5 Travel Photography Tips For Great Composition

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Outlined below are five secrets for creating a great composition in a photo, which is particularly useful for taking shots of wildlife and nature when you are traveling.

1. Read it like a book

We are taught from an early age that in order to read we move our eyes from left to right in order for the words and sentences to make sense. When something is learnt at such a tender time in our lives, it becomes second nature.

Elephant 01

Because our brains are programmed in this way, we tend to use this habit in most things we do. This is the same when looking at a picture, the human brain will automatically ‘read’ the image from left to right. Bearing this in mind, one can compose an image in a way that keeps the ‘reader’ fascinated throughout your ‘story’.

In this image, the darker leaves on the left and the cheetah on the right, seem to draw your eyes through the negative space. Photographed by Kate Neill

In this image, the darker leaves on the left and the cheetah on the right, seem to draw your eyes through the negative space. I invite you to practice this tip by flipping your pictures and seeing which image you like better! Photographed by Kate Neill

Tamboti-Cubs-playing-2

Another wonderful example of leading the viewers eye from left to right. Photographed by Talley Smith

2. Intention

Pay attention to what you are wanting to portray in the image. This can be done well by using your point of view. ie if you are wanting to make your subject look insignificant or powerful you would be shooting either above or below them. Another way of portraying this would be to fill your frame with your subject to give it more importance or to shoot a larger depth of field to make it smaller in comparison to something else in the frame. Shoot vertically to enhance tall objects or to emphasise height and shoot horizontally to emphasise width.

To give this bull elephant the respect that he deserves and to portray the incredible power, I decided to make this a portrait shot and try and get the lowest angle possible. Do you think it works? Photographed by Kate Neill

To give this bull elephant the respect that he deserves and to portray the incredible power, I decided to make this a portrait shot and try and get the lowest angle possible. Do you think it works? Photographed by Kate Neill

Tsalala pride looking after their tiny little cubs. Mike has portrayed this protection beautifully in this shot with having only the nose of the female which is the size of the cubs head in the shot. It is incredibly subtly done.

Tsalala pride looking after their tiny little cubs. Mike has portrayed the protection beautifully in this shot with having only the nose of the female which is the size of the cubs head in the shot. It is incredibly subtly done.

3. An Odd Number of Subjects

This tip is known as the ‘odd rule’ and is especially true in wildlife photography.  The “Odd Rule” basically suggests that a composition with an odd number of subjects works far better than one with an even number. There is no steadfast reason for why this would make a better compostion but my guess is that it has to do with the balance, which is also needed for an image to have a better feel to it. An example would be when you are photographing a herd of impala, for arguments sake, try and experiment with taking photographs of even and odd numbers of them and figure out which image ‘sits’ better with you.

Crested francolins joust in the morning light, most likely vying for the attentions of a female.

Crested francolins joust in the morning light, most likely vying for the attentions of a female. Photographed by James Tyrrell

The paw of one of the Sparta Pride sub-adults. They were so bloated with wildebeest meat on this morning that I have seldom seen mor uncomfortable looking lions!

The ‘rule of odd’ often occurs naturally and is seen on the paw of this Sparta female. Photographed by James Tyrrell

A crash of White Rhino drink at Circuit Pan.

A crash of White Rhino drink at Circuit Pan. Photographed by James Tyrrell

4. Crop with Care

Keep an eye on what is being excluded, including less is not always beneficial, try and tell a story and leave out things that dont add to that. Decide what story you are trying to tell and use the subjects available in order to do that. Bear in mind that you can always crop slightly in the editing process and that sometimes an image works best when there is more context shown, than less…

The fact that one of these white-fronted bee-eater’s wings has been clipped, even if it is only a single primary feather, has entirely ruined what would have been quite a nice shot! A way to compensate for this is to just zoom out a little bit more when composing your photo. If you want the subject to fill the frame more, you can always digitally crop the image later.

This photograph is pleasing to the eye and technically has all the elements is need, the light is amazing, the water droplets have been captured beautifully although when I look at it I am not enthralled by it.

Elephant 01

Whereas when looking at this image, I am drawn in, there is a story here. This herd have walked long and far to find this water, the bare trees in the background give me the impression that the bush is dry. It has been a hot day and the sun is now setting over the lowveld which gives the beautiful orange colour to the image and they will soon move off from this water hole to scour food for the evening.

5. Guide the Viewer

Use leading lines to guide the viewer’s eye where you want it to go or to create an impression. Curves in a road, for example, can create an understanding for the viewer as to where the subject is going to or has come from.  These lines can be made up from just about anything you see through your viewfinder: the curve of an animal, branches from a tree or an unusual shape on the horizon.  See below for a couple of examples…

The pack of wild dogs runs down the road away from the upset breeding herd. Later that afternoon, they would find and unsuccessfully hunt an impala ewe - Rich Laburn

This picture photographed by Rich Laburn expresses this in the perfect manner. We know  In this instance, the pack of wild dogs runs down the road away from the upset breeding herd, and even without knowing this, we get the impression that they are fleeing from something and disappearing into the distance.

The Tamboti Female - Rich Laburn

The back of the Tamboti female’s neck, creates a natural curve which leads your eye onto her chest and across the photograph to her eye. – Rich Laburn

What other composition secrets would you add to this blog?  Please leave your thoughts and comments in the section below…

Written by Kate Neill

Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
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