By Dave Brosha

The longer you’re in photography, the more you train your eye to look for clean compositions and the more you think about what NOT to include in your images, rather than what to include. Most of us tend to include way too much in our images when we start photography, with no clear, concise point of interest of the subject.

A challenge you can give yourself in any situation – no matter what genre of photography you love shooting – is to ask, before pressing the shutter: What do I want to express with this image? Is it the emotion? The story? The contrast? Something specifically beautiful or powerful within the scene?

Once you’ve answered the question of “what” you find appealing, you’ll then find it easier to narrow down on that element and strip out the unnecessary.

After thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of images, you’ll find that this narrowing down becomes easier and easier, and eventually becomes instinct.

In this particular scene – a chinstrap penguin colony in Antarctica – I, like many who have experience penguin colonies, started my experience onshore feeling overwhelmed. Penguin colonies are massive, and such a powerful experience to take in. Photographically, they can be challenging, however. There’s just…so much going on. Hundreds, or thousands of penguins doing what penguins do. The noise, the sight…and yes, the smell….can truly bombard the senses.

I found that my first 30 minutes at most of the colonies we visited yielded very few images, and even fewer “keepers”. It would take me time to simply experience the scene…and then time to ask myself what is it that I saw that really spoke to me, or stood out to me. My initial compositions tended to be cluttered, but as the minutes passed and I took more and more in, the “simple” would eventually reveal itself to me. Maybe it was a lone penguin doing something different than the masses. Or a repetitive pattern that was visually appealing. Or, in this case, a beautiful scene of an adult penguin feeding its young. It helped that they were standing “above” the masses, but it also took me shifting slowly around the outer ring of the colony to find the right angle where the penguins would be framed against the clean, simple white snow background (and not against the rock).

It helped frame my subject, simply…but much more effectively.

Dave originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!

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