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Thread: Head Angle Philosophies....

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    Default Head Angle Philosophies....

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    Thanks to Joel for posting this in Avian. It lead to an interesting discussion on head angle.

    All are welcome to visit the original Head Angle Police thread below or here: http://www.birdphotographers.net/for...ead.php?t=7781

    All are invited to post head angle images or questions here as well.

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    Joel's original post:

    From my recent fishing trip to Texas, hand held from my bass boat.

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    Super Moderator Daniel Cadieux's Avatar
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    Nice image design and comp, and I like the high-key effect you achieved. Not crazy about the inner border, and do wish for a better HA. Seems like there is an ever so slight magenta cast (check your BG compared to the forum's white column at left).

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    Ditto Dan with a double ditto on the head angle. Folks need to learn to press the shutter button while considering the head angle.... It is the single biggest problem in the bird photos here on BPN.... Once you are aware of it, you should do much better.
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    I do understand and have read the posts about head angle, but in this case I was just cruisng past and took a quick shot and the HA isn't perfect. I agree, but I also sometimes think that bird photographers may be too keenly focused on head angle. Although I agree with comments, I honestly have never heard any comment about head angle when showing my pics to non-photographers. Of course, I'm not making a living by selling photos, so maybe I'm just wondering are we overly concerned about head angle?

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    For me, just me, a poor head angle ruins most images including this one. That's is my personal preference based on 28 years of experience in the art of bird photography. I state my opinions often and freely. :) As far as showing your images to friends, it's great if they like them. And there are plenty of magazines that publish images of birds featuring poor head angles. In both of these instances, folks simply do not know any better. BPN is here to educate folks and to help them to create better images (and here you agree that the head angle "isn't perfect." I guess the simple way to explain my position is to say that when the head angle is less than ideal (there is no one perfect head angle--it varies from pose to pose and image to image), that the photographer has failed to capture the bird's soul or it's true spirit; without a solid connection to the bird's eye or eyes, something huge is missing, even when you are "just cruising past." :)

    So to answer your question, no, I do not feel that the group as a whole here at BPN is overly concerned about head angle. In fact, I do believe that the amount of concern shown here is perfect; but then, I am a lover of what is.

    ps: Thanks for your interesting comments and question. I am sure that this is the first time that I have thought about why head angle is so important to me and written about it.
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    Super Moderator Daniel Cadieux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joel Eade View Post
    Although I agree with comments, I honestly have never heard any comment about head angle when showing my pics to non-photographers.
    Hey Joel, thanks for your thoughts on the HA issue. I agree with what you say above...most non-photographers will oohh and aahh at any good bird photo, good HA or not (I know from experience too). For me, though, it is about perfecting my art and my growth as a bird photographer. If I know a better HA looks better, then this is what I will strive for. I most likely would have taken this image too, but I would have hoped and prayed for the heron to turn its' head a bit more, and if it did then this one would have gone to the delete bin (sorry to sound harsh here).

    Show non-photographers two images of the same bird, first one with a slighty off HA and then another with a perfect one, and most will pick the one with the better HA as their favorite...and probably without being able to put the finger on why:).

    Your image above is good, but a with better HA it would have been great!

    P.S. Artie and I were typing at the same time but I guess he's quicker on the keyboard!!

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    Thanks Artie and Daniel for sharing so freely your decades of experience and knowledge. From my (relatively inexperienced) perspective, it just seems that a slightly less than perfect HA doesn't completley "ruin" a shot, while the optimum HA and good eye contact certainly does improve or enhance the capture.

    This is one of my very first GBH pictures. My experience shooting birds is only about 1-2 years and 90% in my back yard, so I sincerely appreciate getting feedback like this. Thanks guys.

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    Joel, Lots have been said about HA on this forum. I believe that Arthur Morris has correctly explained HA down to the percentage point correctly.
    my perspective is eye contact with the subject of the photo and the viewer of the photo is of prime importants. The eye contact will give the viewer a feeling (an emotional response) to the photo. HA directions in this forum are an attempt to get you to achieve this emotional response in your photography. Please study forum participant Jan Wegener's two photos of a lesser Scaulp on a previous discussion on HA in this forum. Jan's photos aptly demonstrate this point.
    Your GBH capture is very good, but the forum would be negligent not to point out those things that could make your capture GREAT.

