Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shoot for Perfection

An amateur photographer that is serious about his or her work strives for that holy grail of photos; that one perfect image where all the necessary elements come together. Everyone wants a perfect image, but what is considered perfect is where photographers part ways. My idea of perfection has narrowed over the years as I have studied photography and joined critique forums where one learns quickly what works and what doesn't among experts. Of course, many preface the issue with the statement "All that matters is that you like it". Naturally. But what I found acceptable one or three years ago is not what I consider acceptable now. I have become formidable in my self-critiques and make decisions that inevitably lead to many more deletions or just not taking the shot.

Four years ago, I discovered a bird rookery on Biscayne Bay. During one summer three years ago, I visited that rookery several times over the course of 3 months or so. During that period I practiced flight shots persistently. It was an exciting game of tracking the incoming flying bird, and attempting to capture it as it grew larger in the frame. Loads of fun. I continue to practice when I visit the different rookeries I have discovered along the way. The birds are excellent teachers.

Exposure and lighting are critical for a perfect shot. The remaining elements depend on how well you take the photo (i.e., sharpness) and the subject (position of the bird, background and surroundings). Here are some photos from Saturday's trip to the rookery on the bay with a little self-critique included. Bottomline - I didn't get that perfect shot.

I like most everything about this photo; the bird is banking enough to receive sunlight on its underwings. The right wing is a bit shadowed, but that can be fixed with some dodging. The background is clean and the bird position within the frame is very good (no cropping needed). Even the head angle is acceptable. The problem - it isn't sharp. Normally, I would delete this photo, but because it has the other qualities, I am keeping it for record.

It's always a good thing to capture a bird with nesting branches in its beak, like this one. The photo is sharp (I always aim at the head) and the branch does not cover the bird's eye. The problem- wing position is not ideal, would prefer them to be pointing up; bird is angled away from me slightly, would like to see a slight head turn toward me. And I cropped this photo to give it relatively less room on the right because the bird was flying out of the frame rather than into it.

I like this photo for a few reasons. First, it is adequately sharp. Second, the bird is flying toward me and at an upward angle. And third, I love the background against the white bird. Problem: not close enough, would like more bird in the frame. And this photo was cropped about 20%.

This is a typical scene in the mangroves, a bird about to land. The bird is sharp, it isn't covered by a foreground leaf or branch and the wings are outstretched nicely. Would rather capture it above all the heavy foliage. The problem: the bird needs to be turned toward me, preferably full frontal. Lateral positions can be nice, but they are a dime a dozen so to speak. I can chalk this up to the wind direction. Birds land and take off into the wind.

I actually like the background on this one, it provides a contrast to the bird and it's part of the scene. Those are palm trees in the background and I was lucky to not have a part of a building in the scene. The bird is sharp and angled toward me. And the little branch is not covering or shadowing the face. The problem - the wing position is not ideal, would like to see more of them with the bird at a steeper angle. As they are, they are shadowed. And I would like a separation between the bird and the mangrove leaves.

And last, the photo at the top. Not a flight shot, but a very nice bird pose. The bird is sharp, the background and environment are clean, allowing full view of the bird, including its feet. The bird is slightly angled toward me providing a profile that allows us to see its breeding plumage. The lighting is excellent as well. For a still shot, it's acceptable, I like the leg position of the bird and that it is standing above the leaves. The problem - it isn't a flight shot!

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