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 Post subject: Wildlife photography - Composition guidelines
Unread postPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2006 10:37 pm 
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One of the most important things in photography is composition. There are a number of tips and tricks that have helped me in learning to take better (wildlife) pictures. I've tried to describe some of these tips and tricks illustrated with pictures in this topic. These tips and tricks apply to point-and-shoot and SLR camera's.

Composition
Most people put the object they're photographing in the middle of the picture. While this may seem an obvious choice as most camera's only offer a centre focus point it's not the best composition you can think of. If you put the main object in the middle of the picture the result will often be an uninteresting picture. As an alternative try to divide the picture in thirds both horizontally and vertically and place your object either on the lines, or on the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines. The lines that make up the thirds can also be used for placement of the horizon. If you usually place the horizon in the middle of the picture try putting it on one of the horizontal lines, you'll be amazed at how different the picture will look.

Image Image

In both of these pictures the frame has been divided in thirds. In the leopard picture I've intentionally put the face of the leopard on an intersection of the lines. This makes a very attractive picture without any distracting elements. In the picture of the foam nest frog I've done something else; in this picture I've put the frog right of the first vertical lines of thirds and filled the other third of the picture with the tree.

Background
A thing a lot of people (including me) often forget is giving some thought to the background of pictures. When you are taking pictures you usually want the background to be as non-distracting as possible. It's not often that I post bad pictures that I've taken, but for this topic I'll make an exception :wink: I'll illustrate the background issue with three pictures which I took of a foam nest frog:

Image Image Image

The first picture is an unattractive one as the background is almost completely white, it distracts from the object of the picture. The second picture is slightly better, but still the top right corner of the picture is too light and distracts. In the third picture I finally got it right. I used a tree in the background to get a dark background. Due to the used aperture (f/8 ) the frog is sharp and the background is blurred.

Get down to subject level
Always try to get down to the eye level of your subject. This is not always possible because a lion might not take kindly to you lying on the ground in front of him, but do your best to get as close as possible. Often it's better to park your car some distance from a sighting and use a bigger zoom than parking next to a sighting and using a small zoom. If you park some distance away the angle between you and the subject will be smaller than if you're parked right next to it. Due to the smaller angle using a large zoom it will appear you were at eye level when you took the shot.

Image Image

In the image of the lion and the tortoise you can see the effect of using a long zoom when standing some distance from a sighting. In both pictures it looks like I was lying on the ground when I took this shot, but believe me I wasn't.

If you're taking pictures of small (slow) animals don't be afraid to get dirty and lie down on the ground to get your shots. Here are two examples of pictures I took of a scorpion, one from above and one from lying on the ground:

Image Image

The difference in the two pictures is evident, the one from a low perspective is much more interesting than the one taken from a high perspective.

Lying on the ground you have the option of taking a close-up or a wide angle picture:
Image Image Image

These pictures are as different from each other as the scorpion ones, but they were all taken at eye level.

Once you've mastered all these techniques feel free to do is to break them :lol: All the techniques will help you take better pictures but once you know when (and why) to break them you'll get the occasional great picture. Often it's the little things that really make the difference between a nice picture and a great picture and luck is a factor in wildlife photography.

I hope this helps you in getting (even) better pictures. The best advice I can give though is practice, practise, practise.....


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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 9:37 am 
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Madach thank you for this post. I've printed it and added to the other tips.

Comment on the 3rds grid. My camera has an option to display this grid on the screen and maybe I should start using it untill I can see it in my mind's eye.

A question though on the Foam frog photos.
It nearly looks as if your position did not change or that you moved ever so slighty to the right to get the background tree into the the frame. Did you make any other setting changes or what contributed to making the colour of both the frog and the tree it is sitting in more vivid in both photo 2 & 3 if compared with photo 1.

I think this is a brilliant example as photo 1 is most probably the one many of us would've ended up with

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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 9:54 am 
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francoisd wrote:
A question though on the Foam frog photos.
It nearly looks as if your position did not change or that you moved ever so slighty to the right to get the background tree into the the frame. Did you make any other setting changes or what contributed to making the colour of both the frog and the tree it is sitting in more vivid in both photo 2 & 3 if compared with photo 1.

I think this is a brilliant example as photo 1 is most probably the one many of us would've ended up with

You're right, I hardly moved for these three pictures. If you image that the frog was in the middle of a circle then I moved on the arc of that circle until the trees were in the background. My drawing skills aren't very good :lol: but I've tried to explain this by making a small drawing

Image

As you can see from the picture it's only a small adjustment in position, but it makes a huge difference to the end result. Always take you're background into account especially if dealing with overcast weather. Dull gray clouds make for very uninteresting and often distracting backgrounds. Blue skies in general look good, but be mindful of clouds in the background!


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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 10:01 am 
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To give an example of when to break the rules, here's an example of a gray background actually made this picture.

Image

In this case the Bateleur is in the sunlight with a thunderstorm in the background. This makes for a nice dramatic, even fake looking, background. The best place for backgrounds like this is the Kgalagadi with it's thunderstorms.


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 Post subject: Re: Wildlife photography - Composition guidelines
Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 4:33 pm 
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madach wrote:
Get down to subject level
Always try to get down to the eye level of your subject............... don't be afraid to get dirty and lie down on the ground to get your shots. ...


Glad you mention this, surprising how many people don't even think to kneel down, I have had some strange looks when opting to lie on the floor to get a shot, not usually advisable in Kruger. May be repeating something already said but some shots are better taken portrait rather than landscape.

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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 5:31 pm 
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Howzit. Madach - I love your shots - especially the snake (colours are awesome).

