TIPS ON TAKING BETTER NATURE PHOTOS – – Sharpening your composition skills

May 4, 2012 6:52 am Published by 1 Comment

          The best nature photography is a process of elimination.  One rule of thumb to should consider using in your work is the way you frame your nature shot.  When you are framing a shot, be on the lookout for what does not fit.  You probably know what I mean.  That telephone line or an ugly rock.  Get rid of them.  Find an angle that eliminates them from the final shot.  Sure, sometimes this is difficult.  I have even had someone hold a clump of beach grass in the foreground to hide an unpleasant feature.  This way, I could shoot around it.  Identify your photo’s main elements and remove all the distractions to distill the final image down to what you see as its essential elements.

Presque Isle Turtles - - Brian Berchtold

Use supporting elements

          Once you have a central element and eliminated the clutter, try to find secondary components to support your main subject matter.  For example, if you are shooting a small boat tied to a dock at sunrise, wait for that gull to fly into or out of the picture.  Don’t be afraid to add some interest.  Perhaps you could add a fishing buoy leaning on the piling of the dock, a minnow bucket sitting on the pier, or maybe the silhouette of a boy fishing.  You may need to add a point of interest to improve the final image.

Don’t center the subject

          The best nature photography is more interesting when the dominate subject is not centered in the frame.  That is because when you center the subject, you create the bull’s eye effect.  When you do this, it makes it difficult for the viewer’s eyes to easily move around the image.

Watch for crooked horizons

Sunrise - - Brian Bertold

       This is my wife’s number one bug-a-boo in my personal photography.  Many times, I am in a hurry to get that great shot and pay little attention to the horizon line.  All I can say is thank God for Pica by Google. This free photo suite has the most wonderful straightening feature I have ever seen. I keep telling my wife that the bubble level was home in the garage when I took the picture.

          While we are discussing the horizon, do not center the horizon right through the middle of the shot.  Similar to centering the subject, a centered horizon makes for a boring picture.  A 60/40 or 40/60 ratio is usually a good idea.

Not so perfect Sunrise

Fill the frame

          You should avoid leaving empty space near the edges of the picture’s frame.  Of course, like all rules of thumb, this one can and should at times be broken.  Sometimes “space” contributes to the composition of the image.  It should be your general goal to make your images more engaging by filling the frame with subject matter.   This is even truer when you are shooting close-ups of such things as butterflies or flowers.  Anything on the fringes of an image that does not contribute to the total scene is a distraction.

Match the orientation to the subject

          When the main subject has a vertical orientation, a horizontal orientation will look out-of-place.  In photography, there are two orientations:  Portrait and Landscape.  You need to learn to match your photo’s basic framing orientation with the scene.

Watch your directional perception

          Many pictures in nature have some form of directional flow.  For example, if your photo includes an animal, there is usually an implied direction to the image.  Another subject might contain a tree branch that points strongly in one direction or the other.  Streams flow only in one direction; use this to balance your image.  For instance, streams flowing toward the camera or diagonally across the frame are usually more interesting than away from you.

   It will also be good to remember that the most important feature of directional perception is the need to leave plenty of room in front of the direction’s natural flow.  This adds interest and does not allow the views eyes to go out of the frame.

Presque Isle Turkey


          Finally, the optimum way to get that perfect image is to take many, many shots.  This will help you to find, which is the very best.  My rule of thumb is just one in twenty is worth saving, and merely one in fifty will make the final cut.

Keep on shooting, and I’ll see you on the park!!



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