Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of woman holding a goose

By filling the frame with one person I am able to show emotion.

October 2011

Hunting for outdoor photo hints

Composition comes into play in the field.

Photos and story by Branden Kerr

With a booming digital age, more hikers, hunters and outdoorsmen and women are finding themselves with cameras in hand while in the field. This photo influx is great for creating memories, but more is not always better and many amateur photographers are inundating their friends and the Internet with less than appealing photographs. Here, we share advice for how you can improve your photographs and keep them above the riffraff by using good composition.

What is composition? Webster's defines composition as "the act or process of combining things to form a whole." In photography, composition can most readily be described as selecting and arranging a subject within a frame while using the available space most efficiently. With that in mind, let's take a look at some quick tips that will really help your photos stand out.

The rule of thirds

The basic axiom behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds by overlaying a grid of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines that result in nine equal parts.

By creating this grid in your mind you accomplish two things. First, you have identified four intersections within a photograph in which to consider placing points of interest. Second, you now have four lines along which you can also consider positioning other photo elements.

The premise here is that by placing your focal points at the intersections, or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced, enabling your audience to interact with it in a more natural way. Many studies have shown that viewers most naturally are attracted to the intersections in a photograph rather than the center of a shot. By using the rule of thirds, we are working with nature rather than against it.

A similarly good technique is to place the horizon lines of a landscape shot along one of the horizontal lines in your frame.

In practice, the most important questions to ask about the rule of thirds are:

What are my most important focal points?

Where am I intentionally placing these focal points within this shot?

Fill the frame

While it is possible to use empty space in a photograph to achieve some stunning results, you are much more likely to receive praise by filling your shots with interest.

Below are two examples of photographs I took recently at a goose banding event. The photo to the left shows people rounding up geese, which puts the situation in context. But what you can't see is what emotions are circulating within the group. The photo to the right focuses in on one person who has caught a goose. By filling the frame with one person I am able to show emotion. She is smiling. The viewer can see her holding one of the geese – telling the story.

Photo of geese roundup

Photo of woman holding a goose

To fill your frame, try one of these options:

  1. Optical zoom – Use the built-in zoom lens on your point and shoot or change to a more powerful lens if you have one.
  2. Use your legs – Don't forget about using your body. More often than not you can fill your frame by taking a few steps closer to your subject rather than zooming in.
  3. Crop your shots – For me, this option is more of a last resort. Cropping an image can trim it down to the proper size; however, you run the risk of pixelating your shot by doing so. Always try and go with options one or two first.

Now get out there

Now that you're armed with some fresh ideas it's time to put them to work. Always be on the lookout for new angles. Photography is one of those "sports" that requires practice, practice and more practice. Get snapping. Be bold. Be daring. Most important – BE CREATIVE!

Happy shooting.

Branden Kerr is an editorial intern with Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.