10 tips to get you started!


Many of the skills I learned when making people portraits apply to photographing bird portraits. There are so many similarities between the two that it would be easier to separate what IS NOT similar. That said, here are 10 basic tips for making bird portraits. (They are listed in no particular order.)

Tip #1: Try to photograph parallel to the bird. This gives the viewer a more intimate point-of-view and makes them feel connected to the subject.

Tip #2: Focus on the nearest eye. The only thing that HAS to be in focus in a bird portrait is the nearest eye. If possible, get enough depth-of-field to hold focus on both eyes. Or as I did in the case above, put the far eye into shadow so it isn't distracting.

Tip #3: Try to eliminate clutter from the background. Anyone who follows my work knows this is my mantra, but it's even more critical when making portraits. All we want the viewer to see is the bird.

Tip #4: Eliminate background distractions by shooting wide open. This is in keeping with the previous tip.

Tip #5: Fill the frame but don’t crop too tight.

Tip #6: Unless you have a reason not to, keep your lens parallel to the bird’s nearest eye. It helps in several ways, including with focus and perspective.

Tip #7: If necessary use fill flash to put a catchlight in the bird’s eye. Without a catchlight, the bird looks like it has been the subject of a taxidermist.

Tip #8: Don’t photograph bird portraits when their eyes are closed; it makes them appear dead. The eyes really are the key to any portrait.

Tip #9: Make sure the head is either parallel to the camera or slightly turned toward the camera

Tip #10: Don’t make bird portraits when the bird is looking or facing away from the camera


Look at some of the bird portraits accompanying this text. Study the angle of the bird’s head, the background, light direction, quality, color and intensity and anything else that you find attractive about these images. Make a note of all those things and then try to duplicate them in your next bird photography outing. Sometimes the best instruction comes form looking at existing pictures to see what works and what’s possible.