Big Mouth


A river horse (Hippopotamus amphibius – Shona: Mvuu; Ndebele: Mvubu) yawns while catching the last shards of light at Long Pool. During the early evening these beasts will stir and begin thinking about food, and the long trek to their favourite grazing spots. They travel up to 10 kilometres from water to feed and will consume as much as 70 kg in a night. This hippo is not actually yawning, it is threatening imposters taking its picture.
(Canon EOS 5D Mk III/ EF100-400mm IS II USM; 1/500 sec; f/5.6; ISO 320; 400mm)

Picture ©2016 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

A-Z of Photography

Golden Ratio is based on a natural phenomenon and exploited by ancient fine artists to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing composition of their works. The mathematician, Leonardo Bonacci introduced the Fibonacci sequence from which any two successive numbers in the sequence form a constant ratio, or the Golden Ratio which approximates to 1.618 or in basic terms a 5 x 8. The spiral created by squares measured in the decreasing Fibonacci sequence may be found in many aspects of nature, giving rise to the term divine ratio..

“I wanted to combine science and photography in a sensible, unemotional way. Some people’s ideas of scientific photography is just arty design, something pretty. That was not the idea. The idea was to interpret science sensibly, with good proportion, good balance and good lighting, so we could understand it.”

– Berenice Abbott

Composition: The Niggling Rules

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We frequently hear reference to the rule of thirds in our exploits with competitive photography, but rarely do we hear about the other rules of composition in the visual arts.  Rules denote the need for conformity, so perhaps we should refer to them as principles.  Some of these principles, which have evolved over centuries of art, are just as important as the thirds principle.  These rules or principles can be broken, of course, in your originative desires to creative images with impact, but for most of us, we mere mortal, leisure photographers, perhaps it may be useful to know the principles of composition before we break them.

Some say that one principle for success in the visual arts is to ‘keep it simple’ by eliminating clutter from the image, which generally distracts the eye.  This is so important, yet we all end up with some clutter in our images, as we first set out. Know what your subject is and take a photograph of the subject using appropriate techniques.  We all know, for example, that narrowing the depth of field (widening your aperture settings) will throw most clutter out of focus and place your subject in pin sharp prominence in the image.  Do not allow clutter to creep in from the side of your image, either in the background or the foreground, it will draw the eye away from the subject.

Close Call_August 2011
Rule of thirds applied but the chimney and roof on the right are ‘clutter’… nice diagonals give
perspective, curved lines of the craft perceive flow

Having said that, never forget the power of lines, actual or perceived by the viewer, which may attract ones eye to the subject.  A flower stem from the close proximity of an image corner provides a strong lead into the subject and, hopefully, a diagonal which is always pleasing.  Beware lines which do not lead into the subject nor compliment it, they tend to clutter.   Curved lines create flow and straight lines mood and perspective.  Prefer oblique lines to those which are perpendicular, horizontal or parallel.  The latter lines have their place, in say landscape or architectural work, but set them on the thirds, and never show water levels in the oblique!

As a bonsai enthusiast, one will learn one of the fundamentals of composition, geometry and asymmetry.  One learns that triangles are the most aesthetically pleasing shape to the eye and that parallels or symmetry both detract from the way nature intended… both have negative impact on your image.  Triangular formations in an image are powerful.  Square and circular formations are symmetrical.   Avoid symmetry, where you have an even number of subjects in an image, compose them asymmetrically within the frame.

This leads us onto the ‘rule of odds’, another cardinal principle which is just not pushed enough in amateur photography.  Frame your principal subject with an even number of background subjects or complements, making an odd number in total.  Thus, one flower as the principal subject should be accompanied by two or perhaps four other flowers or objects, say leaves.  A single flower alone fits the rule, but when framed by the other two items it may be perceived as being more pleasing to the eye.  Work in odd numbers and you cannot go too far wrong.

Fruit Glasses and Wine_September 2011
Odd number glasses, but even fruit and bottles… would a third bottle help?

The principle of space is so important in portraiture.  Never restrict the space into which your subject’s eyes are looking, which is why one encourages portrayed people (even animals) to look into or near the camera.  That opens up the space.  This principle applies equally to other forms of photography. It is so basic and gives a perception of movement in, for example, action photography… a jumping antelope should have space in front of it, a racing motorcycle must have somewhere to go in the image.  In design this is often referred to as white space.

So we come back to our notoriously repeated rule of thirds, for good reason.  It is probably the most profound of them all, since, in a very obvious way, the thirds principle actually opens you up to all the other rules.  All visual arts are subjective… your images are praised or decried in the eyes of the beholder.  Allowing your images to take on any natural proportions can only enhance them in the eyes of your critics or devotees and you would do well to understand the embedded rules that achieve this.

