IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

Wintering birds come in a wonderful variety of feather colors and patterns, but it sometimes takes more than a beautiful bird to make a photograph outstanding.

Let’s look at Don Prince’s duck image to discover what he saw and what he did to make this photo exceptional.

Eurasian Widgeonby Don Prince

Image of a Eurasian Widgeon on water with colorful reflections of surrounding vegetation by Don Prince.

Subject: Eurasian Widgeon

Conditions: “The Eurasian Widgeon image was taken on a clear cloudless day in A.C.I.D. canal in downtown Redding, California. The reflections on the water were best in the mid-morning with the light reflection off of the Western bank of the canal.”


1. Abstract shapes and patterns

2. Contrast of texture

3. Pictorial interpretation of subject

4. Strong color

5. Sense of motion

Noella’s Comments:

Wildlife photography can exceed focusing on just the animal, bird or reptile. It can also be about using every bit of background and information available to show them in their environment. Using this compositional style will tell a story about their habitat.

In this image, Don intentionally has taken advantage of the widgeon moving gently through the water as it creates ripples in the graphic surface reflections. As it slowly moves through the water, it disrupts the very strong shapes and patterns and creates smaller swirls and new designs around the subject.

Contrast in an image is a powerful magnet for the eye, whether it’s contrast in texture, tone, color, shape, or size. It is one of the important elements within the image maker’s tool box. It keeps the viewer interested and looking more deeply at the photograph.

There is a contrast of texture between the soft feathers and the hard lines of the reflections. The use of soft focus on the subject is an interpretive representation that allows the photographer to place the emphasis of the image in a more creative way. The bird is not so much the center of interest, but becomes one with the environment that surrounds it.

One of the most beautiful components of the image is the vibrant and colorful reflections of the surrounding vegetation. They are amazing and intriguing. It is obviously a fall palette. The next time you are near a body of water, really look at the reflections for color and pattern. They can enhance the appearance of a subject immensely.

And last, but certainly not least is the position of the subject within the image frame. Because there is a tight crop, it’s important to allow space in front of the widgeon so it has available room in which to keep paddling forward. It adds to the implied sense of motion.

Terrific photograph Don and you have shown us how to make a simple image into something so much more by being aware of and taking advantage and control of all parts of the subject and its environment.

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