    Rob...........

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    It is certainly useful to bring-up these oft-mentioned topics for a full airing.

    One of the most important things I have learned at BPN is about head angles, and I agree that there are far too many bad ones in magazines, books etc. However, I think we could ease up a little for the following two reasons:

    1. Some poses, activities etc are just not biologically possible and still have the correct head angle. Take an osprey hovering over fish- the bird will be intently looking down at prey below and will not look up towards you. Or how about an eagle just before it lands on a perch- it will be looking at the landing point and sometimes produce a sub-optimal head angle. The attached image of a Red-winged Blackbird is not possible with a good head angle- the bird just won't bend that way during this display. If I had been at a different angle to the bird I might have captured a good head angle but not such as good image of the underside of the bird with all its amazing textures. Maybe this means the image should should have just gone in the trash, but I personally think this would have been a waste.

    2. A friend/BPN member and I recently had a chat about this and he mentioned that in the "old days" the great bird photographers shunned direct eye contact with the bird because it suggested that you were intevening in the naturalness of the scene (I hope I've got this right Dan?). Good eye-contact and good head-angle are talked about in the same breath at BPN as if they were almost one and the same but maybe there is such a thing as a good head angle and no direct eye contact? However, perhaps most good eye contact produces direct eye contact because of the "Mona Lisa Effect" where she/the photo subject follows you around the room with their eyes.

    I would like to see a further exploration of this subject for educational purposes with a challenge to produce an excellent wildlife image with a less the optimal head angle- maybe it can't be done, maybe it can?

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    John, thanks for adding your thoughts.

    1. In the examples you mention those would be perfectly acceptable head angles. The issue is not if the bill is pointing downwards or upwards. It's that it is pointing away from parallel to the camera's sensor plane. That is the issue with your posted example too...the bill pointing down is OK with me, but the fact it is angled away from us is what is making this image not as strong as it would had it been angled at least parallel to us (BTW, great exposure and love the soft overcast light!). I've dug out an older image of a RWBB I took in a similar pose as yours but with a "correct" HA. ***Keep in mind this is from my personal archives and I do not necessarily like the image for various reasons...but it does however illustrate the good HA issue***:




    2. For me, "eye contact" and head angle are two different beasts. I've personally never understood the "eye contact" thing in bird images because in most images with a correct HA the bird is really not looking at us...it is rather looking at something way left or right of us:). For me an example of good "eye contact", when it comes to birds, would be an owl looking straight down the barrel of a lens. For most birds, however, this is not their most photogenic pose anyhow with their eyes placed at the side of their heads...whereas many mammals look great head-on (IMO)
    Last edited by Daniel Cadieux; 05-15-2010 at 05:14 PM. Reason: typo(s)

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    Thanks Daniel. By way of example, here is the sort of image I was talking about. IMO the HA is less than ideal here because of zero eye contact, but that Osprey is just not going to look up while it is fishing like this.

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    Just for the record books, Joel's (please quit taking it personally Joel) original GBH image is ruined for me because the bird is looking away while I like John's RWBB image.
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    As for John's Osprey, I like that image too. It could have been improved as seen here with some Eye Doctor work and selective sharpening of the head, all as described in detail in Digital Basics :)
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    The Osprey looks great, and I have no isues with the head angle on it (it's actually perfect for this hovering pose)!

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    I just stumbled on this thread, maybe I am too late, but I like the original image. Great Blue Heron as noble sentinel, like one of the foot guards at Westminster or the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in DC. Their instructions are to look straight ahead like a stone lion and ignore the common rabble, something like that. So that's the way I appreciate this image. No personal connection or soul, but beautiful none the less.
    The hovering Osprey also shows that eye contact or friendly head angle is not necessarily required for a beautiful bird image. I agree with Artie, but also like the idea of rare exceptions to the rule.
    Just my beginner's opinion.

