I received a phone call the other day from a previous workshop attendee named Craig Quartz. He called to tell me a quick story about his last Meetup Group in Portland, Oregon where he was asked to share his top-ten tips for photography. While presenting to the group, he listed off a number of tips on exposure, exposing for the highlights, focus, and composition.
After finishing his tips, everyone in the room room yelled out, “What about Vertizonical!?” For the last number of years, he’s been sharing his favorite tip called Vertizonical to anyone in the club who would listen, but he neglected to mention it to the Portland Meetup group that night, so they all yelled it out in unison! Craig first learned this made-up term from me a few years ago at one of my workshops and now he shares it with anyone who will listen. I was talking about photographic composition and I made up the term vertizonical on the spot during the class. Obviously, the term stuck around!
Vertizonical is simply an approach to help you remember to always take both vertical and horizontal images of each scene you photograph. This discipline of shooting vertical and horizontal allows you the most options when you are editing your images back home after your photo shoot. It is much easier to take another 30 seconds in the field to shoot a different orientation than it is to try and do some industrial Photoshop work on your computer to create a composition that you never produced.
Look at these photo examples from Galapagos in this blog post. Many of the images from this volcanic landscape are austere and dramatic. I love the challenge of creating compelling landscapes in difficult locations. While on the location, I work hard to compose my imagery in the best way possible. Even so, I’ve found over the years that I’m hardly ever the best judge of my compositions while I’m on location because my emotion takes over and due to the thrill of just being there.
Years ago, I was so confident, that I just “knew” that a specific composition was perfect as soon as I saw it. Unfortunately, I’d get home from my shoot and wish I had more options to choose from. Now that I’m older and wiser and more disciplined, I take the time in the field to shoot almost all my scenes vertically and horizontally.
Since I’m a professional photographer, this approach pays off financially for me in various ways.
– My book publishers often need images in a specific orientation for layouts.
– A commercial client needs a specific orientation for their brochures.
– A portrait customer needs a specific orientation for a wall display.
Shooting both verticals and horizontals of all my subjects helps me make more sales and reduces the amount of work I have to do in post-processing.
So, the simple summary is to shoot vertical then shoot horizontal. Vertizonical!
We are headed to the Galapagos again this year and we’d love to have you along on the adventure. Check out our workshop page for more details at Visual Adventures Workshops.
Serengeti, Tanzania, November 2013 –
As our intrepid group of photographers rounded a bend on the dirt road, we happened upon a cheetah slowly walking through the tall grass. His head was high, as he strained to see beyond the golden grass obscuring his face. Soon, another cheetah appeared out of the grass, then a third. Our group’s excitement increased and all of us brought our cameras up to the ready position to take photos, as we fully expected the coalition of three cheetahs to run off into the vast grasslands. Fortunately, the cheetah brothers decided to hang around for a while and pose for us.
The first cheetah ducked behind a termite mound to rest in the shade, but the other two laid down with their back to each other and lazed in a relaxed pose. They took turns looking right, then left. At one point, the brother on the right stuck out his arm and put his head on his sibling’s back. The two projected supreme confidence as they scanned for signs of prey in the morning light.
Finally, the sun was too much for the second brother and he dropped down below the termite mound to enjoy his time in the shade. For the last cheetah, the reclining position was just too comfortable to leave, so he hung out for a while longer, enjoying the sun and lounging like a boss.
I received a great email this morning from a colleague who is headed out to Tanzania for the first time. He’s seeking advice about whether or not to bring along his 600mm f4 or his 200-400mm f4.
Here’s his question:
I hope you are not too crazy busy to offer a wee bit of advice. I am going to Tanzania for a month long safari this November. This will be my first trip to Africa, I know you have visited and photographed Tanzania many times.
I’m debating about which lenses to take. Weight is an issue of course as well as the number of bags to take so I’m trying to be conscience of how much
too pack. In a nut shell I would like your advice as to weather the 600mm AFS VR is a better choice than the 200-400 AFS. I own the 200-400 but have a chance to take the 600mm with me. Is it worth packing the big monster around with me? Maybe taking both is also an option?
All the best.
Nature Quest Images
Hi Doug –
If you are focusing on bird photography, then the 600mm will be indispensable. If you will be shooting mostly mammals and other Tanzanian creatures, then the 200-400mm is best. I bring three cameras that are a mix of FX and DX. I put the 200-400mm with 1.4x TC on the DX (D300s). On the FX camera, I usually put a 70-200mm or a 24-70mm.
The 600mm f4 is a monster lens and can be very difficult to work with. I’ve had a few people bring them on their trip, but they were traveling with a spouse/friend, so one person carried the 600mm and the other carried the 200-400. If you are doing this alone, then it will be very tough logistically. Everywhere you go on your trip you’ll have guides and porters, so you won’t have to carry the weight yourself. But, just schlepping the 600mm around the airports and camps can be a chore in itself.
Also, the 600mm can often be “too much lens” for many of the animals we come across on the Serengeti. Frequently, you’ll be photographing just the eyes or face of the animal with the 600, but wish that you could back off a bit to capture a bit of the environment. A 200-400mm gives you this option.
My recommendation is to take the 200-400mm, 1.4x TC (or 1.7x TC), a 70-200mm, a 24-70mm and at least two camera bodies. This will be a very flexible setup and you won’t get a hernia from all the weight.
Here’s a two minute slideshow of photographs taken in Northern Tanzania during two of our Photo Safaris. Images were taken with the Nikon D700 or Nikon D300. Lenses used were the Nikon 200-400mm f4 AF-S VR and the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 AF-S VR. Enjoy!