You can improve your nature photography composition by starting with ugly subject! What, I know what you're thinking. Why would you want to photograph an unattractive nature subject.
The photo above was taken during a weeklong photo excursion to coastal Maine. It's a photographer's paradise in terms of subject matter and it's easy to just start clicking away without putting a little thought into creating your image. I wanted to succeed at making a good square composition to use for a post on Instagram. I composed this image using several different slight variations and came up with this one as being balanced, while still including the sunrise, the ocean, the waves, and the rocks.
And now for the flipside. I included the unusual nature photo below in this article on nature photography for a reason. I am guessing that you would agree it's not what you'd call a great nature photograph. I agree.
It's so common to see beautiful subjects used as examples in articles on photography composition. It's easy to be misled to thinking that finding great subjects is the only key to great photography.
Practice good technique in all the photographs you take. You can challenge yourself by photographing ordinary or unattractive objects in an interesting way.
Here's a similar subject with a curved shape that I attempted to photograph in an interesting way. Take a look at the composition I chose and try to ignore the subject matter itself. It's hard to do, but give it a try. Is it balanced? Does it use the rule of thirds or have any leading lines?
Try using a few digital photography tips with not so beautiful subjects first. This practice will automatically make all of your photographs a bit better.
Let's look at this photo of the fallen log, taken at White Clay Creek State Park in the state of Delaware. Photography composition rules used:
I'm not sure if this is an attractive nature photo or not. Being a Nature Nerd I was fascinated by two things about this log. The almost finger like root system at the bottom of this log surrounded by the grassy vegetation. It almost resembled a hand grabbing a wad of green steel wool.
Secondly, the split in the trunk was shaped as if purposefully done to transform itself into a canoe for floating down the White Clay Creek. So, we accomplished a good composition, even though the subject was perhaps not so usual.
The two photos above of the information center on the Tri-Valley Trail in Delaware show the importance of choosing the right perspective. The photo on the left is composed better than the photo on the right. On the left I had a more distant perspective, which included the path of the nature Tri-Valley nature trail coming in from the right and curving toward the bridge in the distance.
On the right I was closer to the information board and used a very wide-angle lens setting. This made the bridge too small in the distance. It also made the information center too dominant in the photo and included less of the surrounding beautiful nature area.
When you are practicing your nature photography composition techniques, remember to try a few different perspectives to change what is emphasized in your photos.
Using the right perspective includes picking the right camera format, vertical or horizontal.
In this view of the White Clay Creek from the Tri-Valley bridge, I captured the reflection of the sky in the water. This vertical format included a large area of water and the reflection of the white overcast sky.
This area of water and reflection dominates the photo and really isn't interesting enough to dedicate to 2/3 of the area in the photo.Look what happened when I turned my camera to a horizontal position and moved to the side of the bridge.
Not an award winner, but a whole lot better composition than the vertical.
Now I have more balance between the water and the foliage. The rule of thirds in photography works here quite well.
Also, the diagonal, leading lines work much better here as well. Generally I don't consciously think about these nature photography composition tips as I shoot, because they've become second nature (no pun intended) to me.
Digital photography has given us the freedom to experiment with different perspectives, angles, and compositions with no worries of wasting film or processing and printing costs. So practice these tips on taking digital photography as often as you can and discover what works and what doesn't.
As you gain more experience in experimenting with different photography compositions, you'll discover when to follow and when to break some of the rules of composition. I just added these Fall foliage nature photographs below:
Occasionally you can also abandon composition rules and compose the photo based on a feeling of what looks good. Nature supplies us with an infinite source of color patterns, textures and shapes to shoot "outside the box" and not use specific photography composition techniques.
I am a nature geek and I enjoy photography of abstract color patterns. This nature photo of the intermingled red, yellow and green leaves does not really follow any composition rules like the rule of thirds or using diagonal lines.
I just enjoy the variety of natural bouquets that Mother Nature produces each fall here in the Northeast USA. I hope you enjoyed this article and picked least a few nature photography composition tips.
How'd you like to learn from a nature photography master of composition? Ian Plant is one of the photographers that I listed in my top 10 nature photographers post. Here's an educational video where Ian shares some of the secrets of great composition in some of his spectacular images of the natural world. I'm sure you'll enjoy watching it.
Keep shooting. Keep learning. Keep improving.