Birds, Birds, Birds – Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

“We see the world through rule of thirds, and many shades of grey
The search to get the perfect shot, continues every day.”

Dean Thorpe

(10 Photos)



This week I am reaching deep into the archives for a post I’ve wanted to do for some time about the extraordinary birds of Africa. Our challenge, the “Rule of Thirds” is an easy one for anyone who has studied photography. While, as we all know, rules are made to be broken, this is one that photographers follow in most cases. In the shot above, our little jackass penguin is perched nicely on the right side of the shot as he enjoys a brief nap in the warm sunshine. His position in the shot allows him “room to move” in the direction he faces. He also gives us a nice illustration of “bokeh”, the creamy out-of-focus background described by Jen in her challenge this week. By the way, his name comes from his donkey-like braying, not his personality.  😊



“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Pablo Picasso

The hamerkop, this time positioned on the left with room to move to the right, is named for the shape of his head, which resembles (supposedly) a hammer. He illustrates another aspect of photography – as always, it’s all about the light – in this case just after African daybreak.  One thing about an African safari – the animals and birds are out and about in the very early morning and late afternoon hours, which demands a very early wake-up call for those who hope to capture the many elusive species in their natural environment. This, of course, took me out of my own natural environment but in the case of a safari, the rewards definitely outweighed the annoyance of the wake-up call.



“Any fool can make a rule. And any fool will mind it.”

Henry David Thoreau

The beautifully colored Lilac Breasted Roller, also shown in this week’s header photo, is the national bird of Botswana and was fairly plentiful as we explored their beautiful countryside. As they pronounced the bird’s name the locals rolled the r’s making it sound as lovely as it looks. In this case, the foliage on the right side of the shot gave me what I felt was enough visual interest to place the subject a bit closer to the center of the shot while still allowing the bird room to move in the direction of his glance.



“The hell with the rules. If it sounds right, then it is.”  

Eddie Van Halen

This is a shot I’ve shared before, of another very colorful African species, the Crested Barbet. I’m repeating myself because he offers such a nice example of the rule of thirds as well as the use of a creamy bokeh to set him apart from the background. Don’t you just love the way he is permanently “bibbed” to be sure his meals of insects and and fruits don’t ruin his lovely red and yellow chest?!



“You are remembered for the rules you break.”

Douglas MacArthur

The guineafowl, another shot I’ve included in the past, is an example of how “not-to”. I remember vividly trying to race after this fast-moving fellow while he was surrounded by the beautifully colored flowers at the botanical gardens of Cape Town. I did my best but he was a bit too quick for me (they are known for their excellent running ability!) and I was only able to catch him on the very right side of the shot. Do you see how crowded he feels as he moves out of the photo with no room to maneuver? Still, I thought his incredible blue head surrounded by the colorful blooms made the shot worthy of a place in my favorites file.



“The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.”

George Bernard Shaw

The gorgeous Secretary Bird is a large bird of prey thought to be named for the distinctive black quill-like feathers in the back of his head. Here I’ve purposely broken the rule of thirds, as the stately appearance of the bird seemed to demand a prominent place near the center of the shot. Tell me this one doesn’t look proud of it’s beautiful coloring and plumage.



“Rules are a great way to get ideas. All you have to do is break them.”

Jack Foster

Somewhat less gorgeous, this yellow-billed hornbill is affectionately known as the Banana Bird to the local population. Jimmy Durante has nothing on him (OK, the youngsters among you can just look him up in Wikipedia!). He and others of his species were plentiful, and most often posed high in the trees. This shot of the banana bird on the ground, I thought, gave the best detail of his speckled coat and furry legs – oh yeah, and his big yellow beak 😊.



“Nature provides exceptions to every rule.”

Margaret Fuller

I’ve seen many an ostrich in captivity, but it was really exciting to see this pair in the wild. I loved the way they were looking at each other – knowing that while males will mate with several females, each does have a primary female to serve as his partner. Apparently ostrich females are a bit more lenient than their humans counterparts. They are also the fastest of birds so I was lucky to catch them moving at a fairly leisurely pace.



“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

Dalai Lama XIV

The stately African Fish Eagle is massive, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. As his name implies, he feeds primarily on fish, but is also known to poach the eggs of other birds and to eat small mammals or crocodiles as well.  In this shot the eagle is in his typical position for hunting prey – high in the trees overlooking a body of water. Both his appearance and his hunting behavior reminded me very much of the bald eagles who nest near our home here on Kiawah. Similarly, for those who survive their first year, both bald and fish eagles can live well into their twenties – quite long for a bird species.



“There are no rules. That is how art is born.”

Helen Frankenthaler

Finally, a bit of homage to the humble Oxpecker, aka the Tickbird. These little creatures were everywhere, offering a valuable, symbiotic service to most all of the animals in the jungle as they feast on the ticks, flies and maggots that would otherwise be an intolerable nuisance. I think we saw them on every species other than the big cats and elephants. I’m not sure which would be worse – being infested by fleas or being pecked constantly by birds. Somehow Dante missed that in his infamous Inferno 😊.

An African safari is, as I’ve said before, a photographer’s dream. As one is surrounded by the incredible animals in their natural environment, one realizes the masterpiece that our world really is. But once you begin to become part of the whole, you realize that there are more wonders to be seen, including the beautifully exotic birds – just a few of which I’ve shared today. To see what others chose to share this week, click here.


127 thoughts on “Birds, Birds, Birds – Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

    • Thanks Jim! Bird feeders are popular here on Kiawah altho I prefer seeing the birds in their natural environment. I have a friend who uses a blind and he gets some amazing shots.

  1. The MacArthur quote is great, and you picked a perfect subject for your rule-of-thirds. You capture the essence for each of these species, and the Guinea Fowl photo is truly beautiful and one of my favorite African birds… However, the bird that really caught my eye and I’ve never been able to get it out of my mind is the Lilac Breasted-Roller…colors of the spectrum that I did not think could exist in nature, and you capture it so well.

    • Many thanks Randall. The little roller, as they called it, is incredibly colorful. Interesting really because most birds are protected from predators by blending in with their surroundings but this little guy is about as bright and colorful as the scenery is muted. Yet somehow he thrives. Nature at its best!

      • I never thought of that before…they are basically saying how yummy they are to others. Now I admire them for their bravery as well 🙂

  2. Tina, this series is breathtaking! Not only have you captured amazing photos, the post if filled with fun facts–you answered every question before I could ask it! (Like WHY is that bird called a Jackass?)
    Very enjoyable and very impressive!

    • Thank you Nicole. I was in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe – an amazing experience. Life changing really. One never looks at an animal or a zoo the same way again, don’t you agree?

      • I went to South Africa back in 2005. I would love to see Botswana and Zimbabwe. I hope to someday bring my kids when they are a bit older too. Wonderful.

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