Robin Stanbridge Photography | Photographic Composition Part 4

Photographic Composition Part 4

April 01, 2016  •  1 Comment

Before I recently took annual leave I looked up several RSPB and Wildlife Trust sites, from Cornwall to Hampshire including Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset, that I could attend whilst on leave. I did this so that I could look up the weather forecast and wherever it was fine, that's where I would go for my wildlife photography. Well I needn't have worried because I had a great two weeks leave right here on Dartmoor in Devon with fantastic weather and I got some great photographs mainly of birds, Dunnocks, Yellowhammers, Wrens, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Chaffinches, Great Tits etc. singing away on the tops of bushes. I went back to work just before the Easter period and I felt sorry for people who took Easter off with storm "Katie" doing her worst. As I said I am now back at work and the weather has gone back to what it was; a few nice days during the week and wet and windy over the weekend. I think we should start a petition to work weekends and be off during the week. Most people would agree to this but I can't see our wonderful government changing anything, can you?

Whilst I was on leave I bought myself a small trailer, I say small but 6' x 4' is quite large. I bought it mainly to carry the wood from our land / nature reserve to our home some 2 miles away. Previously I have been using the boot of my Volkswagen Golf which is a bit small. This was not the only reason. The entrance to our land is at one end and I am cutting wood, coppicing, at the other end which means that I have to carry it a couple of hundred yards and it's all up hill, wet fresh cut wood is very heavy. Now with the trailer I can drive our 4x4 to where I am cutting the wood and load it up there. I could not put the wood in the 4x4 as it is the wife's car (don't ask!). I have very nearly completed cutting the bottom branches on the long hedge side and between the paddock and the wood. Therefore the other day I started cutting down my first Holly tree that is inside the wood. As the wood starts the land slopes away quite a bit down to the river Tavy and in some places it is quite hard to stand up. Whilst cutting the holly tree I had to hold on to another tree just to stand up. It was very surprising, even at this time of year where the other trees have no leafs, how much light just one tree could sap out of the wood and there are several within the wood. One of my biggest problems will be getting the wood from near the river up the hill to load on my trailer. I just thank goodness that some of it will be put into piles for insects. Anybody got a winch?

This week’s blog will be the final part of Photographic Composition.


A photograph is a still image so motion as a composition tool is an odd one or is it? For wildlife photographers there are several ways of creating motion within your image. One of the easiest ways is to leave space in the direction your subject is moving into. If you take a photo of a Deer walking then place the deer in one half of the image, say on the left, and leave space for it to walk into on the other half, on the right. Quite a few composition rules could be combined with this, rule of thirds, using negative space etc. You can imply motion by using a fast shutter speed to stop all movement or you could use a slow shutter speed and let the subject blur and the background remain sharp. I like a bit of both especially with birds (that sounds rude but I know where I am going with this) so I try and get the head and possibly the body sharp and let the wings, especially the tips, blur to show movementPanning with the moving subject is another technique (more of this in another blog). This keeps the subject sharp while it blurs the background as long as the shutter speed is slow enough. Getting a sense of motion right in camera is really challenging so think about taking a slightly wider image and cropping in your post processing.


Framing is a wonderful composition tool, it's highly creative and can be used in wildlife photography in lots of ways. Think of using natures frames to frame your subject like trees, branches, hedges, gateways, ponds  etc. but then really think outside the box (sorry) like using an animal's legs, boulders, trunks (Elephant), two other animals or birds, necks, bodies, clouds etc. the possibilities are endless. All you are looking for is getting your subject / focal point framed with the frame of your image. You can use the depth of field of your lens by possibly blurring the frame whilst keeping your subject sharp.


In a previous blog I mentioned that the composition rule of thirds basically moves the subject / focal point away from the centre of the image well, symmetry brings it right back in the centre. If any subject looks the same each side then you can use symmetry as a compositional tool. Think of a flower, a tulip side on or looking down into the head of the flower or a frontal image of the face of an animal or bird for example. Then again start thinking outside the box, any good wildlife with a good reflection is great for symmetry, also if you have two of something like two of the same species of bird for example.

Perspective, Scale and Size of subject

You can employ several compositional rules with this tool to achieve the aim. Perspective refers to the association between the positive space and the negative space (see previous blog), in other words the subject and its surroundings within your image. The position of your subject in relation to its surroundings can make or break an image. Again think outside the box by shooting from different angles, if it means getting down and dirty (stop it) then so be it. Generally making the subject small or large in your image will all depend on what type of image you are trying to create. I say generally because sometimes for wildlife photographers the action happens so fast that you only just have enough time to get the image (if you are lucky or your field craft skills are really good and you have anticipated the action). You can use different lenses, zooms are great for this, to achieve what you want or you can move your position, if you have time. Just because you are a wildlife photographer you don't need to just use big 500mm or 600mm lenses all the time. Go for a 70 - 200mm zoom or even a wide-angle lens for a different view.


Composition in photography is not a science and there are definitely no laws, therefore the rules and tools I've written about over the last four weeks should be taken lightly. If you find a great composition that contradicts them, then go ahead and shoot your image anyway. But you should learn and get to know them as they can often prove to be spot on and they will improve your images but don't get too upset if you don't get to know them all. In the end just get out there and use you camera as photography is all about enjoyment and you can worry about the composition of your image later during post processing.


Paul Willis(non-registered)
Great as always look forward to the weekly read.
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