Focus on Composition: An Interview with Nature Photographer Ian Plant

Focus on Composition: An Interview with Nature Photographer Ian Plant

Ian Plant is a world-renowned professional nature photographer, writer, and adventurer who has been photographing the natural world for almost twenty years. Plant is a frequent contributor and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, and a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine. He is also is the photographer/author of several dozen print and electronic-format nature photography books and his work has appeared in a number of other books, calendars, magazines, and advertising campaigns worldwide.


Dance of the Dead, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia © Ian Plant

BL: What is your photographic specialty and how did you become interested in it?

Plant: I specialize in landscape and wildlife photography. I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and have been doing hiking, backpacking, rock-climbing, kayaking, you name it, since I was a kid. One day, almost twenty years ago, I decided to buy a camera to bring along with me to capture all of the natural beauty I was seeing on my outdoor adventures. I was instantly hooked! I’ve had many hobbies over the years which I got really serious about for a short period of time before getting bored and moving on to the next activity, but photography was different – it blossomed from a hobby into a passion, and eventually into a full-time career. I left my “real” job almost 10 years ago and I’ve never looked back!


Eternal Mirror, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile © Ian Plant

BL: How long have you been teaching and/or writing about photography and how would you describe your teaching/writing style?

Plant: I’ve been teaching and writing about photography for almost as long as I’ve been a full-time professional photographer – almost ten years now. I would say my style is informal and fun. If my workshop clients and eBook buyers aren’t having fun, how can they be expected to learn anything useful? I also think I am very practical. I don’t believe in a bunch of self-help, “new age” mumbo jumbo. Instead, I look to give my clients and readers real, practical advice which they can easily apply on their own. For example, when someone says something mysterious like “you must become one with the landscape” or “you must learn to express your soul”, sure that sounds great, but what does it all really mean? I’ll never say anything like that to anyone – if you can’t immediately roll up your sleeves and get to work after I’ve told you something, then I’ve failed in my job as an educator


Gitchi Gumee,  Lake Superior, USA © Ian Plant

BL: What is your single most depended on photographic item aside from your camera?

Plant: Without a doubt, my tripod. I shoot almost everything from a tripod. It provides much-needed stability, which is necessary for precise and critical focus and composition. I know it isn’t the most exciting answer but I never leave home without my tripod. That said, I enjoy the moments when I can free myself from my tripod – it feels liberating!


Kaleidoscope, Zion National Park, USA © Ian Plant

BL: What type of gear, new or old, are you most interested in experimenting with?

Plant: I’m not really a gear head. Gear is a tool of artistic expression, nothing more. That said, I’d really love to get my hands on Canon’s 200-400mm zoom lens! An expensive piece of equipment always seems to get my creative juices flowing.


Kneel Before Zod, Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia © Ian Plant

BL: Describe what prompted or inspired you to create your Visual Flow eBook?

Plant: Composition is something about which I am passionate. To me, artistic composition is the most important part of photography. Any shuttermonkey can take a snapshot with a camera but if you want to do more, you need to master composition. Visual Flow was really a way for me to get people thinking critically about composition, maybe in some ways that they haven’t been doing before. I also wasn’t satisfied with a lot of the composition books already out there – too much of that mumbo jumbo I mentioned before and too much regurgitation of the “rules” without trying to have any deeper understanding of the fundamental principles behind the rules. I wanted to do something different – I wanted to write a book that went deep down the rabbit hole, to really analyze artistic composition in a practical yet entertaining way.


Sand Star, Great Sand Dunes National Park, USA © Ian Plant

BL: What are some additional resources that you recommend to others getting started in photography?

Plant: My Dreamscapes blog is a really great place to get multiple perspectives on photography. A number of my colleagues contribute to the blog, and there’s always fresh insights there. Our goal is to educate, entertain, and inspire others in the art of nature photography. It’s a fun blog packed with plenty of information!


Secret Guardian, Oregon Coast, USA © Ian Plant

BL: In what ways do you expect readers to improve after reading Visual Flow?

Plant: I tried very hard to present composition in a coherent and practical way in the book. I expect that readers will better understand how to tell the story of their subjects and to see the world differently than they did before. The book also teaches readers how to recognize and work with abstract shapes, how to create depth in a photograph, how to lead the viewer’s eye to what is important in a composition, and how to convey mood and emotion.


Snorkeling, Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Belize © Ian Plant

BL: What is something YOU learned during the process of making these eBooks?

Plant: Writing about composition forced me to think  a lot about composition. Much of what I wrote about composition I learned while writing the book. Sometimes I’d struggle to explain a concept, or to figure out how different concepts worked together, and then I’d have a moment of epiphany and it would all make sense to me. That’s the chief lesson of the book: thinking critically about composition is the first step to truly understanding how composition works. Thinking translates into understanding, which in time translates into doing.


Standing Ovation, Kofa Mountains, USA © Ian Plant

BL: There are a lot of little rules in photography, such as the Rule of Thirds and the Inverse Square Law. Describe a photography “rule” that you use the most or find most valuable.

Plant: To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, Fight Club:

1st RULE: There are no rules in photography.
2nd RULE: There are NO RULES in photography!

Simply put, there are no “rules” in photography – there are only tools at your disposal. I have a Thomas Edison quote which I share in the book, which I think pretty much sums it all up: “There are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something.” There is no single formula that will guarantee success. Photographers should strive for a deeper understanding of general principles, rather than allegiance to superficial rules which encourage “paint-by-numbers” results. If you want your photos to look like everyone else’s, then by all means adhere to the rules. If you want your images to stand out, then throw the rulebook out the window!

the spirit of africa

The Spirit of Africa, Etosha National Park, Namibia © Ian Plant

BL: Anything new on the horizon that you are working on, either photography-wise or eBook-wise?

Plant: I’m always working on new things and I keep a busy travel schedule to feed my constant need for new photographs for my many book projects. I’m always striving to hone my skills and artistic ability and to find new ways to see the world. Stay tuned – there’s always something big for me on the horizon!


The Beast, Yellowstone National Park, USA © Ian Plant


Ancient Portal, Isle of Lewis, Scotland © Ian Plant


The Devil’s Eye, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, USA © Ian Plant


Ice World, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina © Ian Plant

Technique, knowledge, inspiration – gain it all from seasoned photographers with years of experience and many tips to share with both burgeoning photographers and pros looking to gain a new perspective. Visit our entire collection of interviews, which are full of amazing images and valuable advice.

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Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. She is a Marketing Coordinator for and also writes for SmugMug. She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.


  1. Can you please help out with the composition of forced perspective. How does composituon affect forced perspective?


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