Process: A Short Film About a Large Format Photographer
“Process” is a 3-minute short film by director Will Campbell that looks into the mind of a large format photographer.
“It’s a stylish, sensorial exploration into the process and motivation of a large format photographer,” Campbell tells PetaPixel. “The modern digital camera allows us to easily shoot hundreds of frames, edit them, and upload our favorites to the internet within minutes. This is a very different experience to that of the large format photographer.
“For them the process is arduous, analog, and anything but instant. So what pushes large format photographers on? Scott Folsom is a deep well of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to analog photography, large format, and development processes. This film answers the question of why some people would rather have it slow.”
With the recent polemics surrounding a certain image that won a photography competition this week, I feel like we need to talk about travel photography. About people photography, in our case. And to set up boundaries as to what’s acceptable in both cases. Honestly, in my opinion, it’s a matter of common sense – but it seems that’s not enough. We still witness some shocking scenes in the world of travel photography these days.
Let me be clear: My goal isn’t to attack or criticize any specific, or specific group, of photographers. I don’t know these people. I’ve never met them. But the whole circus that events such as these have created is, in my book, very disturbing, which is why I feel it’s important to discuss the topic in general.
The Case of Photography
Let’s start by looking at photography in a wider context. When it was first invented, staged images were pretty much the only option. The equipment was big and bulky (and expensive) and the exposure times were very long. Anyone who wanted to photograph people had to have them stand still for several minutes. Even with the invention of the collodion technique in 1851, the exposure time still had to be 2–3 minutes. Not exactly spur-of-the-moment stuff.
Then, in 1901, came the Kodak Brownie – the first commercial camera for the middle class. Photography exploded from then on and all the different types of photography that we know today were born.
Documentary photography stemmed from the desire to illustrate newspaper articles – and quickly, a set of ‘rules’, or commonly accepted behaviors, was established. Photojournalism and documentary photography had to depict the truth, without the influence of the photographer. Nowadays, if a photojournalist is caught staging their picture or modifying them in any way, it means the end of their career.
At the other end of the scale, there’s fashion photography. Very little fashion photography happening without staging, without someone directing the whole image. From the model to the props used to the choice of location… everything is controlled and staged for the best results.
But what about travel photography? It seems to me that travel photography is considered as the ‘hobby photography’; anyone can just grab a camera, hit the road and start shooting. If you try to remember the big names of travel photography, who do you think about? Well, there is only one name that comes to mind for most people. Just one.
To me, this proves that travel photography is largely ignored as professional fields in photography – so no one has bothered to set any ethical guidelines. After recent events, maybe it’s time we do so.
The Case of Travel Photography
You may remember the 2015 controversy surrounding Steve McCurry. He was accused of having Photoshopped some of his images to make them more aesthetically pleasing. At first, he said his staff did it. Then he said that he “considers himself to be more of a ‘visual storyteller’ rather than a photojournalist.”
What I understand from this is that basically, if it isn’t photojournalism, no one cares. But the problem is that I do care, and the International Travel Photographer Organization (don’t Google it, I just made it up) isn’t doing anything about it. So I thought I’d set up some ground rules because, well, no one else has.
When it comes to travelers and tourists photographing people, the situation can get out of control. Living in Asia, I witness people traveling here to take photos of people on a daily basis. In fact, my job is teaching people how to practice better people photography, so I’m constantly exposed to this industry.
As an example, a friend of mine witnessed something very disturbing while traveling in Bangladesh. As he boarded a train in Dhaka, he saw a group on a “photography tour.” A Bangladeshi man was sitting on the train, praying. One of the participants of the tour, probably thinking that the man praying was doing so at the wrong angle, or in too weak a light, put their hand on the man’s head and tilted it forward. Without a word, a hello, or a thank you.
Lots of people think that Asia is a great place to photograph people. Unfortunately, some of these people think that’s because you can do what you want with the locals… as if they weren’t people at all, but mere subjects available for your photographs. Like going to the zoo to pat the monkeys and throwing them peanuts for good behavior.
At least, that is what it feels like to me. That this is what some “travel photographers” believe. Which is simply unacceptable.
