One of the things I consistently notice about wildlife photography is the desire by most wildlife photographers to get as close as they can and fill up their frame as much as they can. This is why all photographers lust after telephoto lenses and use blinds whenever they can.
There is nothing wrong with this approach. Seeing a wild animal up close and filling the frame with an animal is a thrilling experience but there is an alternative. Sometimes (dare I say often) it is the farther away composition that is the most powerful. Let me explain.
Animals need space, space to live, space to move and space to look. If a composition is too close with the edges of the frame appearing to confine the animal the composition becomes uncomfortable, restrictive, imprisoning. Even if the composition is relaxed a bit the animal can still look confined and out of sorts. What is missing is context.
Animals need to have space to move into or look into. If the animal is turned to the right then there should be space on the right for the gaze to fall. If the animal is moving to the right then there needs to be space on the right for the animal to move into. If the edge of your picture is in the way, the composition suffers.
On the Sitka Crossroads Photography Workshop we had the wonderful opportunity to photograph 5 captive owls for the Alaska Raptor Rehab Center. The group photographed a great horned owl, a saw whet owl, a northern pygmy owl, a snowy owl and a magnificent little female kestrel. I spent most of the time running around between the animals making sure everything was okay but I did get a couple of moments to take a few pictures. My favorites are the ones with space- showing a piece of the environment where the animal lives.
The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need a monster telephoto lens. It is my experience that 300mm is about as much as you need to get great shots of an animal in it’s environment. I used Nikon’s 70-300mm lens and was very happy. I could’ve gotten much closer then these images but I chose not to. Give the animal some space. Your photos will be better.