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    HA is a major factor determining the impact of an image on the viewer because we instinctively react personally to a look or glance from another entity. We are acutely attuned to the direction of another's gaze, and to that of photographic subjects. Granted that there are often optimal HA's for a given subject/situation, I think that dogged insistence on having a HA of x degrees toward the film plane of a camera can lead to galleries of nice cookie-cutter bird images. Although we enjoy the fantasy that WE are are of particular interest to our photographic subjects in the wild, or in a photographic image, most of the time they really have better things to do. Sorry about that.

    What I want to do as a photographer is capture a moment when the beauty, charm, excitement, or drama of a subject and its activities is especially strong and affective (i.e., they provoke feelings in the viewer). HA and eye visibility often factor into the affectiveness of an image, but I agree with earlier comments that context determines the importance of HA. If in the middle of preparing to dive, John's lovely osprey turned and mugged at the camera it might produce a good HA (HA-HA!), because that would be downright goofy in context. To me, the importance of John's capture is the sheer beauty of the bird, its exquisite position, and the hunting behavior it represents -- this is what ospreys do, and John got it.

    As for Joel's heron, I like the image for its detached, dreamlike gaze that takes me beyond the frame of image (I could do without the black line, however). If the head were turned a couple of degrees toward the film plane, it would intensify the illusion that the heron is connecting with me personally. However, the image would lose my original feeling imparted by the posted image. The differing HA's would simply create images that have two different affective qualities. Neither one is "ruined" as far as I'm concerned -- just different, and interesting in their own right.

    Congratulations on a lovely image, Joel, and thanks for setting off this interesting discussion.

    --Craig

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    Just for the record books the head angle in John's Osprey image is perfect.
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    As for the original GBH image, had the bird had its head turned say 45 degree away I could buy the looking off into serenity story....
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    Craig,

    re:


    I think that dogged insistence on having a HA of x degrees toward the film plane of a camera can lead to galleries of nice cookie-cutter bird images.

    As the guy who brought HA to everyone's attention I have never doggedly insisted on anything. I critique each image as if it were my own and give my honest opinion. I have never told a single person what to do. You might say that I have led by example.

    Although we enjoy the fantasy that WE are are of particular interest to our photographic subjects in the wild, or in a photographic image, most of the time they really have better things to do. Sorry about that.

    My thoughts on HA have never had anything to do with any fantasies about eye contact with the bird. I am often puzzled when folks speak of eye contact. My head angle philosophies have everything to do with how the light strikes the birds face. I have never once used the words "eye contact" in a critique.


    What I want to do as a photographer is capture a moment when the beauty, charm, excitement, or drama of a subject and its activities is especially strong and affective (i.e., they provoke feelings in the viewer). HA and eye visibility often factor into the affectiveness of an image, but I agree with earlier comments that context determines the importance of HA. If in the middle of preparing to dive, John's lovely osprey turned and mugged at the camera it might produce a good HA (HA-HA!), because that would be downright goofy in context. To me, the importance of John's capture is the sheer beauty of the bird, its exquisite position, and the hunting behavior it represents -- this is what ospreys do, and John got it.

    Again, the head angle in John's image is perfect and has zero to do with the GBH image above.
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    Excellent thread. I agree with Artie that when the bird is parallel( to sensor) and if the light is hitting it nice and sqaure, a slight head turn towards the camera makes a big difference. As light angle, bird's angle and the pose change, different head angles work well too. Especially in hunting poses like the Osprey above or waders concentrating on the fish in water.

    Artie, you said "As for the original GBH image, had the bird had its head turned say 45 degree away I could buy the looking off into serenity story....". So does the following work in your opinion? I think it does but would love to know your take on it. Thx in advance as always....for all the wonderful advice you provide. I had posted the one with the traditional head turn in Avian when you were in Galapagos.

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    I find the head angle for the night-heron more pleasing than the GBH head angle. The brightest yellow spot and the smaller one behind the head bug me a bit. I am trying to figure out why there is a highlight on the side of the eyeball away from the light as it would seem to be in shadow. I love that you got some light on the eye.

