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Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition (Moorlands Nature Reserve)

Discovering North Yorkshire through Photography and Video

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition (Moorlands Nature Reserve)

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition Moorlands Nature Reserve

In this particular vlog we are going to concentrate on Tripod height in relation to composition. Aforementioned, we are at nearby Moorlands Nature Reserve around 4 miles from York, North Yorkshire. During the months of May and June, Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in full bloom and not only make a fascinating nature reserve, but also some equally stunning photography. View today’s photos or watch the video below.

Moorlands Nature Reserve was founded in 1955 but was originally an Edwardian woodland garden. Exotic plants such as Rhododendrons were brought over to England by the Victorians, but they are certainly not unique to this reserve. If you wish to visit then set navigation to Moor Lane YO32 2RE, and keep in mind the governments rules on social distancing if still applicable when viewing this video.

Moorlands Nature Reserve was founded in 1955 and is known locally for its enormous quantity of Rhododendrons and Azaleas.
Moorlands Nature Reserve was founded in 1955 and is known locally for its enormous quantity of Rhododendrons and Azaleas.

Yes we all have to start somewhere, and today it’s in a scenic nature reserve.

Learning to Use Your Tripod as Well as Your Camera

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

If you are not entirely sure which are Rhododendrons and which are Azaleas, the Azaleas tend to be a cluster of smaller flowers in comparison. In any case, they both come in a variety of colours and look stunning in early morning sunlight. 

If you are intending to shoot a close up of the flowers of either species, it is a great idea to set the level of your tripod so that your camera lens is level with the subject. Having said this, you might want to set your tripod slightly above so that your lens is looking down into the flower heads. There’s no harm in trying both methods. 

Of course, because it is both early morning as well as in woodland, we need to lengthen our shutter speed. This is done automatically for you in Aperture Priority mode on your camera. I am using f16 to receive a sharp image throughout except when I am extending my lens to its fullest to capture a subject close up. When doing this, the background will blur and your subject will remain sharp. You can also reduce the focus area by widening the aperture in your lens by using a low f-stop which also blurs the background. In which case, you will need to focus on the centre of the flower head if doing so. 

In the nature reserve, there is a small pond that attracts wildlife. It also has a boarded platform. Here, I reduced my tripod to its minimum height, so instead of looking downwards upon the water, I was looking across the surface of the water. It is also a great idea to focus on a subject at the opposite side of the body of water, in this case some reeds. The water will gently lead the eye towards the subject as well as create depth and infinity in your shot. 

The small pond and boardwalk at Moorlands Nature Reserve. Always more beneficial to set your tripod low to look across the water rather than upon it.
The small pond and boardwalk at Moorlands Nature Reserve. Always more beneficial to set your tripod low to look across the water rather than upon it.

When you visit an area to take a few photos, it is often said that you should spend time in an area and contemplate your compositions. Rather than aiming for a huge album of images, you should aim for a small collection, making it quality rather than quantity. I am certainly not disagreeing with this mindset, but I oftentimes notice very attractive scenes on my rural walks and I am left with so many photos it would take me a week to process them all! Granted, this is a clear case of don’t do what I do, but aim for fewer images yet of fantastic quality rather than go mad with your shutter finger. I admit, I too need to learn this process. 

Yes, certainly, your eyes and mind are oftentimes pulled into some very attractive compositions constantly especially in a nature reserve such as this one. Therefore, when you are in a very scenic area, you cannot help but see shots as you are going along. Just as many as there are rhododendrons and azaleas, are some very artistic woodcarvings adorning the woodland. The woodland incidentally is part of what was once the large Forest of Galtres that once surrounded York. During that time, it was dangerous to travel owing to highwaymen such as Dick Turpin as well as fierce animals, but thankfully not so much today. 

On the subject of wildlife, you can often see bats, woodpecker, nuthatch, as well as a variety of tits that visit the bird feeders. Admittedly, wildlife is my weakness for the same reason as other photographers. I see a creature, I point, I click, but by the time the shot is taken my subject has long disappeared. This leaves me with an image of basically, well, nothing. On the positive side, this nature reserve does include an impressive hide which can contribute getting that amazing wildlife shot.

In the distance I noticed some very curvaceous trunks that were lit up by the suns natural spotlights in the woodland. Therefore, I again reduced the level of my tripod to something very low in order to get to the same level as the trunks. If your subject is low, try to aim your tripod at the same height so that you are not looking down on your subject. Of course, you may have a particular purpose for aiming downwards or upwards and we talk about this more later.

