Photo Insight with Heather Angel

Heather Angel explains how a run-in with a hyacinth macaw in Brazil led to an unexpected close-up image that is bursting with colour.

An internationally renowned photographer of

the natural world and author of more than 50 books,

Heather brings her expertise to AP.

The hyacinth macaw is one of my favourite parrots. It is also the largest parrot species in the world and is native to central and eastern south America. Its colours are stunning ? the feathers are cobalt blue and it has a vivid yellow border around its eye and beneath its beak.

I took this image in the Pantanal, an area of tropical wetland in Brazil. On this occasion I?d been photographing the macaws as they flew around and settled in the trees. I was sitting on the veranda at the lodge where I was staying when a macaw landed beside me.

The owners of the lodge had reared the macaws ? you?d be hard-pushed to get this close to them in the wild. The macaw came right up to me and knocked over my glass. My instinct was to shoo it away, but I took a couple of exposures instead. I used my Nikon F5 camera loaded with Kodak Ektachrome E100VS film and had my 105mm macro lens attached.

The original image was a horizontal rectangle, but I cropped this to a square to draw attention to the intensity of the bird?s eye. There is no background behind the bird and the piercing eye with the surrounding feathers fills the frame. Framing the shot in this way makes for a strong image because there aren?t any distractions.

One of the wonderful things about macro photography is the level of detail you can show in your images. I love the intricate texture of the feathers and the leathery effect of the yellow skin that contrasts with the smooth, glistening surface of the eye.

The sky and surrounding landscape are reflected in the macaw?s eye and I had to be careful when photographing the round, shiny surface. If I had used flash to lighten the eye it would have created harsh reflections, which would have ruined the shot. The same caution applies when using reflectors, and while I didn?t use a reflector on this occasion it is worth remembering that if you do use one watch out for unwanted reflections.

The eye itself is pin-sharp, but the focus above tapers off as the head of the parrot curves away. I used autofocus on this occasion because the bird was moving, but I do use manual focus, too.

I generally work in manual mode because I like to control the shutter speed and aperture independently. With macro photography you have to experiment to find the best way of combining ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the best possible exposure. There is often an element of compromise.

If I had shot this image digitally I would have taken it in much the same way, as the dynamic colours and shapes are there for the taking whatever format you use. One major difference would have been the opportunity to check the image immediately; shooting on film meant I had to wait until I got back.


I love photographing animals? eyes ? they are so different and have a variety of interesting patterns, colours and textures. In this case it is the contrasting colours that make the composition powerful. The natural world is full of wonderful colour combinations and the way you frame your shot determines the impact these colours have on the viewer.

You can choose to place the emphasis on any part of the animal?s face. I chose to frame my composition so the macaw?s eye is right in the centre engulfed in a sea of blue. I try to

keep most of my macro images simple. The shot is very tightly framed and I decided not

to include the beak or yellow part of the bill, which might take attention away from the

eye. At first glance, it is not entirely clear what you are looking at ? I love to create images that cause the viewer to question what the picture is showing.

To see more images by Heather, visit

Heather?s book Macro Through a Nikon Lens (published by Chris Weston Publishing Ltd, priced £18) is available to buy from her website at

Heather Angel was talking to Gemma Padley