There are many different components that help to create a great image. It’s all about tying different factors together and finding a balance. This varies from photographing different subjects, adjusting camera settings, utilising lighting as well as composition. Each are hugely important and although settings, focus and exposures are critical, I think that it is the composition that really makes or breaks a great image.

 

As with anything, it is great to push your own boundaries and try new things, which is something I always attempt to do with my photography but also remember not to overwhelm yourself.  My advise is to take one thing at a time and to keep practising until you feel comfortable. In this blog I cover my thought process and my aim for each photograph and although there are general rules I follow, I also try not to be constantly bound by them. Photography is a creative art form and should be an expression of your own style. However, let us start with one of the most important rules in composition, ‘the rule of thirds’.

 

It is applied by aligning a subject with the guide line and their intersection point, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. Below is an example, which may make it easier to understand.

 MOC Zuckerman on Composition Rule of Thirds 1-2

 

We often get nervous to cut part of our subject out so the initial thought is to put our subject dead centre and snap away. However one can create movement, feeling or emotion through using the rule of thirds. For example, in wildlife photography, movement can be created by giving the subject space to move into. It can also create a mood or a different angle on a still subject. You certainly don’t have to be bound by it or use it in every photograph but it does give a very good framework from which to start.

ximpalapala

Lying in an ideal position, a female leopard sits at eye level with us on the banks of the Manyalethi River. Using the rule of thirds to compose the image with a shallow depth of field allows the viewer’s eyes not to stray away from the subject. The foreground is blurred and the wild date palm in the background allows for some colour; all combining to create the scene. Iso 800 F4 1/640 Sigma 120-300mm @270mm

rhino

In this image I wanted to highlight the golden light on the rhino’s face, especially around the eye. I did this by including the shadows in the background of the rhino’s body. It is a very different angle but a result that I am happy with. Iso 800 F6.3 1/800 Sigma 150-600mm @600mm

inzanzeni

Similar to the first image, this female leopard was above eye level, which helps to create a sense of power. The foreground is blurred using a shallow depth of field, which automatically blows out the background. In doing this, all the attention is put on the subject which helps to create a captivating image. Iso 640 F2.8 1/640 Sigma 120-300mm @300mm

wilddog

This photograph of a wild dog on the move also helps to illustrate the use of space. Trying to get an animal moving into space can be difficult as one does not want to cut off any part of the subject but don’t be shy to give the subject too much space. It is better to be more cautious than overly confident and you can always crop the image slightly in post production. Iso 100 F22 1/50 Sigma 120-300mm @170mm

Using different angles can also make a huge difference to an image. For example, you can create intensity through eye level images. This does not mean lie on the ground at every chance to get the shot but do be aware of your subject and your surroundings. Being out in the field with varied terrain means there are always opportunities to get a low angle, whether it be a leopard lying on a termite mound at eye level to the vehicle or you lying on your stomach while dung beetles crawl through elephant dung. Low angles can create power or make your subject look larger and are interesting because they are not the way we usually see the world.

 

Apart from low angle shots, you could also use side angles to highlight your subjects attributes. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as this can sometimes produce surprising results and give the viewer a unique view.

monitor

A great example of photographing at eye level. For this image I lay on my stomach because with higher angles on smaller subjects, you can easily diminish the intimate feeling you have with the subject.

eye lash

A close up on the eye of the buffalo. This is an example of what interesting things you can capture when you play with angles. Iso 400 F2.8 1/1000 Sigma 120-300mm @300mm

I also like to use a shallow depth of field to create intensity and really enhance an image. Using a shallow depth of field can draw the viewer’s eye straight towards your focal point. Having said this, the same can be done by increasing your depth of field and attempting to have more in focus depending on the situation. This works very well for landscape images or when there is more than one subject in your image.

I have played with this at any chance I found, even practising on random subjects in my garden. Taking photographs doesn’t always require an exciting subject. Get your camera out and use it to learn, test your ability and push yourself.

matimba side angle

Rules are made to be broken and although we are told not to cut off parts of an animal’s body, I think the rule of thirds really works in this image. Using a shallow depth of field, the animal’s body draws the viewer’s eye from the blurred backside of the subject to the sharp intense stare where you want the focus to land. Iso 640 F2.8 1/800 Sigma 120-300mm @300mm

tamboti cub

It is always a special moment to see a leopard cub around a den site and what I did here was to try and share my view of the sighting. Obviously I wanted to include the leopard cub but also use the den site to emphasise the secretive location thereby giving the photograph a feeling of vulnerability. Iso 800 F2.8 1/640 Sigma 120-300mm @300mm

It is also a good idea to vary your images between close up and wide angle shots depending on the scene and subject. Below are a few examples.

lions

Taking a wider angle is a great way to set the scene. I wanted to include the contrasting colours of the greens and browns and balance them to give the viewer an insight to the area. In this way, it contextualises the subjects and helps to tell more of their story. Iso 1000 F7.1 1/1250 Sigma 50mm F1.4 @50mm

intensity

Close up images are always captivating. Using a shallow depth of field I focused on the eye of this lion. Composition is vital with an image like this but by sticking to the basics of the rule of thirds it is achievable. Iso 1000 F2.8 1/1600 Sigma 120-300mm @300mm

Something I really enjoy doing is looking at other photographer’s work and trying to understand what their thought process was in capturing a specific image. It can often open our eyes to seeing something from a new and different angle, which we may not have thought about otherwise. The beauty of photography is that we all see the world differently and take different images and if you practise using your own style, more often than not you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve. For me, the number one rule is to always shoot with emotion. Try to capture your subject or scene in a way that can portray how you felt in the moment. Identify the key area of your image and think about how you can enhance it for the viewer. Not every photograph has to be an award winning image but if you keep practising you can learn from each one you take and I can promise you that you will end up bettering yourself as a photographer and produce better images on a regular basis.

 

Photography really is something I am passionate about and I would love to help with anything you may be struggling with. Are there any techniques or technical aspects you battle with in particular and would like to like to learn more about in the future?

About the Author

Trevor McCall-Peat

Photographic Guide

Trevor joined Londolozi from Balule Game Reserve, and with this head start in guiding, he was up and running in no time as a Londolozi Ranger. Trevor has a unique style in photography, capturing images from fresh angles that most wouldn’t see. This ...

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2 Comments

on How to Take an Amazing Photograph: The Art of Composition

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake
Guest

Wonderful tips that I can understand. Thanks so much Trevor.

Jill Grady
Guest

Great blog and tips Trevor. Your pictures are really beautiful!

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