Nature Photography Photo Critique
by Sharon Parker
Category: Nature Photography
Canon Rebel T2i
Lens: Standard: 30-50mm
Exposure time: 1/300 ,
Description: I wanted to convey the majesty of this beautiful bird as the sun came out from behind a clouse
Subject of photo
Composition & Perspective
Use of camera, exposure & speed
Color & Lighting
Depth of field
You''ve chosen one of the more majestic of birds, known for it's gracefulness in form and movement and the bird is combined with a reflection on an undulating surface. Expected for this subject, would be the highlighting of that gracefulness by the use of uninterrupted long and gentle curves in the bird and reflection. The image as depicted seems to have missed capturing the curves in it's structure that would depict such gracefulness and an important part of the reflection is missing (a reflection is not just an incidental part–when you have a surface like this, an important part of the story).
Most viewers feel comfortable having an animal positioned in the frame to give psychological space in front of the animal to move toward. Doing so gives the feeling of motion even when the animal is not moving. If trying to depict the animal still, having it pointing directly at or away from the viewer will give that impression better. In your image, bird seems to be floating vice moving and as such centering it makes it seem static which doesn't depict the feeling of gracefulness or seem majestic or regal. Shifting to a vertical format would enhance that feeling in this image and take away the left and right empty space that compete with the subject (the sides compete because they have an eye-catching pattern). Centering an image is most often what most would consider a no-no unless breaking the "rule" of not centering a subject unless doing so is making a statement in itself (being blatantly centered with a symmetrical subject - in this case the bird pointing directly at the viewer) The undulating reflection being cut off bothers this viewer in that the gracefulness being lacking in the bird itself should be included in the reflection.
Your use of an open aperture to give a limited depth of field was successful in that attention was given to the bird and deep enough to include the whole bird and slightly blur the background. The slight out of focus background makes the bird's head stand out from the background making it more three dimensional.
I agree with your choice of exposure giving detail in the bright feathers without overexposing them to loss of detail. White feathers are easily overexposed and there is a narrow exposure range to depict them as they actually are. Your exposure seems right on.
Although your exposure seems right on with the available light, one important thing about photographing live animals to make them appear live is a catchlight in the eye... the eye not only being the part that should have sharpest focus, it is also the place one looks for life. To add this life, a glint of light, a sparkle is needed. If in shadow like in your image, the way to add that sparkle is to use your pop-up flash. The distance and ambient light are great enough that the flash would not give overexposure but it would give a reflection in the eye to give life (so to speak). It might even give a little more light to the shadowed side of the birds face too. (lacking the flash during the exposure, it can be added later in after capture processing) In your image the water is reflecting cool toned sky and the swan's bill is warm toned which advance toward the viewer making it more three dimensional to add to that given by the focus difference between subject and background.
The important part of bird is in sharp focus while the background is in soft focus–this gives the feeling I mentioned earlier of three-dimensions to the image. It would be enhanced more with narrower depth of field but this is fine tuning during image capture that could easily go too far and lose detail in the tail feathers.
You've found a beautiful bird on an interesting surface in favorable light... given. Did your capture tell the story of these elements? I think that the bird seems to be sitting there not doing anything, not eating, not resting, not swimming, not preening... It seems static. To tell the story of the majestic and graceful subject better would be to feature lines and form that would do so... waiting for the bird to move into a pose where sinusoidal undulating curves (S-curves) were obvious would make the image more successful especially if the bird was in some action. Also including what must be an interesting reflection of undulating lines and surreal shapes seems needed to tell the story in your image.
How to improve your photo
I would definitely choose this subject for an image if it presented itself. I would watch the bird and see what it was doing repeatedly, turning, preening, stretching, etc... and wait for one of those opportunities to make a capture of the bird doing more than floating on the water. Action depicts life and also adds lines in the subject to tell the story, in this case waiting for the bird to move so its lines form S-curves.
Adding a catchlight in the eyes also gives life to the subject. This can be done by adding that sparkle from use of the camera's pop-up flash. it will give a little more light to the shadowed side of the swan's face.
Include the whole reflection in the water... if a bird is in water, it's reflection is an important part of the subject.
When photographing a floating bird, also try compositions where the bird is pointing directly at the viewer and include the whole reflection and also try it in a vertical format... if the bird is in the center of the frame, make it intentional and make it appear that it needs to be in the center, making the frame vertical, will help do so. Centering in this manner will make it more majestic.
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