Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

December 30, 2009

Song Sparrow Variations

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, style — richditch @ 4:40 pm
Song Sparrow 153

Song Sparrow 153

It is always interesting and instructive (at least for me) to see how much difference there can be in an image resulting from small changes in subject position. I’ve discussed this before with examples of White-crowned Sparrow in this post from December 5, 2009, and also in this one from October 28, 2009. And maybe other times that don’t come quickly to mind.

Song Sparrow 149

Song Sparrow 149

Much has been said on nature photography critique sites about head position, with some photographers believing in strict adherence to an arbitrary rule that the head must be parallel to the film/sensor plane in the camera as in image #153 at the top of this post, but I’ve never bought into that view. I’m more likely to shoot my birds with the head at an angle as in the other images in this post, as long as they get a natural catchlight in the eye to give the image life.

Song Sparrow 148

Song Sparrow 148

Images #148 and #149 are very similar, with only a minor change in head position. At the moment I prefer #148 to #149, but that could change the next time I compare the two of them. In either case it is nice having the option and I’m glad I shot and processed both of these.

Song Sparrow 147

Song Sparrow 147

I’m guessing that most viewers find #147 the weakest of these four views; for some reason lots of people don’t care for more head-on looks at birds unless they are owls. But I like this perspective on the birds and I will always shoot this view if given the opportunity to do so as here.

These four images please me for many reasons including the directional light, the mix of warm and cool colors, the wonderful natural setting, and of course of the fluffed up look of the sparrow and the way it holds on to the angled stalk. I generally find directional light more interesting that front light (what you get when you point your shadow at the subject) as it gives dimension to the subject and the image. It is harder to work with because it can increase the contrast of the image and be harder to meter properly as a result, but I think the results as worth the trouble. In this situation I’ve allowed the top of the stalk the sparrow is using to burn out at the very top, and I suppose some photographers will have a problem with that. It could be hidden with some careful cloning in photoshop, but that’s not something I generally do.

These are essentially full frame images – just cropped on the left or right edge a little to balance the composition. I’ve followed the convention of allowing more room in “front” of the subject: the direction it is looking. That’s why #153 at the top has the sparrow farther to the right than in the other three shots.

This Song Sparrow surprised me by popping up close to me as I was working an egret in the fog off to my right at the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, on December 27, 2009 around 8:30 am. It stayed put while I lifted up my tripod mounted rig and moved it about two feet to my left so I could take this series.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), Gitzo 1325, RRS BH-55 ball head, Sidekick, ISO 400, 1/30th second at f/5.6, spot metered.



  1. For some reason #153 is just more pleasing to my eye. It just seems “right” somehow even though the others are fine photographs.

    Comment by Bosque Bill — January 1, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  2. Rich,

    I’d say that 153 is my least favorite of the bunch, not so much because of the pose, but because in all the others the light on the face is much nicer.

    I would not worry about the blown out top of the stalk–it looks natural and is not so bright that I find it detracts from the image.

    I like 147 very much–the look that the sparrow is giving you makes me smile. Maybe not the classic “field guide image,” but good nature photography is about so much more than profiles that show field marks. This one might be my favorite of the bunch.

    Comment by Brian Gatlin — January 3, 2010 @ 8:26 am

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