The light is perfect, the bush creates a natural frame and the leopard has just begun walking on a fallen Marula trunk straight towards your pointed lens. You start clicking away and before you know it the moment has passed. It gives you a thrill just thinking about, until you look at your pictures and disappointment sets in. The tail has been cut off, the front paws are not in shot and the horizon is at an abnormal angle across the screen. No amount of post production can provide you with what is not in the picture
Let me save you a lot of trouble in trying to get good photographs by providing you with a simple outline of how to compose your pictures so that they consistently look great. You will be surprised how these little tricks can hugely improve your photographs and give them a professional edge.
The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is as true for photography as for any piece of visual art. Make sure your photograph is divided up into three parts: the top, middle and bottom third. Your horizon line should always be along the bottom third or the top third of the picture. This is particularly true for landscapes as well as portraits.
If the sky is pretty, make sure your horizon is bottom third so that the colour and texture of the sky is what forms the majority of the image. If the landscape is what grabs you, then make sure this is what you line up.
Animals and people are more often than not the subject matter of photography on safari. For portraits of animals, in particular cats, the eye should be the focal point of the photograph. Everything else can potentially be out of focus as long as the eye is sharp and focused. Try to capture a glint in the eye of the subject matter as this will give it a great deal more character.
The expression of the animal is what determines the mood and atmosphere of the picture, so adjust your composition accordingly focusing on the face, eyes, twitching whiskers or leathery hide. Similarly, if you are able to capture the animal looking directly into the camera, this adds a huge amount to the picture.
If the subject matter is looking left, then leave enough space on the left hand side to give the subject room to look through. If you don’t do this then it appears that the subject is looking into a blank wall as there is no space for its line of sight. It is advisable to shoot slightly wide if you have a camera with many megapixels. If this is the case, you can always crop it to your preferences in post production.
To often I have persistently captured portrait after portrait when in hindsight some of the better pictures are the experimental shots taken off the animal in its setting. A remarkable background, foreground or additional objects (such as fallen trees, blooming flowers, etc) adds character and color to an image as well as differentiating it from the thousands of other portrait pictures which every photographer has in their portfolio.
What other points have I failed to mention that greatly assist in the composition of great pictures? Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.