On Cropping

In bird photography, cropping can make or break a photo. When done right, it enhances the natural beauty of your subject and brings your photo to the next level. When done wrong, it can ruin a shot that otherwise would have been beautiful. I’d like to share some of the tips I have gathered when it comes to cropping.

Perhaps the most important pillar of photographic composition is the “Rule of Thirds”. In short, the rule says to break an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts like so:


The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines, the photo becomes more balanced and will create a more pleasing effect. Another aspect of the rule is that most of the time you want to have your subject “moving” into empty space. An example of this is shown below:

The shot on the left is what NOT to do. See how the bird is awkwardly placed right in the middle of the frame? In comparison, the photo on the right has an effective amount of empty space where the bird is facing, providing a more nuanced image.

Another important aspect of cropping is that you have to keep your options in mind. What I mean is that a shot can have multiple artistic cropping possibilities, and it is up to you to decide which one fits the image best. For example, here is a shot of a Savannah Sparrow I took this December:

close savThis photo is a basic portrait crop, keeping the rule of thirds in mind.


RECENTThis is a more artistic, different crop. I kept some space on the left side of the image to highlight the small size of the bird.


vertAnother crop that you can perform is a vertical one. It only works in certain scenarios, but when it is done right it’s wonderful. Note how I included the vertical branch on the left of this shot to underscore the vertical crop.

Head-shots are another weapon you have in your arsenal. They can be fantastic, but keep in mind: ONLY crop in super close if you have a tack-sharp image. Nobody wants to see a close-up of a blurry bird. Here is a shot of an Atlantic Puffin I took in Maine:

out crop WMThere is nothing exceptional about the composition of this photo expect for the insane resolution/sharpness. Also, the fish in its mouth was interesting. Close-up time!

headhsotThis was the final product of the above shot. Sometimes head-shots turn out to be better than the original photo!


FLCIOKRRHere’s another example of a head-shot.

One last thing to keep in mind when cropping bird photos is not to crop too closely. Sometimes, showing a bird in its habitat is effective. Give the background a chance to shine as well.WATERMARKI liked the lighting and background in this shot, so I decided to keep it cropped pretty far out for artistic effect.

Happy Cropping,

Cameron Darnell (birdcam77)



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