Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 7, 2009

A Fine Line Between Habitat and Clutter

Filed under: Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, style — richditch @ 6:30 pm
Brewer's Sparrow in habitat

Brewer's Sparrow in habitat

I’ve written repeatedly that my preferred style of image is bird in habitat. By that I mean showing the subject (i.e., the bird) in the sort of place it prefers to be. I usually keep the subject on the small side in the frame and then compose to show off the habitat as best I can.

All wildlife has evolved to fill a specific niche in nature, and the places that birds live and feed and breed play a big part in what the bird looks like and how it behaves. Showing a bird with a minimum of compositional elements (like the very popular bird on a stick style) can be a great way to see the fine detail of plumage, but I often find such images rather sterile. A habitat shot can tell the viewer things about the bird that don’t come through in a BOAS shot.

But shooting bird in habitat (BIH) isn’t an excuse for clutter. I see a lot of photographers who don’t seem to understand the BIH concept and instead just use BIH as a label when they haven’t spent enough time to get closer or to find a viewpoint that shows the habitat without blocking a clear view of the subject.

Sparrows for the most part are birds of thickets and grasslands, with subtle markings and muted colors of brown, tan, and gray. They are notoriously difficult for beginning birders who have trouble getting clear views of them and who rely on bright obvious colors as the primary means of identification. I like to show them in the types of places where birders typically encounter them, like this Brewer’s Sparrow at the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ.

Although I’ve shown this sparrow in typical brush, I’ve been careful to find a clear view unobstructed by foreground twigs. I was also able to use the greens in the image as a background to further separate the gray-brown bird from the browns and grays of the bush. Finally, the light is just right to “pick out” the sparrow from the background setting.

A BIH shot may not have the initial impact of a bright bird on stick, but it usually is an image that rewards the viewer who looks more closely at it, and it usually can “go the distance” as a print for the wall without wearing out its welcome.

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