Though I quite often photograph birds so that they are what is labled “frame filling” I also like to compose images that show the bird or animals small in the frame.

Palm Warbler perched on Sea Purslane

Palm Warbler perched on Sea Purslane –  D200, F6.3, 1/640, ISO 200, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light.

For me this image above is as much about the Sea Purslane and  the OOF Sea Oats on the sand dune in the background as it is about the as it is about the Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum). I wanted to show the scale of the bird and purslane, the warbler is tiny and the individual leaves of the purslane are too.

American Oystercatcher chickOystercatcher juvenile in the surf –  D200, HH, f5.6, 1/160, ISO 320, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light.

I do have other reasons for taking images where the birds are small in the frame. I don’t approach, harrass or disturb nesting birds or chicks. I will remain at a distance from the nest or chicks even knowing that I’ll take a heavier crop than normal and while I am framing the shot I will look for a setting or background that will work with a bird smaller in the frame.

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) chick in the image above isn’t frame filling but I feel the wave about to crash in the background and the bits and pieces of shells and the bird’s pose provide enough interest. Also since the chick is small having it smaller in the frame can accentuate that.

Laughing Gull in a quiet lagoon

Laughing Gull in a quiet lagoon –  D200, HH, f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 400, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light.

I didn’t feel that the Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) in the photo above was all that interesting from the distance I was away from the bird but as I positioned myself lower and lower in the lagoon while looking through the viewfinder I found the still water, dark reflections and the contrast of the lighter colored gull very interesting, so I took a few shots. I know the image above isn’t likely to appeal to a large audience of viewers, but it does have appeal for me.

Feeding Brown Pelicans over the Gulf of Mexico

Feeding Brown Pelicans over the Gulf of Mexico –  D200, HH, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 200, 80-400mm VR at 175mm, natural light.

Another reason that I might compose an image with birds small in the frame is that I may want to include several birds or animals in an image and include enough background to give the viewer a sense of place.

The Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) in this image are actively hunting  over and diving into the Gulf of Mexico, the gulls seen in the image are hoping to get the baitfish that the pelicans might lose. I wanted to convey the differences of the sizes of the gulls and pelicans as well as include the clouds in the early morning sky.

These are just a few examples of why I might compose images with birds or animals that are small in the frame.



  1. pausleal August 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  2. Rich Ditch August 22, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    “Small in the frame” is a favorite style of mine as well: it is a great way to show the subject in relation to the habitat that is essential to the bird’s life. It also gives an opportunity to add textures or graphic lines to a composition.

    Ands its a great skill for novice bird photographers to master as it allows working with shorter and more affordable lenses than are usually associated with avian subjects.

    I like the Laughing Gull image presented here a lot.

  3. Pausleal August 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    well written blog. Im glad that I could find more info on this. thanks

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