There are enough constraints to photographing wildlife without obsessively worrying about following the rules of photographic composition. There I said it!
Wildlife is fast-moving and not always where you might want it. Sometimes, just getting an image is the prize, let alone the perfect image.
When I have the camera in position, I’m not THINKING about good composition, but rather to what feels right to me when I’m photographing. I’m not thinking about what rule to follow, I’m thinking about the feeling of the scene or the story the image needs to convey. Having learned the rules of composition in three distinctive fields of design and creativity, it is important to have learned them, don’t get me wrong.
Many creative people are taught the rules of composition, but what happens is those rules in photography, they dictate the way to shoot, where you end up losing the ability to be instinctive. It happens in art as well. Instinct is important too.
Some pros say, shoot in the way you are most passionate. Rules while necessary to know, can ruin that passion if they become what the photographer is striving to always achieve. The image is about the subject, not the rules.
If a subject lands in the middle of the image and is a stunning capture from that position, then that is right for that subject. If a subject turns its back to the camera, that can be opportunity, not just an image to toss.
The photos likely might be good because of the rules, but may be boring images as a result. I learned it is best to do what it takes to get the strongest work, not just follow the rules because they are what I was taught. If a photograph pulls in the viewer, that is a powerful image. They are experiencing the moment, getting what the photographer wants them to see and feel.
Some images have a story, and others can have impact. So what if a few rules are broken? I have to admit, I had knowledgeable and creative teachers through the years. My photography professor in University was a nasty woman, but at least she pushed us to go beyond the rules or use them to our creative advantage. She made an impression on me to as how I still shoot and feel today.
I know what rule is broken in every one of my images as a result, and I know when a juried image is going to get negative remarks after many years of studio critique. If I could set up these shots for a studio shoot like I did in college, then I would be a lot more careful on how I approach the composition.
Rules are a starting point, not necessarily what you want to be the focus of the picture. The goal is, learn how to make a good photograph, then work to make it better. When someone says, “Wow, that’s really sharp, or technically on target,” that’s not a powerful image, it’s just a good photograph. It can even be good, but boring.
Composition is as much about which moment you choose as it is about where you place that moment in the frame.
The subjects are mostly centered in this image above, a bit lower in the frame than vertical center, but it’s the gesture the drake is making that provides the energy and the sense of story. It is a great moment when a docile duck goes on the warpath.
This moment trumps all the various compositions I can come up with because a great moment is at the heart of telling a story. The low perspective and all that white snow and vignetting helps direct the viewer to the subject, but it’s the reaction of the upset drake that makes this set of images.