Buying the Right Tripod

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

When choosing a tripod, it need not be expensive. The best tripods tend to be the type with a ball so that you can tilt your camera in all directions. The tripod that I am using today is very compact yet achieves a height taller than I am, and also has a ball head with a quick release. It also doubles as a monopod and you can also hang the camera upside down in order to get to ground level. The images are obviously upside down which you simply rotate in your editing software. This tripod was less than £50 and can outweigh some of the more expensive versions out there. Yes, getting used to your tripod is just as important as operating the camera itself, because great photos are achieved with composition. 

Elements in Your Shot

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

Your scene may include more than one subject, but it is wise to not clutter your image with too many unless you have a reason for doing so. We have three elements here, a seat on the right, a woodcarving on the left and a huge colourful shrub in the distance. In which case, our shrub needs to the main subject whereas the other two elements want to draw us towards it. Therefore, achieving the correct position is vital to achieve the perfect composition. 

This particular woodcarving is lower than my current tripod height. It is very easy to be a little lazy here and just take a shot at its current level. However, looking down on a subject will not bring about an amazing photo. Therefore setting the tripod to the correct level and achieving the correct angle for the circumstances is as important as getting the cameras settings correct for the environment.

This seat clip shows us how looking down on your subject really doesn’t do it justice, but getting to a subjects level makes a much better photo. Granted, there are some occasions where achieving the same height of your subject is impossible owing to its tall height. Therefore moving further away from it will help, otherwise you can look up at it to emphasise its height in your image.

With tall objects such a buildings, bridges and mountains for example, can give you lots of scope for finding a creative angle. You can make the structure more interesting by positioning your camera on a slight tilt or perhaps getting up really close to it and allowing the angle to follow it along to emphasise its dimensions. 

This iron bridge in The Calls area of Leeds shows how slightly tilting the camera and looking along the structure can make a more appealing image.
This iron bridge in The Calls area of Leeds shows how slightly tilting the camera and looking along the structure can make a more appealing image. 

In any case, composition doesn’t come about by itself, it require forethought. This is typically true with any creative works from painting, pottery, songwriting and story telling. A songwriter for example, would think about the theme of the song as well as grouping words to express it. A potter would give forethought to what his piece would be used for and how he hopes to achieve it. So composition is also a creative works and this too requires planning and forethought. 

In this scene for example, I had decided to capture the overhanging flower head with the ambition of blurring the path using a shallow depth of field. 

Paths are usually a fantastic way of drawing the eye towards your subject and creative a feeling of distance in your shot.

Bullseye Composition and Rule of Thirds (Golden Means) Composition

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

There are two types of composition, bullseye and gold means (sometimes referred to as rule of thirds). A bullseye composition should be avoided unless you have a specific purpose of it as it is when your subject is smack bang in the centre of the image. This often brings about a somewhat dull and tiresome image. On the other hand, rule of thirds is when the scene is split into 9 squares formed by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Where these lines intersect is where you should place the elements of your image. In this case, my flower head would would then either appear off-centre either to the lower or upper left, or otherwise the lower or upper right. Having said this, every scene is different and it may be that a bullseye composition may bring the best results, albeit rare. In either case, getting your tripod at the correct height to use either of these methods is vital, otherwise the effect is lost. 

Establish Distance

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

Another important way to create an impressive photo is to establish distance. We mentioned paths already how they can be used to create a feeling of depth and infinity. However, simply layering elements in your image is also a good way of creating depth in a photo. However, these elements should be kept to a minimum so as not to crowd out the main subject of the image. 

Paths and fences as well as other lines heading off into the distance can very much create a feeling of distance, depth and infinity in your photos.
Paths and fences as well as other lines heading off into the distance can very much create a feeling of distance, depth and infinity in your photos.

Of course, another way of creating depth in a photo is by using a shallow depth of field and blurring the background. As mentioned, we can achieve this in two ways, by extending the lens right out to capture our subject or by reducing the focus area in our shot by widening the aperture. Which method we use is determined by the scene but in any case can be a creative form of photography. Blurring the background can be eye pleasing when the blurred part of the image contains some kind of interesting element or scenery. 

Lines, Patterns and Shapes

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

Most of us have seen cloud formations that remind us of an animal or some other subject. Sometimes we can see definite patterns and shapes in nature such as these interesting curvy trunks. As they are on a diagonal, I have got really low at their level and shooting in the same direction to create distance in the shot. Sometimes it is a good idea to use your smartphone screen in camera mode to help you determine the best composition. This is because the phone is screen is more often than not larger than your camera’s screen.