As I mentioned earlier, there are really no rules for travel photography. Not yet, anyway.
Most people practice this form of photography when traveling. Some do it as a way to remember the places they traveled to. Some do it in order to take beautiful images that they’ll be proud to show their friends and family. Some do it in order to win travel photography competitions.
The Case of Ethics
I started writing this article with the intention of applying ethics to travel photography, but honestly, it’s not just about photography. It’s about having common sense and even the minimum standard of ethics. People are people, human beings like you and me. And just because they live in a poorer country than you doesn’t make them your free models for your beautiful photographs.
If you’d like to travel and photograph people in an ethical way, first start considering people as people, as equal to yourself. This means showing them respect, interacting with them, and – one of the most important aspects – giving them something back. Not something physical, simply a personal exchange. Make them laugh by showing them the photo you’ve taken or, even simpler, make yourself available for them to take a look at you, a foreigner, that maybe they’ve never seen before.
Ask yourself this: What is travel for you? Is it staying in a group, following your guide and going to visit every place that tourists visit? Or is it getting a bicycle and going the opposite way, in search of a more authentic, genuine experience? It’s up to you what you want to do. But maybe, to those people in the huge group, you could say: “Hey guys, I think you’re missing out. You should try and get lost a little more”. (You know, in a nice way!)
Now, about the staging thing. A lot of photographers travel around the world and stage images wherever they go. And there’s nothing wrong with staging photos. They can help you to take better pictures, and guarantee that you return home with ‘the shot’. I know a lot of great photographers who stage images as part of a project they’re working on. But none of them lies about it.
If you do stage an image, just be honest about it. Say that you staged it. Because telling people that you managed to capture this incredible candid image when it was actually staged… it’s just unethical. It’s lying to the people who see your picture, and it’s lying to your subject, too. It’s depicting your subject in a way that he/she is not. If you stage your image, you staged it with your preconceived idea of what it should look like. Not what it really looks like.
If you don’t buy into this for the ethics involved, then consider this: You know how the world is today, in this information age. People will find out. People always find out.
Staging an image using a preconceived idea, a concept you have in mind, using a model that you can control? There’s a name for that – it’s called fashion photography.
There are no rules in travel photography, so anyone can do what they want. At least, that seems to be the unfortunate consensus.
But there are basic human rights that everyone should respect. You shouldn’t use people as your personal models if you don’t show them respect or even involve them in the process. This happens a lot when people disguise a staged image as a candid one – often with the goal of getting into photo competitions and increasing their perceived value. If they shot these images candidly, it means they’re pretty good photographers. Whereas staging photos can actually turn you into a worse photographer – sure, you’re in control of all the elements in the frame, but where’s the creativity?
The Creativity Question
In the end, it’s a personal choice – whether you want to stage your image or not. As I said above, if you decide to stage your image, it’s fine as long as you’re honest about it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it if you’re honest with yourself and the people viewing your images. You won’t be misleading the public by pretending that this or that situation was real when it’s been fabricated by someone who may have interpreted the scene from a different cultural point of view.
My main issue regarding this topic – and this is more personal – is about creativity. Because my primary role is teaching photography, I’m against staging – for me, it’s counter-creative.
Creativity in photography, and art in general, comes from conflict, from the unexpected, and often from the accidental. I’ve never woken up in the morning feeling like a creative genius! No, the times I’ve felt creative with my images and composition is when I’ve messed them up – I was too late, I cropped in a weird way, I had the wrong setting on, or my subject moved in an unexpected way. These, in fact, were the times that I got my best photographs.
Staging your images closes the doors to all of these factors, factors which can make creativity happen. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Becoming a good photographer, able to capture a good image in any condition, takes years of practice. But there are no shortcuts when it comes to art, and the real genuine art takes years to create.
Take the example of fashion photography. Most of the time, the final image starts with a concept, an idea. What differentiates it from travel photography is that the people coming up with these ideas are usually good at doing so. They’re artists, they make bold moves, they think creatively to catch the attention of the public.
