create prize-winning images of birds in flight and in action. I urge them and you to first learn to create excellent static portraits by mastering the 14 points above. Only after you can do that consistently will you be ready to step up to the next level. One step at a time.

As for using a tripod, there are many advantages of using a decent tripod topped by a Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro:

1- Making sharper images at slower shutter speeds (and correspondingly lower ISOs).

2- Slowing you down thus allowing you time to check your exposures and your framing. That said, there are times when one or two seconds can make or break you. The more familiar you are with your gear, the better you will be able to succeed when time is of the essence.

3- The Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro enables smooth, level panning when on a tripod, especially when doing flight photography on a tripod.

Best Advice

If you can afford an IPT and have some matching free time, sign up ASAP. Check out the possibilities here.

If you cannot afford an IPT and/or to take time off to attend one, consider these suggestions for improving:

1-Subscribe to the blog and read and study it here.

2-Purchase and study the information in the two-book bundle here. Study them. They will become your bird photography bible.

3- Purchase and study the BAA Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II) here.

4- Join BirdPhotographers.Net here and start posting your images in the Avian Forum.

5- Look at and study as many top notch bird photographs as possible. Ask yourself what it is that you like about each and ask yourself what you do not like.


With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

9 comments to Improve Your Bird (and Nature) Photography By Leaps and Bounds: Be Sure to Bookmark and Study This Page

  • avatar Steve Dickson

    Thanks Artie.


  • avatar Steve Dickson

    Hello Artie…if you you could only purchase the A1 or the A9iii which one would you go with. Thanks for all the information you provide.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Steve, Good question and a hard one. If you love bird photography and love photographing them in flight and action, or if you shoot sports, the a9 iii is the clear choice. If you love landscapes and macro and do mostly static birds, the a1 is the body for you.

      Either way, be sure to use my affiliate links to earn a free guide.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Dietmar Haenchen

    Thank you for the reminder, Artie. Charles, can you educate me about “THE NUT HOUSE”?. I may want to go there.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Thanks, Artie. I’m pleased that many of your 14 points have become automatic for me, but reminders are always good. As are your IPTs.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks, David. I did not realize that there were Fourteen Points …


      ps: The Fourteen Points was a statement of principles for peace that was to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. The principles were outlined in a January 8, 1918 speech on war aims and peace terms to the United States Congress by President Woodrow Wilson.

  • avatar Kevin Hice

    Artie I still read the blog and I have improved over the years. I still am learning. All great advice and it would help those immensely to attend one of your IPTs. They will actually save money if they think about time wasted and money spent still practicing bad photo behaviors. Have a great day.

  • avatar Charles H. Burn


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