As in any other area in photography, composition is probably the most important element in your photo. Technique, equipment and light obviously all have their importance, but without good composition they don’t have much value. Wildlife photography composition has some very basic ground guidelines which work very well, applying them will instantly make your photos better. After applying the basic rules it is very recommended to go to the next level and understand wildlife behavior which is the greatest goal in wildlife story telling.
There are a few basic composition guidelines which will make your composition much more appealing in almost any situation.
Shooting wildlife in eye level (or as close as possible) makes the viewer feel like they are out there in front of the animal. It breaks a barrier from just looking at a photo of an animal to a feeling of being present in the field. Not all wildlife photos should be at eye level, but it is certainly a composition that makes you feel connected to your subject.
The rule of thirds and breathing space are very basic and known composition guidelines that work incredibly well for wildlife. If an animal is looking at a certain direction it is preferable to compose it in the opposite direction and leave a breathing space in the direction it is looking at. It gives a natural sense of the viewpoint and allows the viewer to imagine the rest of the scene.
Finding a good background always makes your subject look better. A good background can be the natural environment of the animal you’re shooting. The background should usually be a bit darker or about the same brightness as the subject so it won’t “steal” the show. A smooth background works very well, but background with delicate texture is also good.
Almost every animal has a unique part the characterize it – elephants have their trunk, peacocks have a beautiful tail, dear have impressive antlers and so on. These characters are a major part of the animal’s personality and usually should not be cut in the photo.
Depending on your distance from the subject, you can choose to make a close up portrait or shoot it along with the environment. Both options can be very good and might depend on the light and surrounding – if there is good light on your subject and not on the background try a portrait. If the surrounding background is amazing and compliments your subject, try to capture both.
Animal behavior is the holly grail in wildlife photography. In the end, it is what the story is all about – telling the story of animals and their life. It isn’t very hard to capture good wildlife photos once you grasp the basic technique and composition, the next level of animal behavior takes a lot more dedication, knowledge and patience to capture the essence of animals. The first thing is to learn about the subjects you shoot – habitat, feeding behavior, courtship rituals, activity time and more. After getting to know a little bit more about your subject there are many interesting scenes your should pay attention to and try to capture.
One animal in the photo is great, two or more is even better. Capturing animals in interaction adds more interest to your photo and also tells a story. Interaction between animals is an interesting side of their behavior and the viewer can learn and imagine the relation between them.
There is nothing more connecting for a viewer to see an animal which shows emotions and behavior they can empathize with. Animals display a wide range of emotions, funny faces and behavior we can relate.
Capturing an animal in motion can be pretty hard and require good technique, but it definitely adds another dimension of interest to the photo. Besides controlling the technique well, you should also try to understand the behavior and anticipate what will happen. For example, hummingbirds usually perch somewhere, fly around flowers to feed and then perch again, sometimes in the same place. They usually don’t come back to the same flowers in a short period of time so you can position yourself and wait for them in the right place. When wildebeest run they usually all run the same direction so you can get ready for them to follow the same path you saw others running before.
Action can be many things, but in general it can be any dynamic and interesting situation like mating, playing, fighting, hunting and more. Just like in motion, it requires good understanding of the animal behavior and anticipating what might happen.
Wildlife photography composition has many aspects and themes to learn, recognize and pay attention to. Added to good control of technique and exposure it is quite a lot to take in, but as in any other thing – practice makes perfect. You don’t have to remember everything for the first time, try to actively practice one subject at a time and you’ll see that after some time it will all be in your head without the need to think about it.
Enjoyed the article?
You’re welcome to follow my photos at my facebook page!