Photography 101: Context Is Important

WC greatly enjoys the superb avian photography of his friend, Ron Dudley, whose blog is a masterpiece. It’s one of the few avian photography blogs that gets a spot in the sidebar of Wickersham’s Conscience.

But a few days go, Ron posted a beautiful shot of an Eared Grebe, saying, “Sometimes I think simple is best.” WC agrees with the premise as a general rule, but WC also thinks context is important, too. An illustration of the point.

Here’s a shot of a Yellow-bellied Marmot on Steens Mountain.

Yellow-bellied Marmot, Steens Mountain, ORegon

Yellow-bellied Marmot, Steens Mountain, Oregon

WC will grant the photo doesn’t have the panache of Ron’s Grebe, but it’s pretty simple.1 But the simplicity comes at the cost of context.

The Context of the Photo

The Context of the Photo

That’s the same marmot, pretty much in the same pose, but you can see he is perched five feet or so from a 4,000 foot drop down the headwall of Little Blitzen Gorge, with much of the west slope of Steens Mountain behind him.

Balancing context and the primary subject of your photo is a major element of great photography.

WC is sure Ron Dudley would agree. At least WC hopes he would agree. When WC and Ron have disagreed in the past, it’s usually WC who has been wrong.



  1. It’s also one of the more difficult photos WC has taken. The light was sickly orange. Getting anything like accurate colors involved endless fiddling with the white balance. The trick is to carry a sheet of pure white paper, and set the white balance in current light conditions with the Custom White Balance on your camera. Good luck with that on a windy mountainside. Laying down on a dusty gravel road to get a low angle is just the icing on the cake. 

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