When it comes to composing wildlife images, consideration has to be given to the subjects tail, if there is one. I find this to be particularly true for those species that have long tails.
In this image of a male leopard I chose to include the entire tail. This forced me to frame wide and this has some impact on the resulting image. The strong shape that the tail makes tends to compete somewhat for my attention with the leopard’s intense stare. As a viewer, you may prefer viewing the leopard in this way, or you may have rather had an image where the tail was not visible. As a photographer, it is important to be aware of what impact the tail will have on the final image. This awareness can help when it comes to making choices in camera with choosing focal length and shooting angle. Had I taken this image from the left side of the cat, his body would have naturally blocked his tail from view.
The tail came into play once again in the cheetah image above. Before I took this shot, this cat had his tail stretched out behind him. Including it meant I had to pull back on my zoom lens, and that placed the cat’s body right in the centre of the frame, which felt awkward to me. The moment he pulled his tail toward him, and swished it around his leg, I snapped this frame. This pose, with tail against his body, allowed me to place the cheetah off to one side a little, and to zoom in for more impact. In such instances, when the subject may be changing size and shape rapidly, zoom lenses like the Canon EF 70-300L and Canon EF 70-200L f.2.8 IS II come into their own, allowing me the flexibility to change my composition rapidly.
I have chosen to use images of big cats to illustrate this post, however it could just as well have been mongooses, or squirrels, or any other animal that has a long tail. Tails can be expressive, and add much to an image. At other times, excluding them may be preferred.
I try to be aware of the tail and its effect in the moments that I am shooting, so that I can think through my shooting decisions.