Importance of Bird Photography Backgrounds

During a recent visit to Bird Kingdom I was reminded of the importance of bird photography backgrounds. While we often do not have many options when photographing in the wild, shooting at captive venues provides us with a lot more latitude.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 220mm, efov 594mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-800

Even at captive facilities such as Bird Kingdom we can still be challenged by busy and distracting backgrounds. When faced with that situation I often look for angles where the background pallet will be in the same colour spectrum. This can help separate the subject from the background.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 178mm, efov 480.6mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-800

Another approach is to look for high contrast situations where a darker subject is up against a lighter background. This can be effective even when the background is busy.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 212mm, efov 572.4mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200

The reverse situation can also work well, a lighter subject up against a darker background.

My preference, whenever I can find it, is to frame my subject against a smooth looking background as you’ll see in the following series of images. This can help create clear subject separation from the background and add some drama to the composition.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/25, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/25, ISO-3200
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-3200

Sometimes you can find a background that can actually help direct a viewer’s eye to the main subject. This is demonstrated by the darker lines in the background of the following image, directing a viewer’s eye to the duck’s beak.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-3200

There are times when you simply have to do the best you can with a potentially distracting background as was the case with the following image.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 208mm, efov 561.6mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-3200

In this specific situation I tried to use the dark section of the curve of the tree trunk in the background to create some contrast with the bird’s head. This helps put some emphasis on the bird’s eye.

It is always a creative experience when photographing birds. Taking a few moments to consider the bird photography backgrounds in your compositions can enhance their visual appeal.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. Images were created from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6, and the Nik Collection.

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4 thoughts on “Importance of Bird Photography Backgrounds”

  1. Hi Tom
    This is an important subject, that is not always easy to control. How do you fell about masking the bird and changing the background ?
    regards
    Luc

    1. Hi Luc,
      This is not something that I have every done with any of my images. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with the technique. I think masking and replacing backgrounds is a judgement call that is up to the discretion of an individual photographer.
      Tom

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