Composition: putting together of things: the act or process of combining things to form a whole
The above description of composition would fit studio photography quite well. In nature photography it is the act of subtracting or dividing things to form a new whole. It is kind of like creating a sculpture. You just chip away until you find what you saw in the first place.
There is no question that since the advent of digital photography the most asked question has (slowly) changed from exposure to composition. I have always enjoyed talking about any aspect of photography but I do think comp is my favorite. It is of course a fairly objective thing. Still many photographers succeed because of it, and some photographers fail just because of comp.
I think “big picture“ compositions, while they are the most complex of any form of nature photography , are also the easiest to see your errors. Today more and more successful landscape photographers are going beyond good comps and working very hard to physically put themselves in position to show a unique point of view. Then within that perspective they often fall back on the rules of comp. When you get to telephoto shots of wildlife and macro shots of insects, flowers etc., the decisions are finite and subtle. Those decisions do however make a big difference.
Composition is important when you are creating wildlife images, but admittedly you don’t always have a full range of choices. Your subject will dictate a portion of your comp. You won’t (hopefully) move your subject into a better position. However when you are shooting with a big telephoto, a slight shift in your position can make a big difference. Moving a tripod, or a car a few inches can change your background. Moving the lens up and down, can shift your subject to a more powerful portion of the picture frame.
Everything is in the eye of the beholder but there are reasons why some photographers have much more success than others. Composition is often the answer.
This immature Black-crowned Night Heron is peering down into a waterway in search of food. Moving him high in the frame, put an exclamation on that fact. The space above the bird is pretty much irrelevant but that space below, accentuates the task at hand. You tend to look down to see if we can spot what he is looking at.
This is the same bird on the same railing. He is now upright and walking and the space below becomes secondary to the direction of his movement. He is gazing the our lower right but my intent is to not make that gaze, the focal point of the photo. There are a variety of decisions to every picture we make.
I had a most enjoyable time making compositional choices while photographing Grackles during my ‘backyard safari” the other day. .
The first picture is clearly designed to leave an ample amount of space in the direction the bird is looking. Oft times I will take a shot like this farther and move the bird to a more extreme position. I actually liked the weeds in this photo. They added a natural touch to an image that otherwise had a manmade feel due to the metal fence. There is negative space in this shot and it is balanced by the bird, as well as the weeds. The proportions of subject to negative space is definitely a matter of opinion. Note that the depth of field (f stop) that I chose for this shot renders some patterns in the background. That is enough to ruin the shot for some, and is not even noticeable to others. Tis a fact for opinions.
Now we are into the realm of very subtle choices. It may seem like I just got the bird in the frame and shot. Not true. Moving the subject a bit over to the right, as I did is a 100% (to me) improvement over an exact center placement. He is looking the other direction. Now I could have placed him a bit lower in the picture frame as he is also looking in a somewhat upward direction. I made the personal decision to work with the metal loop he is standing on and show the curve rather than leave you wonder what it is he is standing on. Definitely a personal choice.
This female Red-breasted Merganser is the kind of photo I love making. I enjoy it so much when I can take a “rule” and then push it a little more. I took the bird well off-center, and then moved her up a bit in the frame. When I photograph water birds I prefer to place a little water between the viewer and the subject. Water is not an obnoxious obstacle when it is out of focus (depth of field). It is soft and subtle and a picture like this wraps your subject softly in its environment. I seem to remember that this image is a substantial crop and I (for that reason) intentionally shot the image with bird dead center in the frame, and created this comp at home. I felt that I knew what I wanted to do when I made the shot, but as long as it is going to need to be cropped, I left myself every option possible. There is a lot of negative space in this image.
Bonus Shot: Every place is beautiful at the right time. I see this spot every day and I all too often forget to even look at it. It is right across a small two lane street from my house. A few years ago I had my equipment loaded and was ready to head out for some macro photography. I noticed the potential for an image across the street and waited about ten minutes for some color to develop. I was glad I did. Like the wildlife pictures above, this picture needed to be carefully composed. There is a confusing amount of trees and such on this lake bank, but as I walked out of the house, it was this spot that drew my attention. Note that the horizon line of the lake is almost at the middle. I found this acceptable because of the dark shadow of the bank and rocks. There are really three distinct parts to this picture with the tree branches being a bonus.
One thing is for sure, making strong visual compositions will come to anybody if you shoot, shoot, shoot.
I received a message from a friend on Facebook inquiring as to why I never seem to post anymore. Other than a recent one week absence I am still very much on Facebook and visit every day. I rarely post because I believe that I should leave that to those who are doing something, not to those of us who once did.
I appreciate your stopping by.