Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 1, 2009

Head Shots

Filed under: Birds, composition, digital benefits, style — richditch @ 3:27 pm
American Wigeon drake

American Wigeon drake

Since my preferred style for photography is showing birds in habitat, I don’t do a lot of head shots. But they are a popular style, and I’ll take them on occasion when the opportunity exists. I usually do this with large waders (herons and egrets mostly) where the bird is rather large and a full body shot means the details on the head are difficult to see in a photo.

Sometimes, though, there’s so much texture and detail that a head shot is needed to show it off, like with this drake American Wigeon photographed at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, AZ. Like most public parks with water it has resident mixed breed Mallards that are popular with family groups that like to “feed the ducks.” Many of these parks also attract wild ducks in winter that catch on to the free handouts and start to lose their normal fear of people. Kiwanis Park has an added advantage for this type of photography: there’s a concrete sidewalk very low to the water that circles most of the man-made lake, so it is easy to set up a camera and tripod low to the water.

The difficult part of taking photos at such a place is isolating a single subject as all the ducks and coots tend to rush in when they think there’s a chance of a free lunch. So, keep your eyes open and watch for a bird that hangs back from the flock a bit to have a better chance at getting a clean shot. And take advantage of “catch and release” nature of shooting digital: take lots of shots without being critical when you are shooting, and then edit them on the computer where the obvious losers can be discarded. The more shots taken the better chance that there will be a clean shot that is in focus!

When working close like this it is advisable to stop down the lens more than usual to get sufficient depth-of-field in the image: remember that DOF gets very tight as you focus closely. This shot was taken at f/8 and 1/500th second at ISO 200. By keeping the duck’s head parallel to the sensor plane I kept my depth needs modest.

Another thing to keep in mind is the framing of the subject: how much body to include, how much of the neck, where to make the “cut.”

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