Building Beautiful Backgrounds for Bird Photography

A background is much more than just a setting for a photo, but too often it is overlooked. I like to think that if I could take the bird out of the picture, I should still love the background. Crafting a beautiful photograph isn’t difficult, but it does take thoughtfulness to frame a bird with just the right background.

Backgrounds Shape Bird Photography

Different backgrounds create different effects. A dark background, for example, really pops the bird’s color and you can see iridescence much better. This is great for hummingbirds, to draw out the tiny details of each bird. Darker backgrounds add more drama and set a powerful mood for a photo.

Bright backgrounds, on the other hand, help frame the bird, like putting it in a spotlight for a natural highlight. If you have bright spots in your background, moving around even a little bit while handholding your camera can help you position the light exactly right with the bird. Many nature photographers focus on the subject they’re shooting, the bird itself, but I try to look closely at the background and put it just where I want it.

A background doesn’t have to be just light or dark, however. A colorful background can have a playful or energetic quality, really bringing personality to bird photography. This creates a beautiful atmosphere, showing life and drama, with a hint of the bird’s natural environment. The key is to be sure the background works with the bird instead of taking away from it.

Nature Photographers must take background composition into account 

Along with color and light level, the background composition matters. A smooth, clean background doesn’t distract from the picture and helps emphasize the bird. I find messy or cluttered backgrounds annoying, because they really can draw the eye away from the bird. Softer focus or using fill flash and shutter speed to adjust colors and light levels can help smooth out a background for greater impact.

Ultimately, the more impact a bird makes in a photo, the better. Getting people to notice the birds is the first critical step toward bird conservation, and the more beautiful and impactful a photo is, the more people will be moved to help conservation efforts. If I can make pretty pictures to help people take that step, then the photo is a success.