Aim down the middle for a change
When I present photography courses, my students often ask: “My subject should be on the side, not in the middle, right?”. “Well, it depends,” I always answer.
IS IT LOOKING AT YOU OR NOT?
Take a look at this beast of a leopard I photographed in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. An animal that looks sideways like this should ideally be placed closer to one side of the frame, rather than right in the middle like Grant’s wild dog pup. Try to leave less space behind its back and more in front of it to create a sense of balance and to prevent the animal from seeming “cramped” on the side that it’s looking towards. The last thing you want is to waste space behind it and to make it seem like it’s “looking out of the shot”. Despite the presence of distinct lines in the photo, I applied the Rule of Thirds by placing the leopard’s head where two thirds lines cross. Grant’s wild dog, however, looked straight at the camera. By placing its head right in the middle he was able to create a stunning impact shot. The catch light in the youngster’s eyes, together with the patterns and texture of the leaves, makes it even more striking.
So the general rule is: If your subject looks to the side, leave slightly more space in the direction that it’s looking, but when it turns to face you head on, consider placing it in the middle for maximum impact.
IT’S NOT EITHER-OR, BUT BOTH-AND
In some instances you can place your subject in the middle and still apply the Rule of Thirds – the two compositional techniques certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. Take this photo of another male leopard as an example. Because it walked straight towards me, I placed it dead centre in the image, but I made sure that the lines that were formed by the twotrack were placed more or less on the two vertical thirds lines. This way, I was able to combine the balance and structure gained from the Rule of Thirds with the impact of having the animal right in the middle.
To draw more attention to the wild dog’s face, I would do two things to Grant’s image in post processing (I use Adobe Lightroom): I would increase the Shadows slider value slightly to see more detail on its face, and I would decrease the Post-Cropping Vignetting amount slightly to darken the bright edges of the photo.
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