    And yes, I have stressed from the beginning that there is no one best head angle that the proper head angle depends on the pose... But folks just love trying to put me in a box...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur Morris View Post
    I am trying to figure out why there is a highlight on the side of the eyeball away from the light as it would seem to be in shadow.
    I had wondered about it too. Is it possible that the light is travelling through the bulging eye and hitting that side? some refraction or internal reflection perhaps?

    Thx for the feedback.

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    That's what I was thinking too. YAw :)
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    Here, http://www.birdphotographers.net/for...416#post562416, Ofer Levy posted this:

    "The repost looks good. I see no problem with HA. This whole obsession with HA looks nonsense to me. A good photo is a good photo. HA is just one factor in so many aspects of what makes a good photo. I have seen too many photos with "perfect" HA but they were mediocre at best. I have also seen many fantastic shots here and elsewhere with HA which is considered less than perfect on this forum."

    I responded:

    "Ofer, Don't blame BPN "the forum." Blame me. When a bird's head is turned either away from the viewer, away from the imaging sensor, or away from the angle of orientation (the angle of the bird's body to the imaging sensor), the image moves down a notch or two for me no matter how spectacular. I do of course agree that head angle is just one of many factors that make a good image. My view however is that HA is just as important as sharp focus (when you want it sharp), a proper exposure, and a pleasing composition and BKGR. And as you well know if any of those additional factors are no good, then the image is no good. You can't have a great image if the focus is off, if the highlights are blown, if the shadows are well underexposed, or if the COMP or BKGR don't work. Just one of those ruins an image. And for me, a bad head angle can ruin an image just as quickly as the rest.

    Here even Blake agrees with me: "I'd LOVE if the HA was a few degrees more toward the "film" plane."

    I would also note that pretty much all of your posted images feature pretty much perfect head angles. Nonsense I guess....."
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    Peter continued:

    "Hi Artie, it is fine for us to have different opinions about this as it is all very personal.
    I only speak for myself and everyone is free to do whatever they like.
    For me, any technical factor like sharpness, exposure, DOF, and even composition is a must have. If one of these factors is not perfect - image goes to the bin as painful as it is. (usually it is deleted in the camera to avoid further heart aches... ). I will also put in the bin any photo that can not be framed as a 2;3 ratio or close to it.
    As to head turn - this is a different story and it really depends on what is going on in the image. A simple head shot with a less than "perfect" HA - is not a keeper for me. However, an image like this when the bird is doing something - is fine in my book even if the HA is not "perfect".
    In many behaviour shots HA is not "perfect" but they are still fantastic images. I really think people should concentrate on the factors they can control and less worry about HA."

    And I responded:

    "I agree of course that all opinions are personal. I have some square images that I love so we disagree there too :) As well as some killer panos. I agree that there are some images with less than ideal head angles that are fine. But it is rarer than rare to find an image with a less than ideal head angle where the photographer (as Blake recognizes with this image) would not have preferred a better head angle.

    Here is where I disagree strongly in part: "I really think people should concentrate on the factors they can control and less worry about HA."

    I agree that when you are photographing spectacular flight or action that you need to make a sharp image and worry about the rest later. But as we see on this and other forums every day, folks are far too often making portraits of birds with the heads turned away from the viewer. This is often something down out of ignorance. And it is something that they can control by learning to push the shutter button at the opportune time. And once folks become aware of head angle, they are in a much better position to do just that.

