Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Little Grebe

Composition Tips for Wildlife Photography – Part I

As a moderator for a popular online forum for bird photography at a wildlife photography portal, I critique and give composition-related tips to help photographers improve their images. Composition is at the core of developing standout images that simultaneously convey the photographer’s vision and his or her understanding of the subject. What we choose to include in our composition helps express the story positively or negatively.

In this three-part article, I offer some fundamental tips to help you create compelling images. Keep in mind that these tips provide a framework to create visually pleasing images and stimulate creativity; it is always good to think outside the box, deviate from established techniques, and develop your own shooting style.

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Lesser Florican

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Lesser Florican

Avoid putting the subject in the center of the frame – This is the most common mistake made by novice photographers. A centered subject with equal space on each side looks lost. Furthermore, it draws attention away from the subject and toward the surrounding dead space. This technique leaves the viewer wondering what the photographer wanted to convey.

Use the Rule of Thirds composition technique – This is the most widely used composition technique across all genres of photography and every photographer learns it. The basic premise is to separate the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and place the subject on the four intersecting lines. This technique can be applied to birds or other wildlife situations.

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Lesser Florican

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Lesser Florican

The Rule of Thirds forces conscious decisions about which elements remain in the composition and which are left out. Moreover, the rule facilitates creativity. For example, in the image above, I was able to include the bird’s ground habitat by placing the bird on the top left intersecting lines and I was able to tell the story of its unique leaping display during mating season.

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/1000 @ F/11 / Indian Spot-billed Duck

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/1000 @ F/11 / Indian Spot-billed Duck

Avoid tight composition – Another common mistake is related to tightly-framed or cropped images. This makes the subject appear suffocated or cramped, as in the image above. Ideally, you should leave more space in the direction the subject is looking, walking, or flying. In so doing, you let the audience imagine the subject’s action or behavior which allows for a connection with the subject.

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Little Grebe

Canon 7D Mark II / 600mm 1.4X / 1/3200 @ F/5.6 / Little Grebe

In the image above, I left more space to the right to give the bird more space for its dive. This leaves the viewer to visualize the action in the empty space.

To be continued… Composition Tips for Wildlife Photography – Part II

About Author Gaurav Mittal

Gaurav Mittal is a professional bird photographer and a blogger who grew up with a passion for nature and wildlife in his native birthplace of New Delhi, India. Gaurav migrated to the U.S. at the age of fifteen. After completing his college, he pursued a career in tax consulting in the Washington D.C. area. It was, however the love for the birds that eventually brought the focus back in his life and a determination to follow his heart, to be a bird photographer. Gaurav’s passion for photographing birds began in 2011 in Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico where observing the Sandhill Cranes brought a sense of harmony and a new vision to him. A moment he captured and fondly calls, “Kissed in The Mist” left him with a vision to continue on further and explore and learn about birds and how he can present their beauty through photography. His desire to be a top class bird photographer has led him to places such as Bharatpur, Bosque, Alaska, New York, Costa Rica and Florida.

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