Every animal has a distinct overall body geometry, but this shape will change dramatically as they move. When you are composing your images, it’s important to understand this concept so you are fitting your frame and composition to them, allowing them to be alive in your shot.
Time for full a disclosure, my name is Jason and I have a reddish egret addiction. They are just too much fun to photograph! They dance, they canopy, they give dramatic, elegant, and sometimes goofy poses. I have thousands of pictures of them, and I can’t stop myself from taking more. As they hunt, they will change their overall shape, from narrow and tall when facing you, to wide and fairly short when in profile doing a “canopy”.
Give your subject room to be alive
With highly active animals like this, our tendency is to just stick them in the middle of our frame, hold down the shutter button, and hope! But, you will vastly improve your chances of getting a great image of them if you remain flexible in your composition. Pay attention to their body language so you have an idea of how they will change posture to you, and change your orientation and framing quickly to the different poses they present you.
If they are moving, give them space to move into. Pay attention to their body position and language. If they are looking to the left, give them space in the frame on the left to look into. Giving your subjects space to be alive will make your photos come alive.
Crop don’t clip!
Anyone who has been on one of my workshops has heard me say this a million times (right along with “how’s your histogram look” and “now, where did I leave my coffee mug”…). Cropping is a conscious choice in your composition, it looks deliberate and adds to the image. A “clip” however, is an accident. For example, if you frame the image to include the full body of a wolf, but the edge of the image cuts off a toe, an ear, or a tail tip.
If showing only part of an animal be very careful and conscious on where you chose to “crop”, this will avoid crops that look like you made a mistake. This holds true for animals whose legs or other parts may be concealed by long grassses, water, etc. Subconsciously we know where those legs end even if we can’t see them, not including space for the legs to end can make your animal look amputated.
QUICK TIP: Leave your lens collar loose!
With wildlife, I am usually shooting off a monopod or tripod and using a lens like my Tamron 150-600mm that has a lens collar. Leave the lens collar just loose enough that you can instantly flip back and forth between portrait and landscape as the animal moves or as you come up with different composition ideas. After all, you want to make sure you get both the cover and the two page spread when your awesome shots get published!