IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work

What skills does it take to photograph birds? Is it just a matter of “getting lucky” or is their more to it? Some is luck of course, being in the right place at the right time, but just being there isn’t going to be enough. Mastering the art of bird photography includes research, camera skill and practice. Awais is an outstanding photographer and these two images show us why.

When the Fight Beginsby Awais Ali Shiekh

Bank Mayna birds in conflict behavior

Conditions: Awais was looking for, finding and watching birds in the area of Headballoky,Punjab, Pakistan. He explains: I heard a lot of noise, so headed in that direction and found over 100 Bank Mayna birds. They live in holes in the ground. Two bird pairs were “shouting” at each other near a hole. When neither backed off, the fight began in order for the “winner” to take property of the hole for laying their eggs.

Required Skills:

1. Knowing your subject
2. Knowing your camera
3. Being prepared, anticipating and capturing the action
4. Mastering the art of patience and mental focus


1. Vibrant color
2. Clarity of eyes with catch light
3. Blurred background without distracting elements
4. Created at the birds-eye level

Noella’s Comments:

Every area of photography has some unique techniques and skills that are required. Creating dynamic photographic images of birds is no exception and Awais shows us that he meets all of these requirements.

One of the very first “skills” a good bird photographer must have is the ability to research the subject – learn about the bird’s markings and traits, the habitat in which they can be found, when they are most likely to be seen, and their actions and behaviors. And that is only the beginning. By researching just one bird at a time, a huge mental data base will begin to be built about many birds, providing the added benefit of being able to differentiate between species when in the field.

You can certainly prepare by having the settings on the camera in place according to the environmental light. Having the correct exposure with an ISO and shutter speed high enough for the anticipated action will get you started. It will take some practice in order to be able to push the correct buttons quickly when changes are needed, but in time you’ll create photos just like Awais with vibrant color and sharp subjects.

Fight for Rightby Awais Ali Shiekh

Having a long lens, the ability to hold it steady in case you can’t be on a tripod, the skills needed to keep your focus along the plane of the eye and eliminating any distracting background elements will make a big difference in the quality of the final image.

In these photos the eye of the dominate bird is not only clear, but a small catch light is seen. The eyes are very important in making a connection between the subject and the viewer.

If you have studied and watched your chosen species carefully, you’ll be able to anticipate the action. Birds react swiftly and you need to be faster if you are going to capture the moment. Another major skill that comes into play with any action-based photography is patience and mental focus. These skills of quieting yourself and being mentally tuned into the action unfolding are very important.

It is obvious that Awais did his homework, knew his camera well and did a good job of being patient – observing and waiting for the action. He was ready to “seize the moment”. It’s clear that he was prepared mentally and camera-wise before he went into the field.

These images of birds become even more special because Awais not only selected a large f-stop to blur the background, but he got down to a birds-eye level, which provides the viewer with a more intimate look at the combat taking place. Action images are fascinating and the moment of extreme tension between these participants makes these photographs spellbinding and holds the viewer’s eye.

These images demonstrate the many skills that a master bird photographer needs to have to be successful. Congratulations Awais on making these stunning images and many thanks for sharing with us the beauty of nature that you see.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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