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08.04.2011

The average person can glance at a group of photos and quickly choose a favorite. But when the time comes for a photographer to judge their own work the process isn’t always so easy. Some unfortunate photographers fall victim to a condition called analysis paralysis and can spend a year or more sorting through a single group of images. But don’t worry, I can help you avoid this condition.

Take a look at this bald eagle sequence I made earlier this year and choose the best image of the series. Then read through my notes and compare them with your likes and dislikes. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion with a comment. This exercise should give you some ideas to improve your editing skills and help you make those important decisions with your own work.

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D700. ISO 800, Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. Dynamic-area AF 51 points 3D-tracking. OS 1 on, handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

The first thing I look for is a sharp eye, and is the first thing you should check for unless you are looking at a speed blur. Also look carefully for any trace of the nictitating membrane covering the eye. This is a semi transparent third eyelid that will ruin an image.

Notice that the bird is flying slightly towards the camera, this is the preferred angle. Pass on anything that is flying away even if only by a few degrees.

The biggest problem with the image is that the blue strip of water cuts right through the eagle’s wings.

The wing position is okay but the bird’s head and the wing merge unfortunately so this is a big negative. I would pass on this image.

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D700. ISO 800, Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. Dynamic-area AF 51 points 3D-tracking. OS 1 on, handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

The eye is sharp and membrane free and the head is no longer merging with the wing but there is something else that kills the image. The big killer for me is with the wing shape, the top half of the wing is folded down. I want to see a straight wing, the more vertical the better.

Notice that the shoreline is much lower in this frame and only cuts through the bird’s feet so it is not an issue as it was in the first image.

For this sequence I used Dynamic-area AF 51 point 3D tracking so I was able to concentrate on framing the bird without clipping any body parts and not having to worry about keeping the AF point on the bird’s head.

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D700. ISO 800, Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. Dynamic-area AF 51 points 3D-tracking. OS 1 on, handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

This image is an instant pass for me due to the classic pancake wing position. This will never work for me unless the bird is flying right at the camera.

People have the habit of thinking you have to delete every bad image before they can choose their best images. Instead of wasting time deleting images I recommend spending your time choosing your best work. The cost of external hard drives are so low there is no reason that you need to spend time clearing drive space after each time you shoot.

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D700. ISO 800, Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. Dynamic-area AF 51 points 3D-tracking. OS 1 on, handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

This image good overall and it really comes down to personal preference. Some people like this kind of image, personally I don’t care for the ‘M’ wing position so it would be a quick reject.

These images were made with of my favorite handheld flight lens of all time and my current lens to that I reach for than any other, the Sigma 50-500 OS. The lens is fast, sharp and gives you great reach.

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D700. ISO 800, Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. Dynamic-area AF 51 points 3D-tracking. OS 1 on, handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

This image is my first choice. The image is sharp and focus seems locked on the bird’s eye. The wing position is in a great V shape. The top and bottom edges are clean and clear and the bird fills more of the frame than the other images. Also the head is free and clear of the bird’s wings.

This was a simple choice, I would keep image 5 and forget definitely forget about the rest. Let me know what your favorite image is and what your issues are with the rest.

To find out about my workshops including my upcoming eagle workshops in 2011 and 2012 visit my site.

For any questions email me at Robert@RobertOToolePhotography.com

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8 comments so far

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  1. All Photos are awesome and analysis by you really good which really helpfull for photgraphers for selecting best photo.

  2. All pictures are really good, and any of us would be proud of such work. Being to critical does not help. Any wing position is important to capture as it brings the birds flight into the observers imagination.

    Besides all that picture # 1 and # 5 would be my favorites.

  3. Great photos! Keep up the good work.

  4. Hi Robert!

    As if you don’t already know I’m a huge fan of your work, and consider you one of my favorite wildlife photographers. I enjoy reading your blogs because as always I find it extremely educational. To be honest, I had zero knowledge of this process which makes me grateful for your tips.

    #5 first choice. It truly shows the grand size of the bird, and I agree with your points having read it.
    #4 second choice. I don’t mind the M shape when looking at it from the side, but again the fifth does make for a better choice.

    Next time I’m out birding, I’ll keep these tips in mind! I have a question for you. In your professional experience do you think these are the same type of details a publication is looking for when making a decision which images to publish, and/or competition selections? I’m interested in learning more about those details as well.

    Thank you as always you offer wonderful helpful tips, please do not stop! :)

    Regards,
    Cindy Bryant
    You can see my photos via Flickr under: Flickrtographerhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/cindylovesphotography/

  5. I picked image 5 because of the tall wing span and the finger like spread of the wings. That was the sole reason I chose it and now better understand why. It helped to understand why the others didn’t work besides the birds pose. For example the water cutting through the eagles wings. I have not focused on the background as much as framing and wing position of the bird.

    Very helpful and gives lots to think about when choosing the right photo.

    Thanks,

    Matt Bryant
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbryant28/

  6. Thanks to everyone for taking time to comment.

    Hi Cindy,

    Thanks for sharing your comments and all the nice words about me.

    “In your professional experience do you think these are the same type of details a publication is looking for when making a decision which images to publish, and/or competition selections? I’m interested in learning more about those details as well.”

    Generally I would say yes in regards to publications and competitions but it really depends on the case by case basis, some are not so critical like a kid’s magazine or a general photo competition. The important thing to remember is to try to be ruthless and critical when it comes to your own work (posting on image critique sites can also help ) so you can keep improving. I try to this each time I review my images. I have been shooting eagles seriously for about 6 years now so I really know what I am looking for and I wont settle for anything less.

    Hope this helps, thanks again and keep shooting!

    Robert
    http://www.RobertOToolePhotography.com

  7. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for sharing your comments.

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    “I picked image 5 because of the tall wing span and the finger like spread of the wings. That was the sole reason I chose it and now better understand why. It helped to understand why the others didn’t work besides the birds pose. For example the water cutting through the eagles wings. I have not focused on the background as much as framing and wing position of the bird.

    Very helpful and gives lots to think about when choosing the right photo.”
    _______________________________________________________________________

    Glad I could help you see some of the finer points. That is exactly what I was hoping for.

    All the best,

    Robert
    http://www.RobertOToolePhotography.com

  8. Hi Rob,

    Great photos! Nice camera and lens. I,m Mandy from the Philippines. Am also a Nikon user, a D90 wid 17-55mm and a 35mm 1.8..Am looking forward today acquiring a 10-20mm sigma ultrawide angle lens. I’m a wedding photographer and also love to shoot birds and butterflies.

    Nice 50-500mm gear you got there!