I am very proud of this photograph. I’ve photographed literally thousands of eagles, but this simple headshot is one of my favorite eagle portraits of all time. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s exactly the kind of thing I aim to do.
When I make a portrait – whether it be of a person or a bird – my job (as I see it) is to celebrate that subject. I want to tell their story. I want 100% of the focus on the subject. I want everyone who sees the photo to instantly recognize it. I like simplicity. I like basic forms. I like rich color and horath curves. I like to fill the frame and make the shot sing.
Now what’s interesting about all this is that I learned these techniques while photographing people. Many of you may not know that I’ve spent more time photographing people than I have wildlife. I learned from masters like Dean Collins, Monte Zucker, Don Blair, Joyce Wilson and a host of others. Many of the techniques I learned from these fine photographers permanently influenced my style and approach. And I’ve carried them over into my wildlife photography, particularly when I make “bird portraits.”
I don’t do one single thing differently when photographing birds or people. When I make a portrait of either I try to accomplish the same things. I like a creamy, smooth, out-of-focus background so as not to distract the viewer. A clean background draws attention to the subject. I also like a complimentary – natural background. The blue works just fine here.
I like the subject to fill the frame. If it’s about them then make it about them. Eliminate anything that doesn’t increase attention on the subject.
I like to focus on the eye. If I get that sharp, then I don’t worry about anything else.
I like to anchor the subject in one corner of the frame. This is a natural place to put the subject since the human eye seeks balance in the portrait. I like to have room for the subject to move through the picture so in this case, there is more room on the side of the photo where the eagle is looking.
I try to get a pose that is natural. In this case, it doesn’t get any more natural than this. I can’t speak Eagle so I gave the bird no direction. He did as he pleased.
Lastly I try to find one little gem that helps tell the story. The smaller the better. I like it to be something you have to look for. Here it’s the bead of water just about to roll off the eagle’s beak.
You’d be surprised how many things you learn in one photographic discipline can be used in another. I strongly urge you to try this on your own. Learn one kind of photography you would never think of doing and see how it impacts what you usually do and how what you usually do impacts the new task.
It’s fun and educational and who knows – it may just start you off on another path!