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A Matter of Perspective

On a tour I led in North Dakota this summer we ran into a curious Marbled Godwit that joined us on a back country gravel road.  Like many roadbeds in the area, this one was elevated to keep it above the soggy meadows and marshes it crossed.  I suspect the bird had chicks out in the nearby field and it felt better keeping tabs on us from the open visibility of the road as we scanned for other birds.  The godwit didn't act agitated and pretty much just shared some space with us for a while.  I like to experiment with different compositions when an interesting, cooperative bird like this comes along, and would like to share three images of the same bird in the same place for your consideration.

1) Shots like this are pretty typical- the bird is standing there and I'm standing nearby to take the picture.  The problem is that disconnect between the level of the bird and the level of the lens.  It also accentuates the gravel road here- while not the worst background (say, like an oily parking lot) it certainly isn't the most natural-looking setting as the bird seems lost in a sea of sterile gravel.  If this was a rarity to document or something I wanted to study later or confirm an ID on I'd certainly be happy with the pic- it is sharp and shows ample details.  But it isn't really an image that would sell many northern plains trips, would it?


2) By sitting in the road (think safety, of course, if you are going to be doing crazy bird photographer things like sitting in roads), the lens is at about eye level with the godwit, making for a more pleasing photo in my opinion.  The shallow depth of field lessens the impact of the road in the image, too, but the road still dominates since it is in line with the lens.


3) By getting in the ditch along the road and shooting the bird from slightly below, I think the road becomes a more minor element and the background foliage and sky present a much nicer tableau for this iconic northern plains shorebird.


I know we don't always have the luxury of a cooperative bird in a setting that allows multiple photo angles but if you find yourself with a subject that sticks around, play with your perspective a bit to see what kind of results you can produce.  For birds on or near the ground or on the water, it can make a world of difference to get low and shoot at eye level or as close to that as you can get.

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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

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