A Turkey Vulture and changing backgrounds

/, Stansbury Mountains, Tooele County, Turkey Vultures, Utah/A Turkey Vulture and changing backgrounds

Turkey Vulture with a sky backgroundTurkey Vulture with a sky background – Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 640, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Last week while photographing in a canyon in the Stansbury Mountains in Tooele County, Utah I spotted this Turkey Vulture roosting in a dead tree in morning light. For this first image we moved to a location that had plain sky in the background so the background is rather simple, some might even say it is plain or boring.

Turkey Vulture with trees in the backgroundTurkey Vulture with trees in the background – Nikon D300, f9, 1/400, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

After photographing the Turkey Vulture in the first location we moved a bit to the east which changed the background from sky to the trees across the canyon, because the tree were a distance away from the vulture my choice of aperture and the bokeh of my lens smoothed out the trees to a  soft blur, enough to be recognizable as trees but out of focus enough to not compete with the subject.

Turkey Vulture with sky and trees in the backgroundTurkey Vulture with sky and trees in the background – Nikon D300, f9, 1/500, ISO 640, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

By moving a bit west we were able to get a few of the out of focus trees in the lower portion of the frame with blue sky above them.

I really don’t have a favorite among these three images, I like the different backgrounds in all of them. By moving a bit one way or the other though a photographer can change what is in the background slightly which can make an image more or less appealing.

Does one of these backgrounds appeal to you more than others?

Disclaimer: The bottom two images had a small bleached twig visible in the top left corner of each frame, I did remove those by cloning out the tip of the twig. It was not visible in the cropped version of the first image because our location was furthest west.



  1. Mia McPherson July 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks for all your thoughts on comparing these images and for sharing which you picked as your favorite. I still can’t pick one!

  2. Wally July 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    All of the images are terrific! But, I love Vultures (who doesn’t?).

    I can pretend to have a slight preference for #2 as it seems to put the viewer on the same level as the subject. Images #1 and #3 give the appearance of “looking up” (which, of course, is quite realistic as that’s usually what we’re doing!) to the subject from a lower angle.

    Again, my vote is for all three of these beautiful creatures! Nice work, Mia! (Although it makes my head hurt to have to do this much thinking……)

  3. M. Firpi July 18, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I had a photographer web friend who used to say, “a background will either make it or break it”. I still believe this is true, but to a certain extent. There’s only so much one can do with backgrounds, as they are what they are. Photojournalism, either for nature or human events, relies on what the environmental reality was at the moment. I still have the artistic tendency to try to get as many clear backgrounds as I can; but it just comes to a point where I can’t control it anymore.

  4. Jeff Cooper July 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    I like all three images. It’s an awesome bird. I’d lean toward #2 and #3 if I were forced to choose. I like the trees in the background because the full frame reminds me of the natural environment. I also like how the distant trees in the third image are almost perfectly separated by the branches. I went back and forth between #2 and #3 trying to see how the angle between you and the bird changed. The bird seems to be at the same angle regardless of the background with sky and the background with trees. I finally noticed a slight tilt of the birds head from one image to another. The suns angle change can be more easily seen between the photos. Fun images to study. Thanks, Mia.

  5. Sally Wood July 16, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I like the tree background best. These are the easiest to spot of the bigger birds in flight for me. They are quite common around here.

  6. Prairie Birder July 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Turkey Vultures are such neat birds! My favorite photo is the one with the sky and trees in the background.

  7. Sheila July 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Well, since everyone is choosing a favorite, I will as well. The first image is my favorite, because I like the combination of the vulture, the sky and the tree branches. The simple colors combine for a pleasing image. Traveling in south Florida we see a lot of these guys!

  8. Utahbooklover July 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Great photos, Mia, especially the first one. As the famous architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe was known to say, “less is more” applies to photographs too, in my opinion.

  9. Syl Lobato July 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    like the green background..it ties this guy right to nature and his purpose in the ecology. Great shot.

  10. Julie G. July 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    All three photographs are terrific, Mia! If I had to select a favorite, it would probably be the first image because it allows me to get a great look at the vulture. Background color can be nice as well. Through the years, I have always admired the backgrounds of your exceptional photographs. I find it so very difficult to get clean shots.

  11. Lynn Koch July 16, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Awesome, Mia! I think vultures are wonderful birds and play a vital role in the environment. I love all three shots, but like the first one best!

  12. M. Firpi July 16, 2013 at 9:31 am

    I like the first one the most because of the blue sky only and the branch, but all three are of great quality. The second one is nice too because the mountains are sufficiently OOF.

  13. Susan Stone July 16, 2013 at 8:03 am

    I prefer the first photo, because it enables me to see the bird clearly. The second one, for me, makes seeing the bird far more difficult, and I like it the least of the three. I guess I prefer the combination of simplicity and the ease of making out the details of the bird that you get with the first photo.

  14. Neil July 16, 2013 at 7:24 am

    The third image with trees below the branch and sky above is pretty neat. Do you have an opinion on photographers who do background replacement Mia? I feel that it generally shouldn’t be done and is kind of like taking the easy road out. I find it much for challenging to take a picture with a nice background already present. Even if I have a messy background though, I let it be because it can show the type of habitat the bird is in. Heading out on the bluebird trail with Al again today! Hoping for some nice Western Bluebird shots.

    • Mia McPherson July 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Neil, I don’t replace backgrounds in my images, at most I use Noise Reduction when I can see noise there or I will use the cloning tool to clean up dust spots. Most of the images I see where the background has been replaced look off, and I don’t enjoy seeing them. I don’t think things like that should be done unless the photographer is willing to disclose it. I also enjoy seeing birds in their natural habitat and some times that can be a little messy.

  15. patty chadwick July 16, 2013 at 6:20 am

    All three are great close-ups of one homely bird! The first is my favorite. I like the composition and the simplicity…Turkey vultures are associated with death and the ability to soar (that’s where their beauty lies), The plain sky background and the dead branches, esp. the one pointing up, provide the perfect context.

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