Head games

April 02, 2017

One of many tips and skills that I learnt from attending a workshop with the very talented Michael Milicia is that it's the little details that often contribute to an image's success. Head angle is one of those important details, where a slight turn towards the camera can elevate a technically well executed image to one that's far more engaging for the viewer. And often, once you're aware of these little nuances (which in hindsight may seem obvious), you'll find that you develop a more discerning eye when selecting your best shots, looking out for these little touches that separate the winning shot from otherwise very similar photos.

Have a look at this sequence of 3 shots of a female Serin foraging below the feeders in the garden. This is a single burst, with the images shown in the order they were taken.

Serin (shot 1)Serin (shot 1)

Serin (shot 2)Serin (shot 2)

Serin (shot 3)Serin (shot 3)

Which do you prefer and why?

If you're not sure of the subtle differences, here's an animated sequence (if the animation has stopped simply refresh the page and it will loop a few times, or click here to show full screen).

Ignore the distracting bright white daisies and focus on the head angle changes. Here's what we have:

  1. In the first image the bird is slightly looking away/just about parallel to my shooting position (commonly referred to as a "field guide pose"). It's "ok", but there's no engagement with the viewer. In my early photographic days this was probably a shot I wanted. Afterall, it reminded me of the images that illustrated the various bird field guides I owned. But now I know better!!
  2. In the second, the bird's head has turned slightly towards the camera (maybe only parallel) - better, and more engaging - but at the same time as turning its head towards the camera the body of the bird has angled slightly away. Close, but not the best...
  3. Finally, in the third shot the Serin has a nice head turn towards my shooting position (engaging) and the body is parallel to the camera - the winner!

As a final comment, worth noting that all three images benefit from a nice distinctive catch light.

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