Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Best viewed large on black by clicking or pressing L to see more detail.
The Crop (A work in progress)
Again I am not too sure about the crop. Its unfortunate but I find it
necessary to crop many shots taken with my super telephoto zoom lens
(Osiris - also known as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM).
I think it's the nature of bird photography. It's difficult enough to try and find the bird, not scare it away, get close and try to take a shot in focus without even considering composition. I guess I am trying to say it is difficult enough to get the technical side right before the artistic.
My initial approach when photographing a bird is to start with just the centre focus point active with the camera in continuous focus mode (AI servo in Canon Land) to compensate for any forward/backward motion due to handholding (not what it's designed for but I find it helps). Then, if I am lucky enough to get a few shots this way, that I am happy with (which is rare), I try to get closer and compose the image better. For me, almost always when taking photos of animals, the most important thing to have the eyes sharp and in focus.
For this type of shot, I like to retain either the original 2:3 aspect ratio of the camera or a square crop while employing the rule of thirds. I also like to place the eye of the bird on one of four intersections of the imaginary lines dividing the photo into thirds horizontally and vertically. I use Adobe Lightroom 3 for most of my image processing now and I find its crop tools and selection of overlays very good.
I find cropping a powerful tool which seems to have a large impact on the image (at least in my opinion). I have started experimenting with composition techniques commonly used in various visual art forms such as lead room, Rabatment of the rectangle, etc. For this particular photograph, I did experiment with the diagonal method but in the end a combination of the rule of thirds, centring and lead room give a more pleasing composition in my opinion.
I guess having to crop isn't the worst thing in the world. Even Ansel Adam suggests in the book "The Print" that some times a crop is necessary to remove distracting features and draw attention where you want.
Cropping is subset of the complex art of composition which one can research extensively, but I believe experimentation is the best way to learn.
These are just some of my thoughts and approaches. I would appreciate opinions, details of any other approaches, etc. All comments welcome. Again I would appreciate suggested crops drawn with a note.
A few further details.
I usually use Osiris with a canon 40D which has a crop factor of 1.6. Using this with Osiris at 400mm gives the equivalent of a 640mm on 35mm film. Using the shutter speed rule of thumb (1/Focal Length) gives a maximum shutter speed of 1/640. Unfortunately this rather high shutter speed often requires a high ISO even with the lens wide open. This often results in noisy images like this one, which I have internationally left noisy to preserve feather detail. Fortunately it is only luminance noise as Lightroom 3 deals with chrominance noise exceptionally well. Even the default chrominance smoothing on Lightroom gives better results than the in camera JPEGs. This itself can be enough justification for shooting RAW.