Photographer Jim Zuckerman talks about ways to compose landscape images that include animals in the final article of his fifteen-part series on landscape photography.
Jim Zuckerman's images and articles on photography have been featured in hundreds of publications, and he has taught at many institutions, as well as through his own workshops. He is the author of 22 books on photography. To learn more about his work and subscribe to his emagazine, visit his website.
Photographs © 2009, Jim Zuckerman. All rights reserved.
This collection of articles is devoted to landscape photography, not wildlife, but I thought it was important to mention including animals in your landscapes. It is undeniable that an animal gives a very dynamic focal point as well as adds a lot of excitement to a landscape. Wildlife photographers love capturing intimate close-ups of their subjects, but there is a lot to be said for showing the entire environment that includes one or more animals. For example, the landscape I photographed in Kenya (figure 15.1), was very pretty without the giraffe. The lighting was good and the graphic design of the trees worked out very nicely. However, I feel this image is a lot more exciting because the giraffe was there. It adds a dynamic point of focus.
Just as you have to consider the artistic graphic nature of trees, flowers, rock formations, etc. when you shoot landscapes, you also have to think about the graphic design of the animal and how it fits into your scene. In the case of the photograph of the giraffe, the extension of the neck and the side profile of the animal make a striking subject. If an animal is angled to the camera in such a way that the profile isn’t seen clearly or an important feature on the animal is obscured, the picture won’t work. It is just like if a tree has grown so its graphic design is messy, confusing, or unattractive due to a mass of branches. Look at the photograph of the silhouetted rearing horse (figure 15.2). This is a digital composite, but if the horse hadn’t extended its legs in an artistic way the moment I snapped the shutter, this wouldn’t have worked at all. I had to take many images of the horse until I was happy with the graphic design of its form.
When the animal fills a predominant part of the frame, then the picture is only about the animal itself. Figure 15.3 illustrates this. Even though we see some of the landscape, it’s largely out of focus and serves only to focus our attention on the giraffe. In the wild, it’s often difficult to get close enough to wildlife to fill the frame. Instead, reorient your thinking to include the landscape like I did in figure 15.4. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, because many of my favorite wildlife pictures include a beautiful environment as well. Many of my shots from Africa, for instance, show the environment. If I want ultra-tight close-ups, I can go to the zoo. Many photographers shoot bears fishing for salmon in Alaska, and I’ve noticed that the goal is to do head shots. You can see in figure 15.5 that I included the entire falls as well as the family of bears. Tight shots are great, but too often the environment pictures are overlooked.
If the landscape is especially beautiful, an animal in the scene is exciting to see and photograph, especially if it works compositionally. Several years ago I was photographing the geysers in Yellowstone National Park from cross-country skis, and I came across an elk warming himself in the geysers. In figure 15.6 you can see that the landscape itself is dynamic and exciting to shoot, but with the additional graphic element of the elk the photograph is even better. Winter is a great time to photograph in Yellowstone because bison and elk are everywhere.
Sometimes there are so many animals or birds that the landscape is composed of thousands of individuals and the animals themselves become the landscape. In South Africa, for example, I photographed a huge colony of gannets (figure 15.7), and you can see that birds cover the ground. I used a wide-angle lens here just as I would for a landscape photograph in which I wanted to create perspective, depth, and drama. I placed the camera as close as I possibly could to the birds to get that dominant foreground and a unique sense of depth.
Read the full series:
- Shooting at Sunrise and Sunset
- Dominant Foregrounds
- Mid-Day Lighting
- Shooting into the Sun
- Black and White
- Aerial Perspectives
- The Human Element
- Overcast Weather
- White Balance
- Depth of Field
- Shooting Snow