I doubt that every single hobbyist photographer traveling around Asia and staging their images has such vision. Often, they’re simply inspired by other images they’ve seen before — some stunning scene that moved them. Or by some other image that won a photo competition once. And so, what they often do, is copy that image they’ve seen in the past.
If you want examples of these images, I list a few in this article. Frankly, as a photographer, a teacher and a fan of creativity, I find it pathetic to be constantly exposed to the same images – merely copies of copies of photos that, once upon a time, were original and authentic.
The scary part is that this trend isn’t slowing down. Nowadays, photography is accessible to pretty much everyone, and with the huge number of ‘photography tours’ available in Asia, anyone can be a travel photographer. All of this competition makes it harder to make a place for yourself as a photographer or to be recognized by your peers. So some people choose to take a shortcut, to reach fame faster.
Who’s to Blame? Photo Competitions, For Starters
A decade ago, there were only a few travel photography competitions around. Prestigious names, prestigious competitions, awarding great creativity and originality.
Nowadays, it seems that launching a photo competition is simply seen as a great way to make good money.
Think about it. If you know how to build a website, that’s all you need. You can launch your new “Renowned International Photography Competition” website, and charge people to enter their images. Then you can find tons of emerging photographers happy to judge the images for exposure. You make money, you don’t spend any. Jackpot!
The truth is, there is no exposure for the judges. When is the last time you checked the bio and website of all the judges in a competition?!
Another problem is that these emerging travel photographers may not be experienced travel photographers. They may not know about photography as much as a pro, and may not know about images which are actually copies of other images. If I see one more image of a novice monk in Bagan burning incense, Chinese cormorant fisherman, Inle lake fisherman or Omo valley cute kids with flowers on their heads winning a competition, I will instantly categorize that competition as BS. Because such images have been created and captured for over a decade now. They have already won plenty of competitions. We’ve had enough of seeing them. And any respectful competition organizer should know that.
Since it’s getting more and more difficult to make a name for yourself in the world of travel photography today (remember, everyone is a photographer), then it seems that winning photography competitions could help. What that means is that photography competitions are the ones who officially decide and tell the public what a good picture is. And that’s the scary part!
If you see an image winning the National Geographic photography competition, you’ll probably think that it must be a great image. Similarly, people seeing competition-winning images tell themselves that these must be great images, the images that they should be taking in order to… win photography competitions. They’re leading by example: what to shoot in order to be popular. The sad thing is, it’s becoming more and more rare to see real creative work being awarded. People want the “wow”, the postcard. The problem is, the postcard isn’t real. It was created to look “wow”.
Why Are You Practicing Photography?
If your goal is to become famous and win competitions by staging beautiful images, there is ethically nothing wrong with that IF you are clear about what you do and how you do it. The worst thing is finding out that a photographer lied about staging images. It usually means, for them, the end of a promising carrier.
On the creative side, though, this won’t help you to improve your travel photography skills, especially if you photograph people. Because in places like Asia, where scenes can be quite busy and chaotic, photography skills are needed to capture great images.
If you practice photography for the sake of it, because you love it, because it’s your passion – or, in my case, because it pushes me to travel further and meet new people – then why would you ever need to stage an image?
As I mentioned earlier, creativity comes from the unexpected, which is the opposite of carefully planning a composition and using models. Staging images can make you become a lazy, bad photographer. Staging photography can lead to you traveling in that huge group of people who all want THE shot. (Sure, everyone will get THE shot. But everyone will get the same shot.)
In the end, you can stage photos if you like – but please be honest about it. If your goal is to win photo competitions, just be aware that a lot of today’s ones are dubious and won’t get you anywhere. (I know a lot of people who have won great photo competitions and their lives haven’t changed because of it!)
One last thing: It’s important that photographers don’t fall into the photo competition/social media trap. That is, taking photos of what you expect people to like, in order to bring you more popularity. This is the end of art and the beginning of marketing.
Shooting for popularity, not shooting for yourself, will make you become a predictable photographer – shooting the same things, over and over again. There is no more room to express your voice and opinion. There is no style and originality. You may win a photography competition once, but what are you going to do next? Shoot the same thing?
