Composition is the difference between a snapshot and a photograph. Capturing the scene, whether it be a selfie at a party or a sunset on holiday, with no thought on how to frame the scene and what important elements comprise the image, is what most people do when picking up their cameras or phones. But once you start thinking outside of the moment, and more about in how to be more effective in representing that moment – well, this is where the fun really starts in my eyes. There are countless tutorials, videos, guides and workshops that deal with composition within photography, and you’ll see many people advocating ‘rules’ such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, golden spiral and many, many more. All of these absolutely have their merits and any and all photographers should be familiar with what these techniques can bring to, and can often elevate, someone's photography.
However, this is all very well said and done when it comes to photographic genres that don’t require you to be spontaneous – as is the case with wildlife. Anyone who has been on safari or spent time with wildlife will know that anything can happen at any time and that the animals often do exactly the opposite of what you want. And, as frustrating as it is, there’s also a beauty to that. Nature is untamed and we’re there to document what we see and how we see it, adding our own creative flare to what otherwise is an experience completely out of our hands. We don’t have key lights that we can position, or props to move in and out of frame. We can’t wait patiently for the perfect lighting or ask a leopard to go back so we can get another shot. It’s one and done. So, how do we compose? How do we make our wildlife images more inventive, artistic and eye catching? One suggestion is that we use what we have on offer – nature itself.
There’s a real desire to want clean and minimalist imagery. To blur out everything and have nothing but our subject in focus and to have no distracting elements in frame - where attention can’t be led away. But anyone whose visited the lowveld knows this is a rarity. Thick bushveld means we need to use the environment to help tell our stories and frame our subjects – showcasing them as part of a greater ecosystem as opposed to being separated from it. Those pesky trees and branches, with a bit of manoeuvring can now be lines leading you to your subject or acting as a ‘frame within a frame’ to draw further attention to that elusive leopard or that sun rising through a busy horizon.
And let’s not forget other animals. Look for opportunities where you can zoom under legs or in between bodies to showcase an animal further back, but this time with a living and breathing framing element. It’s great fun and a real challenge that I urge everyone to put into practise when frustrations start to arise. We need to embrace photography as the artform for what it is, to keep pushing boundaries but ultimately, we need to be realistic with what we’re working with and to showcase it with earnestness and a bit of creative flare. Give it a try, look for something new and as always, happy shooting!