Simple Tip to Improve Your Bird Photos: Put the sun at your back

Simple Tip to Improve Your Bird Photos: Put the sun at your back

Here is a simple tip that will help improve your bird photos no matter what type of camera you are using.

Photography is essentially the capture of light. The way light strikes your subject makes a significant difference to the quality of your photo. How can you use this fact to get a better shot? Pay attention to where the sun is when you are shooting. Ideally the sun should be directly behind you when you photograph a bird. I know, this is the reverse from taking photos of people outdoors: if the sun is behind the photographer, every person in your photo is squinting because the sun is shining right into their eyes when they look towards you. But birds don’t typically squint, and by placing yourself with the sun behind you this will achieve the best possible lighting and minimize shadows. How can you judge quickly where the sun is? Look at your shadow, if your shadow is pointing towards the bird, this is ideal.


The sun was over my right shoulder when I took this shot. Note the catch light in the bird’s eye and the vivid plumage and the warm background tones.


This isn’t always possible; sometimes you’re walking and see an elusive bird in a tree to your left, but with the sun right behind that bird. You cannot possibly get into a different position, so you have to take the shot from where you are. You can limit that problem, with is called “backlighting”, which I will cover in a different post. But you will almost always get better results by putting the sun behind you. One hallmark of bird photos taken this way are nice catch lights in the subject’s eyes. I also find that background colors are richer, and the bird’s colors are brighter.


The lighting was to the right and behind this bird. It’s possible to improve this photo somewhat with editing software, but note the muted colors and the lack of lifelike eyes.


Taking this sun location tip a bit further, you can get even more improvement in your bird photos by taking the shots early in the morning or later in the day. These times of day are favored by photographers for the warm quality of the light and for fewer harsh shadows. If you are casting a longer shadow and it’s pointing towards your subject bird, I think you will like the results!

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