Shot and Composition Scouting

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

We’ve loosely touched on this subject already when we mention taking fewer higher quality shots. However, first of all you need to source them. This can entail running around the area you are in like a mad person. Get to know your territory. If you are shooting locally to where you live this will be easy. However, if you are somewhere unfamiliar then you may need to have a walk around and stop every now and then to take in the area. You can take time to look for compositions and this in time gets to become second nature rather than a task. You might even want to take some shots with your phone first to try them out. In any case, it is very hard to plan your shots without known the area first. In fact, it is impossible unless you are an opportunist photographer like I sometimes am. So take your time, walk around like a mad person and take it all in. Take as much time as you need. Who knows when those bright idea enlightening moments will pop up in your head.

Getting Close Up to Your Subject

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

There’s certainly nothing wrong with filling your entire image with your subject, in fact it comes recommended. There worst holiday shots are those where the person is too small and you cannot identify them. Don’t be shy at taking an abstract of the subject, intentionally shaving off the edges. If your subject is small and the camera fails to focus upon it, then use manual focus. Most cameras typically have this function, and on a DSLR there is typically a switch on the lens are you focus using the end of the lens itself. 

Getting up close to your subject with the lens fully extended will blur the background (shallow depth of field) and create a 3 dimensional appearance.
Getting up close to your subject with the lens fully extended will blur the background (shallow depth of field) and create a 3 dimensional appearance.

Our wildlife hide is quite tall and obviously it would be difficult to set our tripod the same height so what can we do under these circumstances. Well, we’ve mentioned it already in fact. We can use its height to our advantage by emphasising its height by getting low and looking upwards. This appealing angle can produce a stunning and attention grabbing image. Tall trees such as in this woodland can also benefit from the same technique.

On the opposite end of the scale, you may want to get low and capture the lower part of trees which in a way also emphasises height because the upper part of them are out of view. Trying various angles can be both fun and creative.

Colour and Vibrancy

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

Certainly at this time of year when the nature reserve is in full bloom, there is no shortage of colour. Not only have we a full array of forest greens but we also have the many varieties of colour adorning the azaleas and rhododendrons. We can achieve some stunning images especially when colours contrast.

Good use of colour and vibrancy can make a far more appealing photo. However, this not only starts at the time of taking the photo, but also when it comes to the digital light room too.
Good use of colour and vibrancy can make a far more appealing photo. However, this not only starts at the time of taking the photo, but also when it comes to the digital light room too.

Even when there isn’t much in the way of colour, we can use it to our advantage by using monotone or simply reducing the colour range in the shot. 

We’ve spoken a lot about setting the tripod the same level, but do not be afraid to experiment a little and try finding a unique angle. This is thinking creatively and holds audience attention. It is that audience attention and even retention that makes a good photo. So if you can capture a scene or subject in an unusual way then you have won your audience over. 

Getting down really low and shooting upwards can express a subjects hight in a very appealing way in your photo.
Getting down really low and shooting upwards can express a subjects hight in a very appealing way in your photo.

Interestingly, we’ve come to an area used for educational purposes that contains some unusual items that could create some attention holding images. Moorlands Nature Reserve is more than just a habitat for animals, birds, insects as well as exotic plants, but it also has some educational value especially with youngsters. As a result, we find something that our lens and camera sensor has missed out upon.

Moorlands Nature Reserve Log and Toadstool Seats

Tripod Height in Relation to Good Composition

These seats for youngsters in the form of toadstools and logs are back-breakingly low down for a grown up. When you are over forty you can get down there but as for getting up again is a breakthrough in medical science. Fortunately, no matter how old your tripod is, it can get very low down too without any problem of returning to its original size and shape. 

The toadies are obviously unusual wood carvings and will make an interesting shot. We may have to locate the correct composition and position first of all, so it may take a couple of attempts to get this right. You may also need to consider their surroundings too and if you desire to include these in your image somehow. For instance, the woodland floor is covered in bark as well as the backdrop of the colourful white shrub behind. Additionally, the early morning sunlight is illuminating the leaves on the trees above – can these be included in the shot? So it is not just about the subject themselves but also the rest of the environment they are situated in too. 

Out of shot is a wood carving of a tree man with a bollard style carving too. Focusing on the woodcarving in the distance with the bollard leading up to it will create depth and infinity and a far more appealing photo. Therefore we want to adjust the tripod to get to the correct level. Just be sure to mind your head when you get up again.

When finding a composition and taking a shot, it is often a good idea to take a couple of images of the same composition. This is just in case the first attempt hasn’t worked properly or the way you intended. Remember, practice! practice! practice! and even if that means taking the same composition again. 

You can find these photos on the gallery section of my website. Have a great time with your camera! Until next time!