WHERE'S THE SUBJECT?
Perhaps the most important step towards a good composition is where you place the bird (or whatever subject) in the frame. However, when shooting birds, you’re often simply trying to make the simplest image possible: a bird against a solid background of color. So, how do you compose a pleasing image of a bird?
The answer is to give the subject breathing room. If you’re shooting a bird in flight, always give the bird in the frame somewhere to fly. If the bird is flying to the right, and you frame the bill right up against the right side, the image is going to look awkward. Always give your subject somewhere to go.
The same applies to a bird sitting still. Always give your subject somewhere to look.
Always be clear about what you want your image to show. If you want a close-up shot, make it close-up. If you want the whole bird, make it the whole bird. Don’t just chop off the feet or the tail.
Always give your subject breathing room. Don’t frame the shot too closely, especially around the head, as that will almost always be the main focus of the image.
However, in photography, all rules are made to be broken. Stick to these general rules and only break them when you feel the image will be better or more artistic.
WHERE ARE YOU?
Even if the image’s composition is pleasing, you may often find that the image lacks some interest. Something important to keep in mind is your relation to your subject. In general wildlife photography, a good rule of thumb is to shoot at your subject’s eye-level. A photo of a sandpiper, for example, is generally much more interesting if you take the photo from his eye-level rather than from a tripod 5 ft in the air. While that might mean crawling around in the mud, you will find your images much more pleasing and interesting.
While photographs taken shooting up at a bird are usually more pleasing than down on a bird, the same concept applies to subjects higher than you. If you’re shooting up at a bird in a tree, you may find it hard to have pleasing results. However, with birds in trees, you'll often find you can get nice results if the bird looks down at you in the right way. In the image on the right, you would almost not think that the hawk was 15 ft in the air.
That is where photography becomes more of an art rather than simply pressing the shutter.