Welcome to the eighth in a 12 part series about how to improve your nature photography.
Step #8 – Move beyond the pretty image.
Nature photography is full of pretty images. Everywhere you look you see beautiful scenery, stunning plumage, and colorful sunsets. Pretty images are the norm and if you want you images to stand out, they need to move beyond the pretty picture.
Charles Glatzer (better known as Chas), a good friend and outstanding wildlife photographer once gave me a tip that changed my approach to photographing wildlife. His tip was simple. When photographing a subject, there are four specific images you want to capture as soon as possible. There images are: a horizontal image showing the animal in its habitat, a vertical image showing the animal in its habitat, a horizontal closeup image of the animal, and a vertical closeup image of the animal. These are the four basic images that you should try to capture with each subject. They should be technically perfect and show the subject in all of its glory.
Yet, many photographers stop there. Those first four picture make up the pretty pictures we are use to seeing. Too often, photographers spend all of their time with a subject recreating the same four basic shots. Chas’s advise is not to gab your four images and then pack your bags. After the four primary images have been captured, it is time to think outside the box and try to create something unique. Yes, you will fail. Many of your images will be awful and your finger will get lots of exercise pressing the delete key, yet every now and then the magic happens and a truly stunning image is created. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions about how one can move beyond the pretty picture.
Creative Angles – Play around with photographing the subject from a unique angle. Ask yourself how people usually see the subject and then do the opposite. Flowers are usually seen from eye level. Try looking up at them, or photograph them from a bird’s eye view.
Animalscapes – Show animals as part of the environment. As the photographer, we know what the habitat was like when we captured the subject, yet we often forget that the viewer has no idea what the area outside the frame looks like. Give them a sense of place, a context around which to understand the subject. This is often difficult to do. Including the habitat means more elements in the image so there are more things that can go wrong.
Pieces – Don’t show the entire subject, only include small pieces. This works best with clearly recognizable features of the animal, but it can also be used as a kind of mystery effect where the viewer is challenged with trying to identify what the subject is.
Relationships – Some of the most powerful images show interactions between two or more subjects. A mother feeding her young, a male lion with his pride, and a group of wide eyes babies huddled together all have the potential of pulling at the heart strings and showing us a rarely seen moment.
Interactions – Similar to relationships, interactions permit us access to experiences we rarely see.
Artistic – This is where we move beyond the subject and capture the image for its artistic elements.