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Composition: Some Thoughts on Subject Matter

While much of what we've discussed these past few weeks on composition pertains to effectively capturing any kind of image, there are particular challenges worth looking at that directly related to subject matter. Given that I'm biased towards nature photography, I'm not going to attempt to go through all possible subjects, but let's look briefly at how landscape, wildlife and macro subjects can influence composition.


LandscapeOne nice thing about shooting landscape is that it doesn't move around very much. Unfortunately, the light on it does so you still need to know your camera well and be able to think on your feet to get the best shots. To the extent that you have time though take full advantage of the rule of thirds and other techniques. Be sure to check the edges of the frame in the viewfinder for intruders; check the rest of the frame for any distracting elements. Simplify your composition to just the elements needed to convey what is important to you in the scene. In the classic landscape shot, you need to look for both an attractive background as well as a strong foreground element. To maximize your depth of field, learn to use hyperfocal focusing and be sure to use a tripod. Try looking for graphic elements to make a stronger composition. Utilize leading lines to provide a path for the viewer's eye to move through the frame.


When photographing wildlife, most people are satisfied just to get the animal on film (or digital). WildlifeSomehow, in the excitement of the moment, all thoughts of composition go right out the window. Even when you get home the images often still look good since seeing them brings back memories of when you were there. To convey what you intended to others though you must rely on your composition skills since they don't have the benefit of your memories. Resist the temptation to "bulls-eye" your subject in the center of the image. An animal often looks better if it has some room to move into or look into the frame. Many animals also look better when photographed from their eye-level. Beware of merges between animals. Since two animals of the same species tend to have the same coloration, they will tend to merge into a single shape if one is partially standing in front of the other. Some animals are colored in ways that help them camouflage themselves in their surroundings so you may have to move around a bit to find a background that works as well. Most wildlife shots are done with telephotos which see a very narrow angle of view, but you may still need to move some distance yourself to shift your background coverage enough to make a significant difference.

Close-up / Macro

Macro composition can be fun since you can often simplify and abstract your composition just be getting closer. MacroMacro shooting requires you to work slowly and methodically. Look for distracting background elements and carefully examine potential subjects to make sure your shot is clean. Without an obvious horizon line or other reference for "proper" orientation, don't be afraid to rotate your camera to create a stronger diagonal or other graphic element. Remember not to bulls-eye your composition unless it makes sense to. Keep in mind that depth of field for macro is likely to be quite shallow so you will need to pay attention to your camera position. In order to maximize your depth of field, the camera should be parallel to the predominant plane of your subject. Limited depth of field can work in your favor though. It's easier to create a pleasing, blurred background if there is some distance between your subject and what is behind it.

Date posted: January 4, 2004


Copyright © 2004 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Previous tip: Composition: Putting Things in Perspective Return to archives menu Next tip: Composition: Equipment Notes

Related articles:
Composition: What Do You Want To Say?
Composition: Thinking Graphically
Composition: A Look at Color
Composition: Putting Things in Perspective
Composition: Equipment Notes
Composition: Pre-visualization
Composition: Putting it All Together
Iterative Composition

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