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Bird Portraits

Lesson 10 from: The Art of Photographing Birds

Frans Lanting

Bird Portraits

Lesson 10 from: The Art of Photographing Birds

Frans Lanting

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Lesson Info

10. Bird Portraits

Bird photography is a subset of wildlife photography, but treat the genre like a portrait, and you'll capture stunning images that stand out. In this lesson, Frans explains how to create an intimate bird portrait by considering perspective, background, and more.

Lesson Info

Bird Portraits

and now we're getting into the subject matter cause, after all, the gear is just a means to an end. Ultimately, what we want to focus on is the birds in front of us, or perhaps behind us. Anyway, let's start off with birth portraiture of which is really the conventional way to photograph birch. And this is what photographers have been doing ever since we started focusing our cameras on birds. So here's a portrait of two shoveler ducks arresting young. One of them is standing on a on a piece of wood there, that's the female on the right, and the male is on the left. She's asleep. He's keeping one eye out, and they alternate that. So there's actually more going on than just an aesthetic combination of male and female and the reflection in the water. And in this next video, we're going to take you into the world of bird portraiture. In the course of one of our field trip sessions in Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in California, let's run the video. What makes a good bird portrait value n...

eed a subject, and you need to have decent light and nothing else to distract from the bird itself. So how do you build it up? No distractions in the background, no distractions in the foreground, and you can make the portrait more intimate by getting as low as possible. You want to be eye level with the bird itself, and that is what we did this morning. We crawled close towards him, birds at the arresting logs in the water. Instead of standing on the viewing platform where most visitors go, we stretched ourselves out on the gravel right next to the shoreline, a whole bunch of duck's pen tales and shovelers sleeping in front of us. Some of them are sitting in the water and others are on the locks and the lights, gorgeous lights coming from behind. So this is perfect front light, and there's almost no wind, so we have a really nice reflection of the birds in the water as well. So what I'm seeing is individual birds. I'm also seeing pairs. There's a pair pin tails right there, male on the left, female on the right, and I'm seeing some structure as well because the logs are a little bit of ah, a compositional interest, and a few reads in the foreground. Anders. Reflection in the water. So we've got different ingredients. Let's see what we could do with the lenses that we've got here. So the disadvantage of the fixed focal length lenses You can adjust the composition very easily, so you really need to start looking for what is optimal with the lens link that you have. So I see that pair of pain tails on the logs. You see them to a little bit to the right. What are the best settings here? Let's analyze it on Committed thousands of a second at F eight. I can open it up to if I open up, my aperture rolled away in the background. This new there. So now it 1000 and 56 No, In my eye, Sl's dropped down to 1 That looks pretty nice. I'm switching my release mode from continues. Fact a single, because this is a situation where you need to burn to a lot of frames. Better be deliver it and I looked for smooth foreground, no vegetation in the foreground and no birch in the background of a take away from drawing the viewer into the identity of the birch themselves. How do you do that? Technically, in order to keep your background smooth, you want to keep your Apertura when you minimise your depth of field. But it's always a bit of a compromise because you also want to make sure that you retained definition in the plume image of the bird. And that means closing the opportune down a little bit. And then you start looking for the finishing touches. The versa moments and one of the birds looked up. There was a catch light in their eye, and that's the finishing touch. This is a static situation to Birch aren't moving, so that actually makes it possible to move to manual focus. As I'm analyzing this scene more carefully, I think I need to apply a bit more depth of field because we want to get the whole Bert. But in the depth of field, not just the eye, but also to blue much. So if you focus on the I, it may not be totally crisp on the blue, much in front of the eye, so I'm going to F eight animals are going to do a couple of frames. Now she's looking. That's nice. That's a finishing touch. The background is so smooth. Yeah, there's no vegetation. There's no other birds. So even it after 11 it's still gonna be very smooth. So the best way in this situation is to just run to a couple of different amateurish and sound going from 56 to 11. The shutter speech stays at the 1000. And because I've applied an auto sensitivity setting, Uh, yeah, as I changed the aperture, then the I s o gets adjusted automatically, and I'll explain the details for that setting a little bit later. So those are the two pin tails. Let's see who else we confined here. Oh, look, Look. The pin tails are responding to vehicle came by. The birds are a little bit upset, so they're no longer sleeping there. Alert, Leaving the logs. How subtly There's Ah, some birds are taken off. They're so sensitive. Oh, now flock of amiss taken off. Those are the moments we need to be attuned to a cell. So a vehicle came by and suddenly diverts perked up. They were alert and I got just one or two frames with the bird looking around before things quieted down again. What are the key ingredients For a good portrait, you need a subject. You need interesting light, and the rest is all bonus munching that shoveler. So I think we've got subjects here. Yeah, there's a whole range of birds in front of us. We've got great light, two sons behind us, and the sun behind us will illuminate the plume, which the way you were describing. So we'll also get a catch light in the eyes of the birds when the sun is behind you so but there's another ingredient on that is finding the right foreground to in the right background. And the background, especially, is important because you don't want to have a background that is a distraction from your subject. So the typical ingredients