Why does the angle of the birds head matter in bird photography?

What is head angle? Why should you be concerned the angle of a bird’s head? Why does it really matter?

There are millions of photos of animals, average, good and certainly excellent. So what would an excellent animal photographer show and why would we worry about which way the animal’s head is facing? Why? It’s simple aesthetics from a viewer’s perspective. Take a look at the below image of a Long-billed Corella and think about which aspect of it makes it appealing.

The low angle? Tick!

The framing? Tick!

The sharpness and depth of field? Tick!

The head angle? Tick and miss!

Which one of the two would you consider the best bird photo? We bet most people would say the bird on the right, with the head slightly angled towards you, the viewer, making for a much more intimate portrait, rather than the one that is looking well away, as if it weren’t interesting.

You can almost make a connection with the bird on the right, whereas the left bird seems to be completely disinterested in you. It’s exactly the same bird photographed during the same session but merely seconds apart.

As bird and wildlife photographers, we strive to capture aesthetically pleasing images of our beloved subjects. This means we wait for the right time when the subject’s head is at a minimum parallel with the camera sensor, and even better, slightly angled towards us as we press the shutter. Looking directly down the barrel of a lens can also be effective, but the bird on the right, above, is what we prefer as a rule. At least for portraits of birds not doing much, other than being birds and being interested in checking us photographers out. It’s an intimate connection between subject and viewer!

When we started out in bird and wildlife photography, every photo was a winner. As we developed experience, we discovered what works, what doesn’t, what makes for an appealing portrait, and what doesn’t. This is simply us sharing our years of knowledge and give you little tips to elevate your photography to new heights.

When do we not worry about head angle?

This is the best question. When the bird is doing something natural we tend to overlook its head angle, as it’s participating in normal bird activities. It’s not posing, looking at us trying to take a photo. However, in these instances, a good head angle will still elevate the shot regardless, but it isn’t quite as important.

If you look at the images below, you’ll see that there are many things happening in the lives of the birds. They are not just posing for us, but are eating, feeding chicks, fighting amongst other things.

An adult White-winged Chough feeding its offspring.
A Long-billed Corella bullying a Rainbow Lorikeet in our backyard.
Two Dusky Moorhen fighting it out over a female.
A New Zealand Sooty Oystercatcher digging for worms. Its eye barely visible with it bill fully buried in the soft sand.
birds of victoria australia
And with the worm caught, the natural feeding behaviour does not really necessitate eye contact.

We hope these few pointers made sense to you. We often break the rules ourselves, but will also follow them to make aesthetically pleasing bird (wildlife) portraits.

Until next time, take care, and happy shooting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *