By Gayle Beveridge-Marien
The Art of Birding, Wildlife and Nature monthly project for February was to present a portrait rather than just a snap of a chosen critter; to make the critter the hero of the image. The project was supported by weekly sparks, or challenges, to guide participants in aspects of photographing critters, including composition, point of view, context, and behaviour.
Week 6: Composition
Participants were challenged to photograph their chosen critter using the rule of thirds, framing, or leading lines composition techniques. Jan Robinson’s image of an orb spider in her garden hit the composition jackpot. The silky orb frames the spider, in pride of place in the web, with all lines, the spokes, leading to her. The image is also a wonderful example of capturing patterns in a composition. The viewer’s eye is drawn by the harmony and symmetry of the weave and the decrease in the density of that pattern around the spider. The contrast of the red and brown spider against the black background adds to the flawless composition to provide a genuinely pleasing image. Jan says of her image, “I just love the way the lines of the web make the spider the focal point.”
Week 7: Point of View—Eye Level
Photographing a critter at eye level creates a powerful and more personal photo. It helps connect the viewer with the critter, putting them in the critter’s world. Paula Vigus met the brief with her image of this Crested Grebe and its piggy-backing chick. Paula says, she “spent an hour quietly sitting on the beach at Lake Wanaka watching this family of Southern Crested Grebes in order to capture the image.” The viewer is caught in the wary and curious stares of the birds.
Helen Smith’s photo, Ladybird in Red, not only places the viewer at eye level with the insect; it shows the impact of the complimentary colours, red and green. The sweep of the flower offers a leading line to the subject and the narrow depth of field results in framing the ladybird framed with a soft bokeh. Helen has focus-stacked four images to achieve this result. Helen says, “I like the red on red and had been trying to get a red ladybird for a while, (we have lots of green ones but not many red ones.)”
Week 8: Critter in the Landscape
We challenged participants to photograph their chosen critter in the landscape to give it context in its natural environment. The trick was to compose the photo, so it was not the landscape, but the critter that was the hero of the image. Tony Morton’s, Koala and Joey on Kangaroo Island, did just that.
Tony said, “after being told of the devastation of the habitat from the 2019 bushfires that swept through the area we did not expect to see much wildlife but we spotted two from the tour coach as we travelled around, and were lucky enough to be able to stop and get the photos.”
Photographing koalas amongst the clutter of their treetop homes is no simple task. Tony’s image gives us a clear view of the animals. They are undoubtedly the subjects, but the background of tree branches and leaves provides the viewer with an understanding of their natural environment.
Week 9: Critter in Action
Understanding how critters behave, what they do and when, is a key factor in successful wildlife photography. Participants photographed critters flying, fighting, preening, hunting, foraging, and feeding. It was Kathy Lebron, who stepped out of the box, with her image, Barred Owl Flyaway. Kathy photographed the owl from behind. In doing so she presented an excellent view of the positioning of the wing, tail and feet in flight, and of the owl’s markings and furry legs. The blurring at the wing tips adds to the sense of movement. The beautiful background bokeh softens the overall image while contrasting the drama of flight. Katy says, “I love seeing the detail of this beautiful bird from another angle!”
February Project: Wildlife or pet Portrait
Participants rose to the challenge, and choosing an image to feature was not easy. Would it be the chimpanzee with its intense gaze, the photo art of the iconic osprey, the blue-eyed cormorant, the curly-haired white dog on his morning walk, or the whiskered face of the New Zealand fur seal? All were wonderful images, but I chose Alison Zinsli’s, Samoyed in Black and White, for its tones and textures, lighting and definition. Light sparkles in the dog’s eyes and glints off its fur. As I look at the image, I can almost feel the softness of that fur. Alison says, “My daughter’s beautiful Samoyed is always a pleasure to photograph.”
Thanks to everyone who took part in the February Challenge. In March we are exploring black and white photography of the natural world. It’s not too late to join us in the Art of Birding, Wildlife and Nature Art and Photography Community. https://www.artbyjlm.com/joinaob
The voluntary challenges are suitable for all ages, abilities, and gear. All you need is a camera or a mobile phone and some enthusiasm.