Shoot to Thrill: Calling all photographers — time to join the ‘Border Patrol’

Almost any photographer will tell you, one of the keys to producing a good photo is a good composition. I could write pages on what makes a good composition, but what happens when you have carefully composed that glorious trophy shot, that beautiful landscape, only to discover when you look at the photo – hey, the hunter has tree growing out of his head and his to-go coffee cup is glaring at you from the deer’s hooves? Worse yet – your gorgeous landscape is ruined because there’s some crazy real estate sign edging in the bottom corner?

Gretchen n willie.jpg

Gretchen Steele with trusty companion, Willie the Wonder Dog!

Granted these things can be fixed in post processing, but that’s time consuming and tedious.  The remedy for that type of SNAFU?  Consider yourself BORDER PATROL!

Compose the image, remembering that our eyes see what we want to see. Hence, the failure to notice that pesky real estate sign. Our cameras see it all: Every last distraction in the frame.

Once you have composed the image, then become the stealthy border control agent; review the edges. Are there oddball pieces and parts of things lurking around them? (Good heavens, is that a foot sneaking into the edge of the frame next to that mushroom?) After you’ve run a good border patrol, check around the edges of the images. Scrutinize the subject. Is there a foxtail going straight up that poor dog’s nose? Might there be a giant oak growing out of the top of the successful deer hunter’s head? God forbid, do the waterfowlers have frozen snot on them? (Hey, it’s a reality of waterfowl hunting!)

It’s a bit like teaching a child to cross the road – look once, look twice, look again just because.

There are several ways to remedy the distractions when you see them and mutter to yourself – “OMG, that dog has foxtails growing out of his ears!”

  1. Change your position or the subject’s just slightly. By changing your angle of view, you can often remove the offending object to a spot in the image where it seems more appropriate – for instance; the oak tree that was growing out the hunter’s head is now acting as frame over the scene.  Changing your angle can also remove the offending distraction completely from the frame.
  2. Physically remove the distracting object.  Yes, walk yourself over and pick up that coffee cup, shell casing, shell box and/or Gatorade bottle.  This gets a little dicey when doing nature shots – especially tightly composed shots of plants and mushrooms. We want to disturb as little as possible, but I’ve always felt the outdoor photo Gods would not punish me for brushing leaves off, snapping a stray stem of honeysuckle, or neatening up the area around the plant, mushroom, snake, lizard … whatever it is that’s got me down there belly crawling.
  3. Change your aperture and in turn change the depth of field; by opening up your lens to a wider aperture,  the focus plane will narrow and you can often achieve having just the subject in sharp focus and that crummy background nicely blurred.
  4. Recognize that sometimes the methods above just aren’t possible, and carefully remove the distracting element in post processing.

Give it a try the next time you are composing a photo and save yourself the embarrassment of ending up with an image like this!


See why Gretchen says you need to be the ‘Border Patrol?’

Note the extremely poor composition, which resulted in it appearing this dog handler had a gun barrel in a less than pleasant location!

Follow Gretchen Steele at her blog, Walkin’ with the Wild Woman.

The Conversation

  • Stacey Huston says: January 27, 2012 at 10:16 am

    lol.. nice gun 🙂 Great tips and Great eye Gretchen.

  • Tammy says: January 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Gretchen, you’re my photo hero! Thanks for a great tip! Hopefully I’ll remember the image of the Border Patrol when I get ready to point and click.

  • Laura B. says: December 29, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Nice tips! I just got a Rebel T3, so I’ve been trying to read up on everything possible to help get good shots. Any more tips would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

  • Mia Anstine says: December 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Yay! Great tips Gretchen! I always hate it when I have a telephone pole sticking out the top of my hat. haha!