Dynamic Symmetry: Wildlife and Landscape Photography By Warren Wish
On a recent National Geographic-Lindblad cruise to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula, I challenged myself to use the principles of Dynamic Symmetry to guide my photography of wildlife and landscapes.
Though I am not a newcomer to photography, I am far from being a professional. So too, it has only been in the past few months that I discovered dynamicsymmetryart.com. One thing led to another, and my visual world became even more clear after reading the PDF book The Art of Composition – A Dynamic Symmetry User’s Guide for the Modern Artist. I was transformed from being concerned with camera equipment, f-stops, shutter speed, and ISO to considering how I would apply the principles of classical art training to my photography.
As I began reading about the old world masters (da Vinci, Degas, Rembrandt, and Renoir, etc.), I learned that Dynamic Symmetry structurally changed paintings from being passive to active and dynamic. Furthermore, I didn’t realize that a small, yet renowned, group of photographers were well known for using Dynamic Symmetry in their photographs of city life and people. During my exploration, I only saw a limited number of landscape pictures and an almost complete omission of wildlife photographs. So I asked myself, would it be possible to transform my photos to a higher level of mastery using Dynamic Symmetry?
My journey began by reading. The Dynamic Symmetry Art website has numerous resources that gave me a crash course in art and composition. I had to learn about the visual properties of different kinds of rectangles and how each can be divided into various compositional themes. I also studied figure-ground relationship, the arabesque, coincidences, radiating lines, aerial perspective, and other design techniques that would help create a better photograph. Then I began using the Dynamic Symmetry grids in Lightroom to analyze my pictures. By accident, some of my images came close to the armature of the rectangle; however, most did not. At that point, I realized that I had not been achieving my full artistic potential with my photography.
Obviously, because painting is a deliberate process and landscape photographers have more time to compose an image, they can produce a more sophisticated design. But what about photographing wildlife? Animals are always on the move and pictures are taken in a fraction of a second. If Bresson could take photographs of the continually changing movement of a city street or children at play, why couldn’t the principles of Dynamic Symmetry be used to improve my pictures of wild animals?
So there I was on a remote beach on the island of South Georgia. A zodiac had just taken me on a rollercoaster ride to a wet landing not far from a colony of elephant seals and penguins. In this pristine environment, as long as we kept a respectful distance (not to disturb the creatures) the animals were oblivious to our presence. I was surrounded by life in the raw. Male elephant seals establishing their territory and beginning the mating process. King penguins paraded along the shoreline, going in and out of the water, while also in search of their perfect mate. In the Falklands, Black Browed Albatrosses were densely packed into hillside colonies pairing-off and laying eggs.
Between the sights, sounds, and smells, I began looking for dynamic lines of composition. The potential for applying Dynamic Symmetry was in every scene, and it was up to me to tie these visual elements together. At first, the background became my anchor points. I looked for dynamic lines in the mountain slopes and the flow of foreground shapes. Wandering around within this zone of interest, my challenge was to move my body, align my camera, and wait for the story to unfold. This kind of photography is a test of one’s knowledge of animal behavior and ability to be patient.
As I look at the photographs from my trip, I'm acutely aware that I have yet to reach the level of expertise of Bresson. But nonetheless, I am immensely pleased with my results. I see my photography as a continuously evolving art and, with additional practice, I'm confident that I will also develop a better eye for more artistic images with my nature photography. Dynamic Symmetry will help guide me in this quest.
To better capture the wonderment of our world, one image at a time, is what I hope to achieve.