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Outdoor Photography Tips 50 - Right Left Up Down - Subject placement?

Time in the field has been spent, and it is now the moment that the image gets processed. I recently shared some of my images to an online forum. People were clicking the like button and some made a few generous comments. But I was most intrigued by the correspondence from viewers with questions about why I often did something to a specific image. What was this thing I did? It had to do with the composition. I am going to include a couple of captures for your examination. They all share something in common. So here are the first three images.

Photo 1

Double-crested cormorant

Photo 2

Day Gecko

Photo 3

California Poppy

Can you tell what was done during post processing and/or during the capture? If you said that the subject in all three examples is in the center, you would be correct. And this is why I seldom place the subject in the center when presenting the final processed image.

Many naturally place the subject in the middle of their photographs. It is usually where the auto focus square is when you look through the viewfinder during shooting. But sometimes that isn’t necessarily what creates the best shot. The following examples illustrate that including the background colors and mood can enhance the photograph. Not because the subject is the whole photo, but because the total lighting in the scene adds an interesting contrast to the subject. When observing the subject, the relationship with the background caused it to stand out for me, not just seeing the animal. Sometimes interesting contrasts present themselves as a colorful sky, but many moments have been made available to me because I moved my position enough so that the background foliage enhanced the subject.

Cedar Waxwing and Mulberries

Another reason I choose to off-center subjects is that the habitat and surrounding supporting members in the environment play an important role in the final product. I can introduce other players on the set to make the interaction more self-explanatory. They provide a significant anchoring point for the viewer and a context for the location of the subject. If I were to place a photo of a deer jumping over a fallen log, it might be a very nice image. But if I hadn’t cut off the mountain lion chasing it, it would have been a much better shot. Here are some examples of adding other components.

California Quail

Another reason for leaving space in the final image is that there might be a need for the empty space at a later date. Below you can see that the final image of the dragonfly was used for an instructional presentation. Where would the lettering have gone if it was just a shot of the dragonfly?

Here is a small add-on. Just shifting your subject to the right or left side of the viewfinder before exposure doesn’t always work unless you have been observing your subject, and also how that subject works with the background. If the subject is looking to the right, often times you do not want the subject located on the right side of the framing. This causes the viewer to view all the empty space on the left side as lost image and often more of a distraction, rather than an addition, to the other elements.

Wood duck

Deliberately placing particular subjects and elements in a specific location in the frame before capture requires patience. Sometimes you will be stuck with the subject and the background in direct conflict. In these cases you can still capture them and decide at a later date whether or not the image can be salvaged.

So here is my piece of advice while shooting in the field:

1. Try to be aware of the location of your subject within the confines of the frame.

2. Be aware of the surrounding elements that may add to the final image.

3. Always watch your backgrounds and how they are playing with the foreground.

Well, for those of you who sent me queries as to why I place the subjects in different spots in the frame, it is based upon what I find interesting in the scene I am about to capture. Interacting elements are all part of the story you are telling. It is not always about, “Here is the bird." or "Here is the Flower.” Many times it is more than that.

So go out and try looking at your subjects within the context that they are a part of the picture, and not the whole story. And as always, Happy Shooting.

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