What makes a great nature photograph?

ESW week banner HIGH RES

The Geological Society’s annual Earth Science Week Photography Competition, shows off some of the most breath-taking natural landscapes and geological features in their very best light. With recent themes such as ‘Earth Science in Our Lives’, ‘Our Restless Earth’, and ‘Earth Science in Action’ the competition always attracts exceptional photographic entries, with the winners displayed in the Lower Library of the Geological Society in Burlington House each year. The three best photographs receive cash prizes.

Bow Fiddle Rock c Andy Leonard improved

Bow Fiddle Rock – (C) Andy Leonard

Megan O’Donnell asked our 2018 Earth Science Week Photography competition winner, Andy Leonard, to share the key elements he believes make a beautiful photograph of the natural world.

1. Impact

“The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some things that hold true across most great pictures. The picture needs to grab your attention, it needs to have impact.  It needs to have compositional features that catch the eye and draw you into the image.”

2. Simplicity

“To have impact the image needs a level of simplicity.  If your eyes wander around the picture jumping from one thing to another then it’s too complicated.  The viewer’s eyes should be drawn into the picture to settle on the key elements to understand the story that the photographer is trying to tell.”

“The technical aspects such as depth of field, focus, shutter speed, are very important – but if the big compositional elements aren’t right – then you’ll never have a great photo.”

3. Plan ahead

“Very rarely does jumping out of the car and immediately start snapping pay off.  Where possible plan ahead (location, weather, sun position, tides, likely wildlife….). When at your destination observe, distil and look for the big compositional elements and how they relate to light, weather, etc. Only then, get out the camera and work on the details.”

4. Use software with care

“These days image processing software allows us to manipulate images in many different ways.  But don’t be drawn into over processing.  I see many images that have been ruined by unrealistic colours, halos around objects, unrealistic ‘cut and paste’ skies. Use software packages with care.”

The 2019 Earth Science Week Photography Competition is now open for submissions.

Creating an impactful photograph from a motionless and unchanging subject can be incredibly challenging. It requires canny use of the natural surroundings to create a powerful story. Standing out against other entries in a competition is key to being noticed, so get creative and try something new!

This year, for the first time, we are inviting entries featuring geology from all over the world. Entry is free to all, and there is no limit on how many images you can enter. Twelve winners will be displayed at Burlington House during Earth Science Week 2019 (12-20th October) and will feature in our 2020 calendar. The three top images will also win cash prizes.

Anyone can enter by emailing their entries to outreach@geolsoc.org.uk by 9am on Monday 23rd September. Full competition details can be found at www.geolsoc.org.uk/photocompetition.


2018’s Winning Entries


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