    I have some mighty fine images that I deleted because the head was turned 1/2 of one degree away from parallel to the imaging sensor, but heck, that's me :)"
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  26. #26
    Paul Randall
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    Very interesting discussion. I am of the opinion (like many) that the context often dictates the perfect head angle.
    Heres one that I posted a while ago in the "Eager to learn" forum. Its actually one of my favourite portrait shots of mine. The comp. leaves a bit to be desired I think but I liked the fact that the bird was looking away in a "thoughtful" manner.
    Would love to know everyones thoughts on it. Please be honest, I have thick skin and understand if it is not to everyones liking:D

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    Publisher Arthur Morris's Avatar
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    Hi Paul, You will not find this one in the statutes but for the pose and crop this head angle is pretty much the best available.... I do believe that the by-the-book square to the imaging sensor head angle here would be too much.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur Morris View Post
    I find the head angle for the night-heron more pleasing than the GBH head angle. The brightest yellow spot and the smaller one behind the head bug me a bit. I am trying to figure out why there is a highlight on the side of the eyeball away from the light as it would seem to be in shadow. I love that you got some light on the eye. ...
    Hi Artie, and Kaustubh,

    As you were thinking, the highlight on the right side of the eye is indeed from sunlight entering the left side of the eye, refracted through the cornea and projected onto the surfaces in and behind the right side of the eye. The highlight is an elongated image of the sun.

    I like the quiet mood of your image, Kaustubh. The yellow spot above the bird's bill could be softened by lightly cloning some of the adjacent OOF greens over it at perhaps 20-40% opacity and 0 hardness.

    Craig

  29. #29
    Paul Randall
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    Hi Paul, You will not find this one in the statutes but for the pose and crop this head angle is pretty much the best available.... I do believe that the by-the-book square to the imaging sensor head angle here would be too much.
    I agree, this image has more in common with a portrait that you might see of a human subject I think. Its a bit more of a stretch to imagine that the bird is being "thoughtful" though I guess. I think the soft side lighting would have missed the birds face if it had turned a bit more as well. Thanks for the feedback.:)

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    Artie: I was reviewing this thread and I came upon two seemingly conflicting quotes from you. The first seems to say that eye contact is crucial, the second not so much. As a result, I think I'm missing the real meaning of your first point. If you have a chance, would you mind clarifying what you mean by "solid connection to the bird's eye or eyes". Thanks in advance.

    QUOTE 1 (05/12/2010):
    I guess the simple way to explain my position is to say that when the head angle is less than ideal (there is no one perfect head angle--it varies from pose to pose and image to image), that the photographer has failed to capture the bird's soul or it's true spirit; without a solid connection to the bird's eye or eyes, something huge is missing, even when you are "just cruising past." :)
    QUOTE 2 (07/25/2010):
    My thoughts on HA have never had anything to do with any fantasies about eye contact with the bird. I am often puzzled when folks speak of eye contact. My head angle philosophies have everything to do with how the light strikes the birds face. I have never once used the words "eye contact" in a critique.


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    Publisher Arthur Morris's Avatar
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    Hi Paul, I can to some degree understand you confusion. When I speak or write about "any fantasies about eye contact" I am addressing the fact that many folks seem to be impressed by the fact that the bird is or is not looking right at them.... I never have and never will be impressed by what it seems that the bird is looking at. That said, both eyes looking right down the lens barrel is often a great situation but in that case there is no fantasy needed; we know what the bird is looking at.

    For me having a solid connection to a bird's eye or eyes is far different from what most folks mean by "eye contact" as I define it above. Take John Chardine's Osprey looking down image above. It is an interesting image, but as presented, there is zero connection to the bird's eye. In my repost, where I lightened the iris, there is a connection to the bird's eye for most viewers. Yet nobody would argue that there is direct eye contact, that the bird is looking at us.

    So maybe I am blowing smoke or hiding behind semantics or maybe I have succeeded in explaining myself. In either case I still have never used the words "eye contact" in a critique :)
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    "So maybe I am blowing smoke or hiding behind semantics or maybe I have succeeded in explaining myself."

    Nope, makes perfect sense to me because it takes into account the cases where birds are looking down for prey, looking off into the distance, etc. Other than a sleep shot (and I have seen some real nice ones), I can't really come up with a case for not seeing a bird's eyes. Even most preening shots seem better to me with eyes visible.

    Thanks for the light bulb.

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    Good :) Interesting that you mention preening shots. I have written and said 1,000 times: "Most great images of birds preening feature a clear view of the eye and the head and bill perfectly parallel to the back of the camera.

    And my best sleeping bird image usually feature an open eye....
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