To stage or not to stage? To shoot for others or yourself? They’re big questions, which pose a lot of arguments. But I think it’s about time that we started asking them.
About the author: Etienne Bossot is a travel photographer based in Asia. You can find more of Bossot’s work and writing on his website, blog, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. This article was also published here.
Image credits: Header photo courtesy of Mike Pollock
GCDS Drops Streetwear For Dogs
Edgy streetwear is going to the dogs. Teaming up with V.I.P (Very Important Puppies), Italian brand GCDS has released a streetwear-inflected collection for canines. While keeping with core brand values re: graphic apparel and accessories, the collection is tailored to various dog sizes and gaits, keeping your four-legged friend’s comfort in mind. And while he or she may be colorblind and illiterate, the pink palette and catchy phrases like “J’Adore GCDS” add human-friendly touches. Perhaps best…
Eye-rolls, shrugs, and barbs greeted the $120,000 Grand Prize winner of Dubai’s HIPA Photography Prize. Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong’s photo of a partially blind Vietnamese woman carrying her baby was derided for representing yet another “poverty porn” contest winner before it was suggested that the image was staged by photographer Ab Rashid.
The circumstances that led to the photo are largely irrelevant. HIPA has no restriction in their contest rules that would prohibit staging, nor does the contest adhere to any photojournalistic ethics despite a jury selection throughout the years that has a bias towards photojournalists.
Yet we feel duped, and not necessarily because the image may or may not have been directed. We feel duped because Ong took the image with a gaggle of other photographers of a young, impoverished mother in a way that feels creepily reminiscent of a mid-20th-century all-male camera club hiring a female model.
We feel outraged because “poverty porn” is a reliable trope for winning photo contests – even one with the theme of “Hope” where no hope is to be found. A glimpse at the previous winners of HIPA certainly supports this claim despite having a rotating jury of some of the world’s best photographers who are supplementing their meager photo-related income with judging.
We feel disgusted because the subject is a brown woman. Never mind that Ong is brown because brown and black people are fully capable of committing the sin of exploiting their own just like white people.
We feel repugnance at a contest culture that often rewards unethical behavior, and allows contest organizers to build their business on the scam of contest entry fees. Never mind that this particular contest offers a total prize package of $450,000. The $150,000 Grand Prize is too big for this photo, for this photographer. He ought to share it.
But it’s hypocritical to impugn contest culture while simultaneously consuming most of our photography diet through a game-ified app on a 4-inch screen that algorithmically encourages and rewards “likes.” We’re sometimes more concerned with vertically scrolling as fast as possible to catch up with our feed than actually view photography.
We are competitive creatures living in a world where contest promoters and apps prey upon our vanity and search for validation. The same people who decry contests use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to build their own followings while chasing retweets and likes of their own.
Contests are problematic. The celebration of suffering is amoral. Large monetary prizes cause some people to act unethically. But contest popularity is merely a symptom of the Information Age optimized for the id. Of course, we should strive as a community for ethical standards, but it’s inaccurate to lay blame solely on Ong for taking and submitting the picture when the entire ecosystem is suspect.
Hopefully some of the online discussion in the wake of the contest will cause photographers, juries and contest organizers to reconsider “poverty porn” in contest culture. And perhaps HIPA can consider some ethical guidelines for future incarnations. And if nothing else, maybe the increased awareness of the world’s richest photo contest will attract a whole new wave of photographers doing important, long-term work thereby rendering discussion of poverty tourism moot.
About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.
This is How Photorealistic Video Game Engines Are Now
The asset library Quixel has released this new 2.5-minute cinematic short film titled “Rebirth.” It’s an eye-opening look at how photorealistic real-time rendering in video game engines is now.
To prepare for the project, Quixel spent a month in cold and wet locations in Iceland, scanning all kinds of objects found in the natural environment using. The team returned with over 1,000 scans that captured the details of the landscape.
Using the scans — a part of Quixel’s Megascans library — a team of three artists at Quixel created the 1:45 cinematic film in real-time using the power of the Unreal Engine 4 game engine.
