“Sometimes deciding upon the perfect crop means tossing away an equally valid version.”
Badger in the Grass is a photograph from my recent workshop to Badlands National Park. As an instructor on the Badlands Winter Wildlife workshop, it is important to get my clients close to compelling views of wildlife. A participant and I followed this badger for nearly a quarter mile to get this shot. Badger in the Grass went through surprisingly few iterations. The uncropped image shown below is very simple — which complicates things. Blue Sky, razor-thin depth of field and an obvious subject give us the old Bob Seger quandary “… what to leave in, what to leave out”
A closer examination of the uncropped original above shows a dead-center subject that doesn’t quite work. The reason for the in-camera framing is that I shoot wildlife with only the center focus point enabled. I want to chose where the image focuses to ensure the tightness of the focal lock on the animal’s face. That leaves us with the ability to chop off non-contributing portions of the image to improve our composition. Those portions are not always obvious.
This crop was actually my second crop. Ultimately the first crop became my final choice but not before I agonized over this crop. The American Badger has been moved to the lower-right power point to emphasize the uncovered eye. I left unfocused grass, sharp grass, unfocused hillside and finally sky to give myself depth.
In final analysis of which crop to use, the two dark bands in the blue sky offered enough of a distraction for me to sacrifice the depth of having the sky in the scene and the Rule of Thirds composition. Those two shadows are actually very nearby out-of-focus strands of prairie grass. I was laying on my belly for these captures meaning not only was there a badger in the grass — there was a photographer in the grass as well.
Here is an overlay of the crop I decided upon. I decided to omit the sky and with it the depth. The badger is long and low and the crop needs to be long and low as well. This allows space in our mind for the long badger body, hidden in the grass, but within our expectations, to occupy. The nearby grass shadows aren’t as obvious without the sky and that solves another dilemma. The closer crop makes the badger encounter seem more personal and engages the viewer.
When all is said and done, I have a very mono-tone image because I have left out the blue skies, which, while natural, took away from the overall golden tone of the image. Black. white and gold, and a badger in the grass… staring at a photographer in the grass… and ultimately you.
Rikk Flohr © 2012