Bird Hunting Photography – Part 1 Elements of a Great Picture.

This is a short series about photography while bird hunting. The objective is to help you take great (or better) pictures while on the hunt, capturing memories and memorializing your awesome dog! In the spirit of the limited attention span common in the blogosphere, I have broken this into these 5 easily digestible segments:

  • Elements of a Great Picture
  • Balancing the Variables – ISO, Aperture & Shutter Speed
  • Camera Settings
  • Camera Management in the Field
  • Photographic Equipment & Editing

So, let’s start with what makes a great, compelling image. Here are the four elements of a great bird hunting picture (or any other picture for that matter). An interesting subject, that is well composed, in sharp focus, and taken in good light are the makings of a great image.

Elements of a Great Picture

The subject – a good subject makes up for a lot of other issues! Standard pictures of your dog running in a field 100 yards away or a tailgate with a limit of killed whatever is just not that interesting. Close-ups of your dog on point or capturing a pheasant flush with your pup hot on its heels is much more compelling.

Spotting these opportunities in time can be difficult, and the window may be open for only seconds. So, be as vigilant as you can and take a lot of pictures when the opportunity arises! Thankfully, memory is cheap, so do not be shy and snap away. If you take 600 pictures on a hunt, you might get 60 keepers with 10 that are notable. The percentage of keepers should increase as your eye improves. Over time you will learn what will make a good picture and what is a waste of time.

Light – This is 2nd in importance to the subject. Diffused light from an overcast but bright day is the best.  Here are two examples of wonderful soft light.

A bright cloudless day can be good, particularly for dogs and other non-reflective things, but harsh direct light can make for some unpleasantly stark pictures of reflective things, like hunter’s faces. There is also a challenge with shadows from hat brims that obscure part of the face into darkness.

On bright days, you need to be extra aware of where the sun is. A standard error is to take a shot where the sun is behind the subject instead of behind the photographer. This produces backlit subjects that are dark against the background. When we walk a field, I try to be on the side where the sun is, so my fellow hunters are better lit. Here is a backlit picture, but I still kind of like it!

The pre-dawn glow or the waning light of dusk are the most troublesome. Here great pictures are diminished by the grain of hi-ISO or the blur of slow shutters.

This is when expensive, quality cameras are suddenly worth the money. I will talk about that more in the Equipment section. But do not worry too much about the light because there isn’t much you can do about it. Set your camera to perform as well as possible, given the conditions, and continue to irritate your fellow hunters by taking tons of pictures. One thing for sure is that you should take full advantage of those precious moments when you stumble into excellent light. Consider it a gift from God. Be sure to enjoy the hunt and the dogs and your friends, and if the conditions are not conducive for photography, then leave the camera alone for a while. Be present for the experience above all else.

Composition – You should strive to have well-composed pictures. Simply put, the composition is how elements of a photo are arranged. A picture of your puppy standing alone in a barren field of wheat stubble is pretty eeech.

I am not versed well enough to describe what good composition is, so get a book. A good one is Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Composition Field Guide. This might be your entry into professional photography! But regardless, some basic understanding of good photographic composition will greatly improve your pictures. I think this shot is composed well . . .

 Sharp Pictures – Unless you are doing some kind of artsy expression of movement, razor-sharp pictures are more interesting than blurry or soft ones. The settings that I describe in the Camera Settings section are intended to achieve the sharpest images possible. But often, because of a narrow depth of field, all of your subject will not be in focus. So be sure that the eyes are the point of focus. If your pup’s eyes are in sharp focus and other elements are not, it still may be an excellent shot!

Part 2 – Balancing the Variables – ISO, Aperture & Shutter Speed will be published soon. I hope you found this helpful, and I appreciate you visiting the Birdhunter!

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