“The high fidelity of the physically-based scans delivers results that are remarkably photorealistic,” Unreal Engine writes.
Here are some still frames from the short film:
Part of the realism was due to the use of a physical camera rig that allowed the creators to “film” in virtual reality.
“With UE 4.21 at the heart of the real-time pipeline, Quixel’s artists were able to iterate on the go, eliminating the need for previsualization or post-production,” Unreal says. “The team also built a physical camera rig that was able to capture movements in-engine using virtual reality, adding an enhanced dimension of realism to the short. All post-processing and color grading was completed directly within Unreal.”
The result of all this work and technology is a real-time film that rivals the photorealism of offline renders.
Class of 2019: IMG Models
This spread appears in the pages of V118 our Spring I issue!
They say fashion is like high school. This model-off (dress code: SS19) puts theory into practice. In V118, 7 IMG fierce faces Lily, Eliseu, Akiima, Nana, Mads, Noah, and Valentine redefine tailoring while striking a “power suiting” pose.
Thinking about which lens to buy next? You might want to take a look at this 9-minute video first. In it, photographer Jamie Windsor argues that choosing the right focal length is more than a technical decision based on what type of photography you want to do — your choice affects the dynamic and meaning of your photos.
“Choosing the right focal length is much more than about creating a flattering portrait or being able to fit everything you want into your frame,” Windsor says. “Your choice of lens changes the dynamic of your image and the psychological meaning the audience will derive from it. In this video essay, I examine how different focal lengths can be used to communicate different messages to your audience.”
Windsor says that the advancement of TV sets and TV show quality has made many popular shows indistinguishable in quality from movie theater films, and as a result, most people are now exposed to the visual language of cinema on a daily basis.
“While film cinematography and photography are very different beasts in a lot of ways, there are also some aspects that unite them,” Windsor says. “And one of those is how we as an audience psychologically derive meaning from different focal lengths.”
The video then goes through a wide range of examples showing how cinematographers and photographers use different focal lengths in different ways to convey different types of feelings and meanings.
“When choosing a lens, think about how you want your audience to feel,” Windsor concludes. “Why are you shooting what you are? What are you saying with it? Use focal length to subtly communicate your message to the viewer, because changing focal length can completely change the whole meaning of your shot.”
Harvard Sued Over Profiting From Its Earliest Slave Photos from 1850
Harvard University is being sued over daguerreotypes of slaves — believed to be the earliest photos of American slaves — commissioned by one of its professors back in 1850. A descendant of the slaves accuses Harvard of wrongfully seizing, possessing, and profiting from the photos.
USA TODAY reports that the Swiss-born biologist Louis Agassiz had commissioned the photos to be shot by photographer J.T. Zealy in a South Carolina studio to support a theory of human origins called polygenism, or the view that human races have different origins. A slave man and his daughter, Renty and Delia, were stripped of their clothing and photographed naked from a number of angles to argue that African-Americans were inferior to white people.
Now a woman named Tamara Lanier who claims to be Renty’s great-great-great granddaughter is suing Harvard over those photos of her purported direct ancestor. Lanier says she has repeatedly demanded that Harvard stop licensing its photos of “Papa Renty” for profit, only to have her requests ignored.
She’s also demanding that the original Harvard-owned daguerreotypes be handed over to her family.
“For years, Papa Renty’s slave owners profited from his suffering,” Lanier tells USA TODAY. “It’s time for Harvard to stop doing the same thing to our family.”
After the photos of Renty, Delia, and 11 other slaves were made in 1850, they disappeared for 126 years until they were discovered in an attic at Harvard. One particular photo of Renty has since become an iconic photo representing American slavery, and it continues to be used on things such as conference programs and book covers.
Harvard allegedly charges a licensing fee for the photos to be reproduced.
“These images were taken under duress, and Harvard has no right to keep them, let alone profit from them,” attorney Michael Koskoff, who’s representing Lanier, tells USA TODAY. “They are the rightful property of the descendants of Papa Renty.”
The lawsuit states that Harvard has “avoided the fact that the daguerreotypes were part of a study, overseen by a Harvard professor, to demonstrate racial inferiority of blacks.”
