Photo Critique: Out On A Limb :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photo Critique: Out On A Limb

by David Peterson 14 comments

This week, we are treated to a photo taken by Stephen Miller. Stephen describes the picture as a “lucky shot,” and indeed it is. Photographing wild birds can be incredibly difficult, especially because they move so darned fast and they spend a lot of time in the air. While it’s sometimes good to have a picture of a wild bird in mid-flight, these pictures usually don’t have enough reference points to tell a story. Stephen’s picture is the rare instance in which a photo of a single moving bird can maintain a viewer’s interest.

Visual interestingness

Because the bird has some kind of relationship to the branch, we feel more connected to it than we would if the bird were just flying around in the sky. There is intent and emotion wrapped up in that intent. The bird’s single-mindedness and focus dominates the shot. It makes you feel uncomfortable, in a way, because the bird hasn’t quite reached its destination. The uncertainty of this shot piques the viewer’s interest and keeps it exciting.

I wrote an article today about giving your subject a space to look into, and Stephen has done a great job in implementing that concept. The extra space to the right of the bird helps to signal the bird’s intent. Imagine, for a second, what this photo would look like if the bird’s beak were smashed up next to the right edge of the frame. It wouldn’t look nearly as appealing, right? Stephen didn’t have to give the bird a lot of space to look into. The small amount he added helped to accomplish his main goal.

Notice how Stephen has also cropped the photo to only include the relevant parts of the scene. This picture is only about two things, the bird and the branch. By choosing to cut the image off at the end of the bird’s wings, Stephen has constrained the image to its more important elements.

Unfortunately, and this is probably something Stephen wasn’t able to control, the branch sticks out in front of the bird near its head. This distracts from the overall theme of the photo, which is the bird’s intent to reach the branch. It would be nice if the bird and the branch were two completely separate entities. We would feel a little bit more of the emotion wrapped up in the image.

Color choice

The colors in this photo are kind of drab, but they balance very well. The brown on the bird’s feathers goes well with the brown on the branch. The sky isn’t some vibrant blue. It’s a toned-down lighter color, almost a grey. It goes well with the bird’s less flashy colors. As a viewer, you aren’t blown away with the colors in this photo, but that isn’t really point of it. If too much emphasis were placed on color, (not that the photographer had much of a choice) we wouldn’t see this photo for what it is. This photo is about the bird and the branch.

After staring at this photo for a while, I noticed there is one more thing I really like about it. You get a sense of the bird’s anatomy, especially its muscles. This is a fairly up-close shot, and the bird’s wings are completely outstretched. When it reaches for the branch, its legs aren’t concealed. They are wide open for view. You can actually see the tension in its muscles as it prepares for landing.

This photo makes me think of birds in a different way. Strangely, I kind of expect the bird to have some hind legs, which it lacks. Overall, it is an interesting perspective, and I thank Stephen for sending this photo my way.

And to everyone else, I appreciate your shots. I look forward to critiquing more of them in the future.

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. Frederico Derschum says:

    Great picture!!! Don't care about the critics, it's only envy. Wish I can take a wild picture like this some day.
    Maybe the people from National Geographic or Disneys could do better, without the branch...

    By the way, with all that digital talking about PhotoShop, EasyShare, and others, correcting, cropping, lightning, we are forgeting how to take photographs, we are producing images. Press the shutter release, the rest we can adjust later....

  2. aashish says:

    How about making a mirror image of this shot? I tried it and I think it looks better with the bird coming in from the right...
    I agree with other comments here: the extra bit of the branch in front of the bird is very distracting. Great capture, though! :-) Couldn't have done better 'in the moment'.
    Would like to know what others think of the mirror image idea...

  3. Mike FD says:

    This is a great shot. It is real, it invokes my imagination re the birds focus and intention. These latter aspects and the photos composition create the overall impression. I agree whole heartedly with Ray's comments re doctoring; don't photoshop it because then it will lose its inherent authenticity. Yes look what Brian Brake achieved with his Leica (35?) !

  4. ray says:

    it is a great shot, no doubt about it. sometimes when one has to take a sort of rushed shot, rule of thirds, composition, leading lines etc etc, go out of the window. you just want to get the shot as you see it. a photo could be seen as a snapshot in time. but i also think that the branch is a little distracting, and the new version of cs5 makes taking it out, a real stroll in the park, but sometimes we all tend to lean on ps too much and forget about the basics such as skill and techniques . i am trying to rely less and less on lightroom and ps, but there are instances, where it is needed. btw how did ansel adams and co manage without photoshop and lightroom, and still manage to teach us a thing or two about dynamic range? haha

  5. Angelo Da Silva says:

    I can photoshop it for you if you want to see what it looks like.. let me know


  6. Karen Golden says:

    I love this photo and can appreciate the patience it took to catch this moment. Great job! KG

  7. tracy says:

    wow... you are lucky... great shot!

  8. Vasantha says:

    Without top branch, It will be agreat photo

  9. Peter P says:

    I agree with the comments. Even though I am no expert at Photoshop
    I could not resist the temptation to "photoshop" it, and the effect is quite dramatic. I wish you could see it.

  10. ISMAIL says:

    The bird forgot to tell stephen that he would land on this specific branch so he should prepare himself and choose the suitable shooting angle.. may be a little bit to the left for more space between the bird's neck and the branch.. ! Guys.. ! It all happend in a sudden.
    I think we need a pilot to figuer out this exact moment of landing,and how the bird exactly feels it. The wings muscles and how wide they spreaded including wingtip feathers indicate THE LANDING BRAKES.
    GOOD SHOT to capture it this quick way.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.