With regard to low angle, I followed a family of ground squirrels around Okakuejo camp in Etosha last year and got some great shots (and very very dirty). However, if you're going to do this (especially with scorp's and spiders etc) you need to be quick and nimble...mrs squirrel was so inquisitive she came well within macro range, sniffing at my lens, far too close for my 100-300 lens.
However, this angle also helps with background - a slightly elevated view often gives you clutter such as grass etc around your image, if you can get your subject in a clear view in front, the background will often be out of focus, giving a greater sense of depth of field and ultimately making the subject stand out more.
I'll try and whack the squirrel up later if you guys are interested.

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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 6:26 pm 
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wondercloak wrote:
Howzit. Madach - I love your shots - especially the snake (colours are awesome).

With regard to low angle, I followed a family of ground squirrels around Okakuejo camp in Etosha last year and got some great shots (and very very dirty). However, if you're going to do this (especially with scorp's and spiders etc) you need to be quick and nimble...

:lol: :lol: Very true!

When I was taking pictures of the scorpion and python both were trying their best at taking a chunk out of me. The python came VERY :shock: close, kudos to him/her for trying :lol:


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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 6:37 pm 
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bert wrote:
When do low angle shots, with your face in the dirt i recon that you all use a Angle Finder?

Nope, I do these shots 'hardcore style' with my face in the dirt.


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Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 9:39 pm 
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Bouf wrote:
avon vosloo wrote:
Angle Finder - please explain :redface:


Image To Aid Low Angle Picture Taking,

I don't use one.


People please. :shock:
For macro this is the tool.
It even has a magnifying view 1.5 to 2x.
And you can take your time without the stones and grasses pressing up your nose.
But i would only advise it if you use a macrolens

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 10:03 pm 
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How i did a groundsquirel in camp. Etosha :redface:
But the same animals can be found in SA 8)
Image

Vertical shots
Saw these critters around at camp and went for a walk in the late hours of day. Then saw a few on a lawn . Using the tripod i took position at a distance of 3 meters waited till i had the background (green grass) and the composition i wanted.
70-200 4.0 L
Appr F11
Velvia 50 slide film
Cable release

The main idea was to look with the squirrel into the space. Makes the composition more exiting. The question is: what does the critter see? Anyways, that is what i wanted to create.
And important. The whole tail in the frame.

And i used the camera in a vertical position. Very important. By doing this i make use of the length of the animal and leave little room for useless space to the left and right of the squirrel.

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Last edited by bert on Wed Mar 15, 2006 10:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 10:47 am 
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francoisd wrote:
@Bert: I notice that you mention using the cable release in some of the photos you posted. I assume this is to eliminate any camera shake? Do you use it most of the time or only under certain conditions. {its a little off the composition topic}


Couldnt miss that hey :D
From the car always
From the tripod always.
In the old days i always used Velvia 50 slide film.
Means that i sometimes got F80 or less appr.
The slightest movement (can also happen when sqeezing the shutter release button) can result in a less sharp image.
Hence the release.
Another feature i like is the freedom of movement.
After making the composition( for eg landscapes) i dont have to stay in a awkward position behind the camera.

But when using it from a bean bag it needs a bit of practise.
Left hand on the lens and either
Few fingers on camera and cable release in my hand with the thumb pressing the release, or no right hand on the camera and only the cable release.

As for digital i dont know if i would always use it. ISO 200 or more gives much more shutterspeed. Maybe Madach could put in his 5 cents.

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Unread postPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 1:10 pm 
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bert wrote:
francoisd wrote:
@Bert: I notice that you mention using the cable release in some of the photos you posted. I assume this is to eliminate any camera shake? Do you use it most of the time or only under certain conditions. {its a little off the composition topic}

Maybe Madach could put in his 5 cents.

In about 85% to 90% of my pictures I use a cable release. The reason is simple: when you press the shutter you touch the camera and thus you will introduce (a minimal amount) of 'shake' and that leads to unsharp(ish) pictures. If you want to get the best possible result from your equipment the combination of tripod/beanbag and cable release is essential.

M.


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Unread postPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 2:33 pm 
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Image

Righty...I hope that that works. That's just one of the squirrel shots from okakuejo. Not ideal with an annoying piece of grass in the foreground but hey..

...and no, I don't use an angle-finder either (spending my money on other equipment first & I'm happy to bend myself into funny positions and get my face dirty).

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Unread postPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 3:11 pm 
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Talking of getting down low, I don’t think one can get much lower than this laying on your stomach :) These guys are quite fast so of all the shots I took this is the only one that’s in focus. Photographed it in the parking area of Matambeni bird hide. Just enough time to drop down and click on auto settings.

I see that the Appr was F4. Am I correct in saying that if I had more time to change settings and go up to e.g. F8 that I would maybe have gotten the back legs and antennae in focus?

Let see if I can spot what’s wrong with the composition of the picture?
- I did not get the whole of the right antenna into the frame
- Maybe should’ve lifted myself 5mm and cut out the blurred sand in the foreground

Image

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Unread postPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 3:26 pm 
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francoisd wrote:
I see that the Appr was F4. Am I correct in saying that if I had more time to change settings and go up to e.g. F8 that I would maybe have gotten the back legs and antennae in focus?

You would have gotten more in focus (if the little bugger stays still that is) but in these cases the bit that is in focus is small enough to serve as a very sharp knife.
francoisd wrote:
Let see if I can spot what’s wrong with the composition of the picture?
- I did not get the whole of the right antenna into the frame
- Maybe should’ve lifted myself 5mm and cut out the blurred sand in the foreground

Ok, the antenna is not entirely in the photo, but... If you crop it a bit it's great. Just set your croptool to 3:2 and take out the foreground and a bit of the right.

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