Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 4, 2009

Composition Comparison

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 11:09 am
Canada Goose, brown background

Canada Goose, brown background

Canada Goose, blue background

Canada Goose, blue background

Same subject, same place, same basic composition. But much different results. Both of these Head Shots of Canada Goose were taken at my usual hangout, the Water Ranch preserve in Gilbert, AZ, using my Nikon D200 with AF-S 300/2.8 lens and TC20E 2x converter using natural light only. Although both are acceptable results I much prefer the second image with the blue water background.

The top image (with the brown mud background) was taken on 2/15/09 in the afternoon under cloudy skies, at ISO 320, 1/200th second at f/10. This sky gave me lower contrast light, and that allowed me to show more detail in the black feathers on the neck without the shadows blocking up on the black feathers. It also kept the bill from burning out with a sunlit highlight. Flat light like this is typically a problem for water as it reflects as a dull gray, so I composed against the browns instead, which were far enough away to show essentially featureless. By composing tightly on the head I’ve minimized the amount of brown here: although I usually like browns and tans I find this particular shade less attractive.

The second image (with the blue water background) was taken on 3/14/09 in the morning under sunny skies, at ISO 200. 1/160th second at f/13. The light is crisper, and it brings out more texture in the feathers and makes the image look sharper. To keep the whites on the face from going to bright I’ve had to allow the shadows in the black feathers to go almost solid black – it is generally better to protect the white tones and sacrifice the black tones in any image. I don’t mind the small highlights on the bill going completely white – these are essentially specular highlights and give the image life. The nice blue background has a subtle texture of lighter bands of blue from the ripples on the water that I like as they add some interest and depth to the image without distracting from the main subject. With this background the smaller scale for the main subject works, allowing me to show more of the interesting curve of the neck. I’ve placed the subject approximately at the “1/3rd power point” with space in front of the goose, even though this puts the neck rather close to the left edge of the frame.

I won’t pretend that I thought all of this out in the field as I took these images as that is not the way I work. I expect a lot of this thinking goes on below the surface but basically I just compose by “feel” and shoot when I’m happy with what I’m seeing. But there’s value in a critical review of the images that you take after the fact as it will help you understand what you were reacting to at the time and why (or why not) something works.

“People don’t watch enough. They think. It’s not the same thing.”  – Henri Cartier-Bresson

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