When I look back at my journey as a wildlife photographer especially as I scroll through my images on my editing screen a few things become apparent. Firstly, most of my pictures were either action or close up portrait, and secondly, the editing was awful.
Editing is an essential skill for a photographer, and you must be equally as good as editing as you are in capturing the image. I am still learning and improving my editing skills. Action images and close up portraits in wildlife photography — why do I have a problem with those images? Well, they needed little or no ability, action images with today’s technological advance focusing systems. It is just a matter of point and shoot. Close up portraits, requires a good lens a willing subject and then you fill your frame up and release the shutter.
Okay, maybe I am oversimplifying, but my point remains the same, little creative effort went into those images.
Wildlife photography, in my opinion, is one of the most challenging genres, why? We are reliant on all the elements that make a successful wildlife photograph. Timing, place, light, and subject matter are generally all unknowns for a wildlife photographer on safari.
That’s why we wildlife photographers on safari head straight for the waterhole especially in the dry season as that is the best place to capture wildlife action photography. But what do we do when all is quiet at the waterhole, and there is no action to photograph. How do we create a compelling photograph? The most important thing to remember is that we are crafting a picture.
We all know that a successful photograph needs a good composition. Some rules and guides can help you create an image. But it is your “vision” that will make it unique and compelling. That is what we all want from our photography no matter what genre — to stand out from the crowd to be different and for people to recognize our style.
Firstly I will talk about the guides and rules that are important in creating a composition. Then I will discuss how you can improve your “vision”, your unique way of seeing.
Ask any photographer about rules of composition and the Rule of Thirds will slip off their tongue. For some photographers it is all they will ever use.
There are numerous rules of compositions that can aid you to be more creative with your photographs. I have often heard, and I am sure you have too, that “there are no rules in photography,” or “learn the rules and forget them.” There may be some merit in these statements, I will leave that discussion to others, but for me and my photographic journey, increasing knowledge of my craft every day has helped me make better photographs. I want to discuss just a few rules, guides, and tips that I use most when out photographing.
Negative space is one of my favorite rules of composition. I place the subject in the frame using either the golden ratio or rule of thirds; mostly I go with what feels right. Remember rules are only guides. For “negative space” to work in a composition, it is essential that there are no distracting elements within the scene.
This kind of image works best with a solitary subject with a clean background in an open space. I try and not include clouds as this will give the image a different feel and distract from the subject. Negative space creates a sense of calm and allows the image to breathe.
Shape, lines, form, and textures are essential elements of successful landscape black and white photograph. But we can make beautiful compositions in nature photography with these elements too.
Look for interesting patterns in clouds and include them with your wildlife subjects. Clouds give you shapes and textures which create a sense of depth, a three-dimensional feel.
An essential tip to creating a unique image is your viewpoint or angle of view. Always try and vary your perspective, go low, go high, if you are using a wide angle lens, tilt your camera and get exaggerated sky, adding impact to your photograph.
Lines create feelings within us; vertical lines give a sense of power; horizontal lines suggest a feeling of calm; diagonal lines a sense of movement; soft curved lines, which is probably the best known and used in photography, create gentle and soothing feelings.
The “background” of a photograph is not a “compositional rule”, but it is undoubtedly one of the most critical elements within a successful photograph.
A busy background is very distracting and will take the viewers eye away from the subject of the image and create a visual sense of unease.
Street photographers have favorite locations with beautiful backgrounds, and they wait till a subject walks pass and then press the shutter and create a photograph.
We can do the same with wildlife photography although it can be a lot more difficult to achieve.
In my last article, I talked about a recent safari. I had never been to this location before, and upon my arrival, I notice the distant mountains were magnificent, and immediately I set about finding a waterhole with the mountains as a backdrop and then it was a matter of waiting. Elephants arrived, within a few minutes, the elephants began their usual ritual of bonding. I press the shutter capturing an intimate moment between elephants with a beautiful backdrop to complete a compelling composition.