Mana Spare Ribs

Mana Spare Ribs_2011_09_12_2119_768x474px

The photographer simply loves this shot of a young lion (Panthera leo) nibbling on the rib cage of a buffalo, killed by the pride the night before. This scene is almost one of gluttony… the little fellow had a stomach bulging with buffalo meat and appears to have taken this position with the carcass to protect it from gathering scavengers.
(Canon 50D; f/8; 1/100sec; ISO-400; 105mm)

Picture ©2011 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

Digital Wildlife Photographic Tips

Be careful about zooming in too much with your composition in the field. Take a bit more of the background into the frame than perhaps your best composure suggests. This will provide you with a little more flexibility back in the studio for cropping to the perfectly composed image. Remember too, that by reducing the focal distance you may be capturing the image closer to the lens’ sweet spot, aperture depending (stopping down a couple of stops from the lens’ maximum aperture always provides for sharper images).

Elephants at the Pond

Elephants at the Pond_2013_10_07_0376_768x474px

What more can one say about this marvellous view of elephants (Loxodonta africana) enjoying a drink in the middle of the day. Wait patiently by a good water pan anywhere in southern Africa and you are likely to encounter these graceful beasts. What beholds the greater beauty: this or an ivory trinket sitting on your mantle-piece? It is a no brainer really. Interestingly, it is considered that elephants have more environmental impact that any other mammal besides man. They are renowned for their destruction of trees; the very source of their long term food supply, which in the past has resulted in ghastly ‘culling’ of this adorable beast.
(Canon EOS 7D; f/5.6; 1/750sec; ISO-320; 140mm)

Picture ©2013 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

Digital Wildlife Photographic Tips
There is a view that great nature photography composition should be kept as simple as possible and the subject of the image be well placed in the frame and be without other image ‘clutter’ detracting from the subject. Clearly, this is where a narrow depth of field will come into play. The bush is full of distracting clutter and it is difficult to change your viewing-point in a wildlife environment, so use a wider f-stop to blur out unwanted clutter. More importantly take several shots at different f-stops. Recompose frequently.

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Stuck in darkest Africa, lost in the wild and loving it! Don’t let me out of here…

Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio

If you struggle reading white on black…go here…

Most photographers may think immediately of the rule of thirds as their primary tool when composing their images. Some may suggest, however, that there is a more masterful tool for composing ones works, the Fibonacci Ratio, which is steeped in history and mathematical research.

Those who graduate from tutoring in photography will see a clear change in their work, from the snapshot scenario with subject slap, bang in the middles of their images to more aesthetic works which allow the subject to drift around the intersection of thirds or a power point. Enter Leonardo Fibonacci.

Fibonacci discovered that there was a ratio which was commonly found in nature, which was later referred to as the divine proportion or Phi. Apparently an attractive human face follows these proportions, and we see it subconsciously, recognising the perfection of the ratio in those we perceives as good looking.

Phi is considered so powerful that in today’s modern world large corporate organisations assume this ratio in much of their design work. Artists and architects have been using it for centuries. Some say much of Leonardo Da Vinci’s works were based on the Fibonacci ratio painstakingly applied, but let us not forget though Vitruvian Man based on squares and circles.

There is a concept called rabatment (also called rebatement) which states that in every rectangle there are two imaginary squares. The square is such a primal geometric, that the human brain apparently seeks these out in any image. Placing the subject on the inside edge of the square within the rectangle provide some comfort, provided, of course the rectangle ratio is not 2 : 1 (which would result in the two square intersections being in the middle. In a 3 : 2 sided rectangle (the size of old 35mm film) the rabatment lines are exactly on the intersection of thirds.


The power point determined on the left and a Phi matrix on the right

Its application in photography may be relevant. The golden ratio, as it is otherwise known, is based on a formula which will arrive at the factor 1 : 1.618 and will suggest that images should be sized about this ratio; and then, secondly, the subject should be oriented towards a golden spot or power point derived from ratio of rebatment intersections (both horizontal and vertical).

There is more. The diagonals, horizontals and verticals should fall on ratio intersections or at least be parallel to the intersection lines of the ratio. A few of the more popular photographic software programs incorporate these grids based on the golden ratio. So rather than using the intersection of thirds where your image is broken down into three equal areas horizontally and vertically, on a 1 : 1 : 1 (or 1 : 2) ratio that is, try a grid of 1 : 0.618 : 1 (or 1 : 1.618).

Applying the principle to an image… golden ratio power point determined and the resultant image

Confused? Do not be. To suggest that you might get a more pleasing picture from the more exacting Phi ratio, rather than the rule of thirds would be folly. Some suggest the rule of thirds was actually derived from this, being an easier approximation rather than the more finite ratio. Principally both ratios are doing one thing which does count, off center composition of the subject. Irrespective of the ratio used, both are more aesthetically pleasing than simply plopping the subject square in the middle.