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THE BACKGROUND IS HALF OF THE STORY. Most photographers pretty quickly start to understand what nice, soft light looks and feels like. A bit later, people start to understand that shooting at eye level is usually the way to go. But something that a lot of folks, myself included, take longer to realize is how crucial the background is to the look and feel of your photos. 

In this case study, I took a bunch of photos of Crab Plovers on a sandbar and mudflat. As you can see from these photos, the background of each photo has a HUGE effect on its nature and the feeling it evokes in the viewer. 

How to deal with this? Sometimes you have little choice of background, and simply have to take pics and hope for the best: "spray and pray" this is sometimes called!


Sometimes if you have a stationary subject you can slowly walk a few feet right or left, take a few photos, then walk a few more feet, and take a few more. You'll be amazed how different these mini-series of photos end up feeling.


I also suggest that in a case like a shorebird on a mudflat that you simply keep shooting. Not 1000 photos at the same spot! Move around and use fieldcraft to get close to the birds. Then back off and take some wider-angle photos. Try to get photos of the birds feeding, running, or doing things other than simply standing.


Some great photographers are capable of envisioning a complete photo, then realizing that vision. For the rest of us, getting great photos is more a matter of patience and persistence. Often it's hard to imagine how a photo will look and feel later when viewed on a screen. That's a big reason why you just shoot a bunch of photos with a variety of backgrounds. When you're reviewing your photos later, you can pick out the best ones. I can tell you that in the case of these Crab Plovers, I had a good feeling about a few photos at the time I took them, but only picked out the majority of my favorite shots later. 

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Mangrove green is nice!

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So is brown land and blue bay

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Play with backlighting too. Can make for a very cool photo, and is a way of being more creative. 

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Mangrove knees on the mudflat give this photo a warm feeling and some pleasing vertical texture. 

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I love the wind-blown feel of this wide-angle shot that takes in the whole width of the sandbar. 

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Some motion usually makes for a more interesting photo, especially in the case of the long-legged and kinetic shorebirds. 

Lots of things you could do with this photo, but 4:3, along with a bit of creativity in the placement of the bird and the termite mound, ends up working well.

Red-and-yellow Barbet.

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