The dangers of “bird cropping”

Shooting birds is different…

When we shoot a person, for example, we choose the lens we want, then stand however far from the subject we have to, to get the composition we’re after.

With birds, we often put our longest lens on, get as close as we can:

but THEN, we still feel like we’re not close enough so we…………………..crop.

We crop the image:

Makes perfect sense, of course, we’re not close enough, we have to crop.

BUT….there are some dangers to cropping bird pictures, especially if it results in the unique kind of cropping I call “bird cropping.”

One risk, is you’ll sacrifice image quality just to get close. Sometimes we have to just accept that we don’t have the tight shot….that cropping will get us closer but it will magnify NOISE and soften the details.

I’m in tight now, but the image, quite bluntly, is CRAP 🙂
Another risk is in your rush to get CLOSE, you’ll crop away ENVIRONMENT.

Birds don’t exist in a vacuum….they live in trees, forests and great photographs often require context.


You might also strip your scene of composition:

And then there’s “bird cropping.”

That’s where you’re so intent on getting close to the bird, you crop right past a GOOD aspect ratio and create just any shape as close to the bird as you can get.

You create a bird-shaped image.

Not only do you lose an attractive aspect ratio…you put the bird in a box….you’ve stripped everything, environment, context, composition…..and often image quality.

I frequently see images of birds where the subject is almost TOUCHING the sides of it’s bird-shaped “cage.”

Just to get close.
I’m not saying this is wrong (but in my opinion it usually is) but I am saying it’s worth auditing yourself…asking yourself if you’re “bird cropping,” and honestly asking yourself if getting CLOSE is more important than allllll those other things that we normally use to make great……………….overall…………..images.

Birds aren’t the only time we do this, of course.  Where you most often see it, is any time we find it challenging to get close.  Photographers are always trying to see how close they can get to the moon….usually settling for a grainy, soft shot, dead center of the image, with no composition.

And things like insects, flowers….things we can’t focus close enough to, start us down a path being obsessed with how close we can GET.

My solution is to always think COMPOSITION FIRST.  It doesn’t matter what my subject is, my first thought is “how can I combine this with secondary subjects and frames, how can I arrange this in the scene to get the best overall image.”

That helps me OVER-RIDE the instinct to get close for no other reason than just to be…..

…close.

More shots of birds here:

Michigan Birds