What to Do with Average Bird Photos

Recently I spent time in the Maine North Woods, looking for warblers. As part of my National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant, I camped along Fifth Saint John Pond, my expedition perfectly timed with the spring warbler migration.

I did well with warbler species, spotting nearly ten in the few days I was there. And yet, something bugged me: my photos of the brightly colored songbirds were terrible.

northern parula, maine, photoshop, birding

If you try to take photos of birds, you understand my frustration. Warblers move quickly, rarely perched for long in one location. Furthermore, the ones I spotted were reluctant to come down from the treetops, and my photos of them had to be multiplied a ton in order to even make out the correct species.

Faced with the prospect of no warbler photos for the entire trip, I decided to try a little magic in Photoshop. Loading my photo and cropping it carefully, I searched through the filters until I found the one I wanted: oil paint.

Suddenly my horrible photo of a Northern Parula was transformed into an abstract piece of art, the colors for which it is known popping against a light background. Is it as good as a real artist creation? Of course not! But for me, my filtered image captured my feelings about the birds I saw much more than the blurry photos did.

I tried the oil filter with a few other photos. Some worked better than others, depending on the colors of the bird itself and the landscape behind it. Another favorite of mine was the Magnolia Warbler, pictured below. As you can see, the filter offers control of “brush strokes” and other settings to give you the look you envision.

magnolia warbler, bird, photoshop, maine

Of course, Photoshop is not cheap. Luckily, if it’s just for fun there are a few free online options. When I don’t have Photoshop at my fingertips, I will resort to pixlr.com!

Erika Zambello

About Erika Zambello

Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer, born and raised in Maine. She has a bachelor’s degree in Government and Anthropology from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, specializing in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by her childhood in Maine, and she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant in 2015-2016.