for a good bird portrait are that your background this smooth, and that means keeping your aptitude wide open. That's why even we did the portrait of the Tails a few minutes ago. I suggest that staying wide open at 56 or maybe closing it down a little bit to get more definition in the plume. It's basically your rap empty space around the portrait of your bird. That makes sense. And that's why this situation is so good, because we have smooth water in the foreground, smooth water in the background, and there's not a lot of other birds. All right, come. The stock is making a repeat appearance just to underscore the point and before be re open it up to questions and comments. I would like to run through a couple of MAWR images that illustrate some of the points that were made in the video as well, but applied them in other settings to other subjects. So we've seen their stuck before, and now we can appreciate it in its full glory here. So it's not just the bird itself, but you get the doubling effect from the reflection, and I use that same approach here. So the first challenge is to get close to a bird so you could do a portrait. And once you're dare, then you start looking for ways to make it more interesting. So with waterbirds, water is obviously a factor that you can use to your advantage. Aesthetically now, since I use images professionally and I always look for other opportunities to create negative space as well In this case, this portrait of the highest in McCall was constructed with negative space on top of the birds so that ah, copy and logo of a magazine could get dropped into it. And in fact, this image has been used for covers in magazines quite a few times, but that is a professional consideration. But these days, if you do want to, ah, you release your images on Instagram, you may want to think of square compositions instead of the normal aspect ratio that is dictated by your camera view. Um, here's another progression in bird portraiture. These previous images are all very nice. Yeah, they're very clean Asper to guidelines that I shared with you in the course of the video. But then I start thinking off other ways in which I can make things a little bit more interesting for a portrait of this caca, too, I used a bit of a fill flash. It created some highlights in the birds and in the bird, and then when it was kind of cleaning, it's ah, it's claws. It made it a bit mawr of a behavioral image instead of just a plain portrait. These goals in the Falkland Islands were a pair. Now, when you go beyond portrait of individuals and you get into multiple birds, of course, you really have to start thinking about the relationship between the two birds. I know from my years of watching birds that were actually looking at a pair the females on the left, the mail is on the right. Her head is a little bit smaller than hisses. So we're getting into subtleties here of how these two birds connect. And you could see that as well a little bit in the portrait that I made of the pairs of the Shoveler docks and the pin tails because we were looking at pairs of males and females to and the more you are aware, the bird behavior, I'm going to foreshadow what we're gonna talk about later on the MAWR content you can add to your portrait, and ultimately I would like to strive not just for a portrait of a species. I want to individualize the birds. I want to give them character and reveal personality. Now, some of my scientist friends say No, you shouldn't enter Prum Orefice animals because we're not like them and they're not like us. I say You're the scientist. I'm the artist. I have a creative license to do, something that makes me feel happy and that I also know, comes across to other people because it draws them in. This is not just any old and poor penguin chick. This is a penguin chick that has just been fat fed any days over fit, in fact, and it feels very happy. And here's another example of I I know from your reaction here in the studio that your respond to an image like that. There's a certain universality to it. And so I like to play on those connections and just to carry that idea on to other species. How about this one on albatross but a bad hair day, right? This is a juvenile albatross in the Hawaiian levered islands. It's elation on albatross, and it's just shedding its, you know its its baby. Down and underneath the rial birth is beginning to express itself, but for a few weeks, the other's hair styles from every period in human history, from slightly disheveled, punky look to shall we say, the crew the crew cut. So I like to do these things because it bridges the gap between us and them. And especially even I do photo essays in which the portrait really anchored the behavior and all these other things. These are key images, and then it's easy to make the step to this, which is also a young albatross. But this is actually a more serious situation. This bird is not really able to fly very well, and it's looking rather bedraggled.

Ratings and Reviews

Carl Bergstrom
 

I was privileged to be in the studio audience for Frans Lanting's Art of Photographing Birds course, and it was amazing. The morning was a perfectly pitched lesson on the technical aspects of bird photography, intermixed with Frans's own photographs and excellent videos of him working in the field. The afternoon focused more on bird behavior, composition, and artistry, and was even more delightful. If you know Lanting's photography you already know about his ability to find unusual perspectives on the world. What really shone through in the class was his love for wildlife and especially for birds. His knowledge of natural history is as amazing as his photography, and I loved the message that to take great photographs of birds, one needs to understand them and their behaviors. I've admired Lanting as a photographer for decades. Today I learned that he is an equally talented teacher. I'll be purchasing all of his CreativeLive courses. Thank you, Carl Bergstrom

Marie Gessle
 

Amazing class! Mr Lanting is charming and full of knowledge about birds and of course photography. In every moment of this course you can see his great passion and love for these flying creatures. The course is full of tips for photographers who want to start capturing moments of birds life. Awesome!!!

André Audet
 

Great class, very inspiring. Packed with great tips and beautiful imagery. Frans is a great instructor. I enjoyed watching this class a lot, and will watch it again!

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