Wildlife Photography: Virtual Amputation

Occasionally, folks ask me to critique their images; one of the most common problems I encounter is Virtual Amputation.

When we photograph people, unless we are specifically looking to achieve a certain focus, it is generally a poor idea to cut off the person in the middle of their limbs. We have all seen the wedding photos taken by amateurs that have everyone's face in the middle of the image but the lower legs are cut off at the knees.

Pretty much, the same unwritten rules apply to animals. If you are doing a full body shot, it is usually best not to cut them off at the knees. So, what is virtual amputation? Virtual amputation is cutting off limbs that you do not see.

Many animals like to feed in the water. Long leg birds like Herons and Egrets; Moose, Hippos, etc all like to spend time hunting for food in the water. Typically, the lower half of the legs will be covered by water; sometimes even more will be covered by water. When you frame your image, you need to leave enough room in your image for these virtual (hidden) legs.

Like all rules, there are times it is appropriate to not follow them. I believe the Great Blue Heron with the open beak at the top of this blog is effective without legs because the entire focus is on the perceived action or noise from him.

Enjoy your comments, let me know your thoughts!

Photo credits: Moose Henderson.

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August 29, 2013



Yes, the wolverine pics on my site are from North America (USA and Canada). Best of luck with your project.

August 28, 2013


Are your wolverine photos taken in North America? I am looking for New World Wolverine photos for a book I am working on and most of the wolverines I have found are Old World. Thanks!

February 25, 2011


Veyron85; Sorry, can not figure out how to send you a personal message so this will need to do. i looked at your wildlife images, some appear to be taken in zoo but others are great, especially your Owls. Piece of advice, you are cropping to tight; this does not give the buyer room to adjust for where the image must fit on a page. Generally, designers must fit our images into a given space on a page or design so they need room to crop you images. Your Snowy Owl has no room to crop and still keep the entire bird in the image.

February 25, 2011


Great Advice. What do you think of my wildlife photos?

February 10, 2011


Very good advise.
Beautiful shots.

February 09, 2011


Great advise and images as usual John, keep up the good work!

February 06, 2011


A great blog, there are too many things to learn from you.

February 06, 2011


It is beautiful photo.

February 06, 2011


Yes, I agre totally with you, only in the case calling heron, may be I would have tried to cut a little bit higher (lower chest or so) and not to show a little bit of the legs as it suggests them, of course thus is just a personal sensation..

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