Why Even Bad Bird Photography Can Be Good

Not every photo is crisp and clear, but bird photography can be worthwhile for other reasons.

Jill Staake

In my recent posts about our trip to Costa Rica last month, I didn’t share one of my favorite photos. There was a good reason for this: it’s really not a very good photo at all. Take a look:

Bird Photography Sungrebe

See? Just looks like a muddy river and some vegetation. If you look a little closer, you’ll see that there’s actually a bird there, in the middle left. Here it is zoomed and cropped:

Bird Photography Sungrebe

So, now we have a photo of a muddy river, some hanging vegetation, and a blurry bird. What could possibly make me be so excited about this example of bird photography?

The answer is the bird itself. It’s a Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica), and it was a life bird for us. My husband took this photo while we were on a boat trip on the Rio Frio, in northern Costa Rica on the Nicaraguan border. Everyone else on the trip was taking photos of the White-Faced Capuchin monkeys in the trees on the other side of the river. (Don’t worry – we took plenty of photos of those, too.) When he stepped back to give others their turn at the front of the boat, he looked off to the left and spotted this bird in the distance. Unable to make it out even with binoculars, he zoomed all the way in and took a few photos in the hopes of identifying it later.

That’s one of the great things about digital photography. You can take all the photos you want without worrying about wasting film. It doesn’t matter if they’re terrible, because you can delete them all later if you want. But many of today’s cameras are even better at zooming in than your binoculars, so you’ll be able to get a pretty close look, especially if you crop it with a free program like Picasa later. And when you’re in a situation where you don’t necessarily have to time to whip out a guidebook, bird photographycan help you make an ID later on, even if the photo itself isn’t a worthy of framing and hanging on the wall.

So don’t be afraid to take photos. No matter how good or bad your camera is, a photo can still help you remember your experiences later on. This photo brings me back to that small boat on the Rio Frio, with howler monkeys wailing in the trees and mangrove swallows swooping everywhere. Without this photo, we would probably have forgotten about this little bird in the excitement of monkeys and kingfishers and caiman sightings. But we have it, and we have “Sungrebe” on our life list. Definitely worth a few clicks of the shutter!

  1. Barry Kant says

    Interesting that I have almost the exact same photos of a Sungrebe taken in Costa Rica last winter; dirty water, small bird swimming under tree limbs along the shoreline in and out of the shadows taken during a boat tour on the river. The photos were not good, but I kept them as I will probably never see another Sungrebe to photograph.

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