Birds of a Feather

by Alan Godfrey March. 18, 2021 130 views

2017 was the year that I started to get genuinely interested in photography as a hobby. I'd been on-and-off interested for a number of years, but after my wife bought me a "learn how to use your camera" course for my birthday it finally clicked. I'd had a beginner DSLR gathering dust for 10 years, and it suddenly came alive in my hands!

However, just because I now knew how to use the thing - didn't mean that I could take any decent images with it. The standard of my record shots on holiday improved, and I was having fun - but largely was still disappointed that the results came out so flat and dull compared to what I was seeing with my own eyes, and what I knew could be achieved with a camera.

This image, of two colourful parrots, was possibly the first image that I took that made me sit up and stare at my screen. It was chalk-and-cheese to anything that I had taken previously...

Rainbow Macaws, New York, 2017.

Rainbow Macaws, New York, 2017.

It was also the first image that started to get positive comments when shared on social media, or used in online competitions - which I know shouldn't really matter, but when you are starting out it's a nice boost to your confidence.

In particular, at the time, I submitted it to Unsplash - a website dedicated to sharing images that could be used by others for free. It's a controversial concept - if you value your art, why would you give it away for free - but at the time I took the view that being both an amateur and not intending to earn money from images, that it would be interesting to see whether any of my images were considered good enough - even when free to use.

This image took off in a big way, getting over a million views and 1000 downloads in the first month or so. While under no obligation to, people who use the image are encouraged to credit the photographer, which a large number did.

I've just done a reverse image search and have found it currently being used in 138 different places - with uses ranging from promoting exotic coffee beans, to mobile phone wallpaper.

The most prestigious use appears to be the Evening Standard, with an article on 2020 travel destinations written at the end of 2019. It's under June and being used to promote travel to the Amazon Rainforest!

The thing is, it was taken in New York at the Central Park zoo ...

Does that change your opinion of the image? I've had plenty of philosophical debates with people in the past about whether context / background matters, or whether an image stands on the image itself. That's too big of a debate to get into here - but I'm still interested if people think differently about this image now they know!

Even more than that, it was a relatively quick snapshot taken on impulse. Before I had time to really think about composition or settings, my daughter needed the bathroom and we had to run out of the bird enclosure to find one. By then we decided we were tired and it was time to leave - so we never returned. I had no idea this would be a nice image until I reviewed it later.


Clearly there was a significant amount of luck in this. More than anything, that my quick snapshot appears to have been with decent enough settings to have captured anything at all ...

Also, being a zoo, that it managed to still give the impression of being taken in a rainforest - and didn't have any signs or tags that would give it away. That background in particular, I still can't get over. It was a large enclosure, with plenty of foliage and a misty atmosphere which here gives the impression of a dreamy forest rather than showing any nets or exterior windows.

I still don't really know what it was about the situation that made the colours stand out in this way. I assume that it has to do with the lighting. Despite it being a relatively dark interior space, the diffuse lighting and mist must have lit the birds in such a way as to come across well in a photograph. I'd love to understand this better!

What I don't like about the image is that I've lost the very bottom of the tail of the bird on the right, and you can't see as much of its head as I'd like. The dead leaves on the left are also fairly unsightly. If only I'd had time to compose better, I'd like to think that I'd have improved on those elements...

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There are 3 comments , add yours!
Russell Smith 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Beautiful shot. Patience and luck are a huge part of wildlife photography. With a nice helping of preparation and knowledge.

3 weeks, 3 days ago Edited
Benny Law 3 weeks, 3 days ago

This is indeed a superb image that made me sit up and look closely as well. I also studied the EXIF to try to get some insight about the settings used. I am curious to know how much post-processing you have done, or none at all. Anyway, amazing work!

3 weeks, 3 days ago Edited
Alan Godfrey Replied to Benny Law 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Thank you Benny 😊 your comments are appreciated as always! Honestly the EXIF data will only tell you so much here as I'm fairly sure at this stage I was either riding Auto, or if I was using Av or Tv mode I didn't know what I was doing! Long story short, the camera did the hard work and I got lucky.

I've looked at the post-processing on the image which I would have done in Lightroom. There is a fair amount of basic adjustments done - but entirely through selecting the Auto feature again! The original didn't have as much contrast but beyond that this is fairly true to the original...

3 weeks, 3 days ago Edited