Another useful and effective backdrop is to use the “subject” as a background, for example, photographing a young animal against the side of its parent, zebras are the most common ones that come to mind.
When you find the backdrop for an image, be it beautiful mountains or something uniform, you can then go about creating a series of pictures with different animals or the same animal in various poses.
Rules of symmetry and rhythm are two essential guides that will help you become more creative in your photography. Symmetry is achieved when one side mirrors or balances with the other. Best-known use of symmetry in nature photography is the reflection.
In the image below with elephants on the horizon, I tried to create balance and symmetry with the elephants at either end. I included the clouds for shape, form, and texture this adds a sense of depth, the line created by the horizon gives a feeling of calm.
When photographing try and include as many compositional elements as you can to create an engaging photograph.
Using patterns in your photographs help create rhythm. Patterns appear everywhere in nature, try and photograph a pattern that has a repeated shape as in the image below of lines in the dunes, these repeated patterns will add rhythm that the viewer will easily follow. In this image, I used a low angle of view and tilted the wide angle lens to create diagonal lines and exaggerated the stormy sky which adds mood.
Framing your subject is a very nice way to lead the viewers to your subject, in wildlife especially with adults and young, the young will always try and shelter underneath the parents for protection, giving us opportunities to use the adults as frames as we focus on the young.
Depth of field is another useful aid to isolate your subject from a distracting background. I love to use DOF with the rule of rhythm, finding similar subjects as in the image below of the baby zebra, I focused wide open on the foals eye creating a pleasing blur of the stripes in the foreground, which form a pattern and sense of rhythm.
The Rule of Odds is not a well-known rule of composition and one that I struggle to accomplish in my wildlife photography. The theory behind the rule of odds is that the viewer’s eyes are drawn to photographs with odd numbers, and within the odd numbers the eye will be drawn to the subject in the center. It sounds easy enough, but in practice it’s not so, or at least for me.
I have only managed to capture one photograph that I am happy with, the lion and zebra image below, for balance I have cropped the image to square with the horizon in the middle. The three subjects, the two zebras and lion accomplish not just the rule of odds, but the rule of balance and symmetry too. The dust gives a sense of action and movement and creates a mood within the image.
Color theory is an essential part of a successful color image, as I tend to favor black and white photos over color images, this something that I want to learn about in more depth. What is color theory? You are using specific colors in a way that are harmonious. My favorite one I love to use for wildlife photography is using complementary colors — shades of cool blues and warm/orange tones, which are opposite on the color wheel.
I have briefly explained some of my favorite rules of composition which will help you in the “Art Of Seeing.” But the most critical part of creating or crafting a compelling photograph is your vision — that is what is going to separate your portfolio from somebody else. We can all learn to know and understand the rules of compositions. But how can you create that unique vision, the “x” factor, in your work? The only person that can do this is you!
Every time you look or scroll through your images, be your own harshest critic. I have heard photographers say they are unable to choose their best photo. If you are not able to recognize your best image, how are you going to know an excellent compositional photograph in the field?
Be selective in what you photograph. Do not shoot for the sake of shooting. A feeling should overcome you, an inner voice shouting at you. Then ask yourself what is it that draws to you this scene? How can you successfully capture this feeling? What kind of mood or emotion do you want to create in this photograph? Then shoot the subject from every angle possible, use different focal lengths, different shutter speeds, and remember to check your frame, what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in.
There is nothing as frustrating getting home, downloading your images, and wishing that you had shot the subject with a different lens, aperture, or angle. Cover all the bases when you come across a subject that connects with you. And remember to try and convey that connection, mood or feeling as you edit the image. Your images must connect on an emotional level with the viewer.
When I photograph it is a balance between my mind and heart; my brain looks after the technicals while my heart looks after the emotion within the photograph. Too much of one will leave an emotionless image or a poorly executed image. To sum up, I think the words from one of my favorite songs, “Reverence” by Faithless:
“You don’t need eyes to see… you need vision.”
About the author: Peter Delaney is an award-winning wildlife, architecture, and landscape photographer based in George, South Africa. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, fine art site, Facebook, Twitter, 500px, and Instagram. This article was also published here.