Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Visual Energy and Orientation in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

One of the things that quite a few people seem to struggle with, but never really think about, is how the orientation you shoot in will affect composition and the way in which people will read your image.

I like to think of this as the visual energy in a frame and it’s something I focus on a lot on when I’m in the field with guests because it’s a very easy and pretty foolproof way in which you can strengthen your compositions and decide which orientation to use when framing and lining up your shots.

In very simple terms – visual energy refers to the way in which the composition, orientation and content all work together in the frame to pull your gaze in a certain direction in an image.

Have a look at the following three images from a river crossing during the Great Migration and while looking at them notice how each of the images will pull your gaze – your eyes – into a certain direction.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Can you see how, in each of the images, you feel your gaze moving either horizontally, vertically or diagonally though the frame?  That… is visual energy.

By looking at the content in your frame before you click the shutter and then choosing an orientation that will enhance the direction of the visual energy and make for stronger compositions.  Quite often people get stuck in landscape orientation and forget to turn their camera to a portrait orientation when needed which again will result in missed opportunities and a lot of good images being left on the table.

Let’s have another look at the three images from above.

I have added a red arrow to each of the images to show you the direction of the visual energy in each frame which should then – hopefully – make you think about the orientation of each image and how this enhances the flow of energy through the image.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Visual energy.

Get it?

Here is a basic graphic which will help you to decide which orientation to choose in order to maximize the visual energy in your frames.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Landscape and portrait orientation is normally pretty straight forward.  When it comes to diagonals – some of the best lines and visual energy you can have in a frame – you have the choice to either get creative or simply look at all the elements in your frame such as the lay of the land, lines in the background and implied direction of movement and make your orientation decision from there.

Yes there are exceptions, yes there are many ways to look at composition and yes this is a very basic look at it but I always – always – like to simplify both the technical and creative sides of photography.

When you’re next in the field take a moment and tell yourself not too overthink things and just figure out in which direction your eye wanders through a scene or through your viewfinder and go from there. I’m pretty sure you will make the right choice and create amazing images!

Until next time.


About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

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