"Just a little to the right"

Published: 02/18/2020

I was recently talking to my good friend Michael Roberson about getting the little details "right" in wildlife photography (I put right in quotes since art is subjective...but you know what I mean). I mentioned how often taking a small step to the right or left makes a totally different image. He asked if I really meant just a couple inches or if that was more of an exaggeration. I actually really did mean just a couple of inches and dove into my files to see if I had any good examples of such a micro adjustment. I found a Drongo file taken in Kruger National Park this summer that highlighted a minor tweak like this perfectly.

My girlfriend and I were driving along when we spotted this Drongo in decent light on a nice perch with a distant background. We pulled over and I grabbed a couple of images before checking out the LCD for exposure and composition. I liked the image but felt like the background was just a little 'off'. It was busy and had a clearly out of focus stick in the background cutting into the perch, as shown below (image just resized for web, but otherwise is full frame and as shot).

Untitled photo

I also didn't love the foliage in the upper right hand corner. Looking at the scene I realized a couple inches to the right provided a much cleaner background. Asking my girlfriend to just reverse ever so slightly, I was left with a near identical composition, but a much different background, as shown below (again, full frame image just resized).

Untitled photo

Here there is no distracting out of focus stick and no foliage in the right hand corner. Notably however, the light angle didn't change at all. In both images I'm slightly off, but not in a significantly meaningful way and I was able to get detail on both sides of the bird. I added a "Before" and "After" slider below. When you toggle back and forth you can see the far left flower (yellow bit in the lower left hand corner) on the "After" image is the same as one of the middle ones in the "Before" image -- aka this really was just a matter of inches to the right, especially when you factor in this was taken with a super-telephoto. Both images were made with the same active focus point at 1/1250 f/6.3 and ISO 1,600.

I opted for the image taken slightly to the right -- it's just a bit cleaner, less distracting, and while I miss some of the yellows in the flowers, I love the simple green and blue background. A slight crop from the righthand side and you have the final image below. Click larger for more detail.

Once you start "working" a subject and exploring these types of micro adjustments you'll notice how small elements can make 1) a big difference in the final presentation of the image and 2) a lot less work for you behind the computer. I could have cleaned up the busier elements in the "Before" image, but it's a whole lot easier to just take a step to the side, or in the case of Kruger, ask your (very accommodating :)) driver to reverse a little.

  • Michael Roberson

    on March 4, 2020

    Dude, this is incredible. Great illustration of what we were talking about. Thanks for sharing it :)