Robin Stanbridge Photography | Photographic Composition Part 3

Photographic Composition Part 3

March 24, 2016  •  1 Comment

I was out with my camera quite a few times last week. I was on leave and it was great weather and light so there was no excuse. I targeted different birds and animals but as it is so often the case with wildlife photography I got different species each time. Go out for Stonechats and get photos of Dunnocks, go out for Wrens and get Yellowhammers, go out for Otters and get a Treecreaper.  Like I've said before I love wildlife photography because you never know what you are going to see. Each day I was leaving the house about 5:15am and I was set up, either in my hide or hiding in camouflage, and raring to go on Dartmoor in Devon by 5:40am. I love doing this during the next couple of months, being out early, on my own, no one else about, with fantastic light, waiting for the wildlife to appear for me to photograph. I always get set up well before the sun rises, a bit like a landscape photographer, so that not only if anything appears I can capture them in good light but also not to disturb the wildlife. I usually stay in position until about 10am when I find that the light, especially on sunny days, starts getting a bit too harsh for my liking. I even went out late on a couple of afternoons to see if I could find the Dipper on the river Dart but no joy. It has been a couple of weeks since I last saw it and I hope nothing has happened to it. Likewise with the Barn Owl I saw in our area. The Tawny owl is still around but I have not seen the barn owl for quite a few weeks. I do not know if these two owls can reside in the same area.


I've also been out on Dartmoor hoping to hear and see a Cuckoo and Wheatears but no joy, maybe I'm a bit early but having said that I did see one about this time last year, but I'll keep an eye out as I haven’t got any photos of a cuckoo and I want better shots of wheatears. As I mentioned earlier I went out on the river Tamar in Devon to continue my quest for otters but still no luck but, what I did see was a treecreaper. It flew from the opposite bank onto the tree next to me and I got some wonderful shots of it going up the tree, along a branch, having a drink and catching something to eat.


The council has finally started repairing one of the roads that got washed away a few weeks ago. I say started but they were here one day and we have not seen them since! The rain was so bad that day that the whole road had lifted up, broke apart and the water carried it down into the village. The other road is not as bad, according to the council workers, but in my view it still needs a total resurface but apparently will only get patched. In my view if you patch a road and it is done properly then it should last a little while, not as long as a total resurface, but if it is not done properly then it starts falling apart as soon as the job is finished; to me a total waste of time. Anyway, back to the rules of composition.



To start at the beginning there are three primary colours on a colour circle and they are Red, Blue and Yellow. In between these colours are the three secondary colours which are Purple, Green and Orange. These secondary colours are made up from mixing the two primary colours which are next to each other, mixing red and blue will give you purple for example. So looking at the colour circle you will have red at the top and then purple next to it on the right, blue, green, yellow, orange and back to red again. This is a very simple colour circle but it does the job for what I intend to talk about. As you look at the circle take note of the colours and where they are in relation to each other. You have warm colours on one side; red, orange and yellow, and you have cool colours on the other; purple, blue and green. In images, warm colours appear to project themselves forward and dominate whereas the cool colours seem to recede. Imagine an image of a vast expanse of blue sea with a tiny red boat. The red of the boat will draw your eye to it. Therefore, when taking a photograph try to remember this because the colour of something in your image might lead the viewer’s eye away from your intended subject. Take an image of a Sparrow, for example, a dull coloured brown bird, in a holly bush. If there are any red berries on the bush then the viewer’s eye might be looking at these rather than the sparrow. Also be aware of having too many warm colours in an image because they will overwhelm the viewer.  The cooler colours will have a calming effect on the viewer so if this is the photographer’s intention of his / her image then remember not to have a large expanse of a warm colour within the image. The colours opposite each other in the circle contrast each other very well. These colours are known as complementary colours as they have the greatest visual impact if you use them in your image. Think of an image of a Robin with its large red breast that is sitting in a green hedge or an image of an orange with a blue background.

If you want to use stronger, saturated, colours then you have two choices. You can either place a polarising filter on your lens or you can saturate the colours later during post processing. Saturating colours is only one thing a polarising filter will do, the other things are for a later blog. Be aware of over saturating colours in post processing as it can ruin a very good image.



This is another composition rule made harder for amateur photographers, or people that don't buy a top of the range camera, by camera manufacturers. (This is not for people with medium format cameras).  Quite a high percentage of photographers using cameras will take their photos in a landscape format, because that's the way the camera is made and easiest to use (hold), rather than portrait format. People with top of the range cameras and people who buy the “extended battery pack” for their cameras it's a bit easier because you can turn the camera on its side and use portrait format like you do landscape format. You can use the camera in landscape format and then crop it in post processing to get a portrait image but you are throwing away a lot of megapixels that you have paid a lot of money for.

Some photos lend themselves landscape format and others to portrait format. This should be decided before you take the photograph but if you are not sure then take both. If you are submitting your photographs to sell this is the best option as it gives the person buying the image the choice.

So what will make up your mind which to take? Mainly it will be the shape of the subject you are taking the image of. The balance of the image will change depending on the orientation and you must pick which works better or what you want to achieve with the image. Think of a wood; if you just concentrated on the trunks of the trees then you might pick portrait format to help lengthen them but if you wanted to photograph the whole wood then you might go for landscape format.



Very often the simpler the image then the better the image works. Think of a small animal in a large desert for example. It is obvious what the subject is but you still have to think where in the image you want to place it. This is one rule of composition that you really need to think of what you want to include in your photograph and what you want to exclude. If there was a large bush or a bit of rusty metal next to the small animal and you included it then the viewer might look at them rather than the small animal. If this is what you want then great but if its not then you have to do one of three things. You can change your lens to help you achieve this, you can move your position or you can clone it out in post processing. I would go for the first or second choice. One thing to remember in photography; generally less is more.

Next week I will be continuing with the rules of composition.


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Paul Willis(non-registered)
Love the blog you live in a great place but obviously put the time in. Keep it up. Thanks
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