What is in the background of an image can enhance or distract

Ring-billed Gull and friendsRing-billed Gull and friends – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 240mm, natural light, not baited

In bird photography what is in the background can enhance or distract the eye from the main subject. In these two images the subject is the same, they are both Ring-billed Gulls, both have other out of focus birds or reflections in the background and both are in flight but one to my eye is appealing and the other… not so much.

In the image above the Ring-billed Gull flying over the Gulf of Mexico has other out of focus gulls in the background but to my eye they don’t distract from the main subject because they are so out of focus that they nearly blend into the sky but you can still tell they are birds, they add depth and they also break up what otherwise is a plain sky.

A Ring-billed Gull landing at Bear River Migratory Bird RefugeA Ring-billed Gull landing at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge – Nikon D810, f9, 1/2000, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This Ring-billed Gull image was taken last month at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as the gull came in for a landing shows the gull in a nice pose with great eye contact and lovely details but the out of focus reflection of an American White Pelican’s bill at the upper right hand corner distracts my eye from the main subject because I spend time trying to figure out what is showing on the water over the the gulls left wing. I was disappointed even when I took this image because I knew the reflection was going to ruin it.

In my opinion the out of focus birds in the background of the top image enhance it while the out of focus pelican bill reflection in the bottom image is distracting.

Life is good.



  1. Cindy September 29, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Life is full of distractions even for birds and photographers. 🙂 The first image is delightful but the second image brings awareness to the beautifully formed wing of the gull…like two fingers pointing. Always magnificent images, Mia

  2. Dave Sparks September 29, 2015 at 6:05 am

    I agree. I prefer the bird in the second one (pose, eye contact and sharpness are so nice) but because of the distracting reflection, overall I think the first one is better.

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