Photo of Wild Turkey

Photographing Michigan Wild Turkeys

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Photographing Wild Turkeys – Watch The Ground Lines

Wild Turkeys are one of the easiest of the large birds to photograph. They are the biggest game birds (by weight) in Michigan. I see them often strutting around our yard and peering through our basement windows. (Looking to see if we have heat? hot water? cable?).

These wild, jumbo birds are also unafraid to fly up and plop themselves atop the platform bird feeders, spewing bird seed everywhere when they land and take off. I have to admit that seeing the large body of a wild turkey precariously balanced on a small feeder space intended for chickadees and titmice is an unexpected sight….ridiculous looking and out of place. “Like a Flamingo in the Cage of a Canary”.  Probably make a good picture.

Be Aware of Ground Lines When Composing a Photograph

I was in my car when these wild turkeys came into view. I had to react quickly to get the shots, and discovered afterwards that I was not holding the camera as straight as I could have.

A very simple but often overlooked image composition problem is crooked ground lines. Straight natural lines like ground lines help organize an image for the viewer and thus add to its appeal.

Whether you are hand holding your camera or using a tripod, it’s an easy task to find the ground lines through your viewfinder and let them be your guide to positioning your camera.

Ways to Keep the Camera Level

There are a few things you can do to help keep the camera level.

  • Take notice and straighten the ground lines by lining them up to the sides of the viewfinder.
  • Use the composition grid display – horizontal and vertical etched lines (and sometimes diagonal lines) that can be set on most DSLR cameras.
  • If you are using a tripod, level the camera by checking the bubble level. This is especially important if your tripod is not on level ground or all the legs are not extended equally.
  • If the ground lines are not straight after you take the photo, make adjustments in post processing by lining them up with a ruler tool.

Post Processing Fixes of Horizontal Lines

In each of the two photos below, there were two ground lines. I had to adjust one or the other in post processing. In the first shot, I leveled out the ground line in the background. This caused the foreground to tilt down, making it look like the turkey was heading downhill and creating the illusion of movement in the scene.

In the second shot, I leveled the grass ground line in the foreground and left the lines in the background to slope downward. This adjustment helped viewers to focused on the turkey’s head and neck.

Photo of Wild Turkey
Michigan Wild Turkey
Ground Line in Background Leveled
ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/1250 Second


Photo of Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey Taking a Look Around
Ground Line in Foreground Leveled Out in Post Processing
ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/1250 Second


Photo of Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey Gingerly Crossing a Waterlogged Ditch. The Branch Serves As My Ground Line.
ISO 12800!, f/6.3; 1/1250 Second

In the photo above, I used the branch as my guide to straighten the camera before I photographed the scene.

Image Composition is a Visual Language

I don’t consider myself knowledgable about art and design. It’s a visual language and I am definitely not proficient. I recently purchased an ebook that helps me better understand design principles, especially when it comes to nature photography. This guide helps me understand why I like what I like and how to better frame my photographs so they have more visual appeal. I highly recommend this ebook: Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers, by Gloria Hopkins.

Waiting Until Spring

As with most birds, Spring is a fun time to photograph wild turkeys because the males are all puffed up and strutting around, doing their little turkey trot to attract the females. This coming Spring, I hope to photograph their mating behavior and elaborate plumage.

Until then, I wish you a very Happy Turkey Day.

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2 thoughts on “Photographing Michigan Wild Turkeys

  1. Happy thanksgiving!
    My lab, bailey loves to flush out wild turkeys just to see them scrabble and clumsily attempt to fly to a low branch. Makes me laugh every time! They are comical birds.

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