Photographing Wildlife – Part II
Photographing Wildlife – Part II
For novices, wildlife photography can be one of the toughest areas to master. Together with all of the challenges every day photography, you also have to work with subjects that have no affinity for cooperating.
For a skilled photographer, there are plenty of things one would like to pass around to beginners to help them get going. Good lighting is essential. Timing and composition are subtle arts that come with lots of patience and experience. But what is the one golden rule of wildlife photography that one ought to learn above all else?
It’s all within the eyes.
Taking photos of wildlife is not the same as photographing a scenery or an inanimate object. Your wildlife theme has eyes, and our natural tendency as humans is to make eye contact. Consequently, if you can capture the eyes effectively in a wildlife photograph, you have achieved the key ingredient of the great image.
Take a look at a number of the great wildlife photography available in print and on the internet. You will observe that very often a picture only shows part of the animal, as well as much of what is visible is out of focus. The subject might be half-hidden behind a bush or lost in shadow.
Despite all these ‘problems’ the photos are productive. Who knows, maybe they’ve won an prize or two. How can that be? Because the eyes are captured in a compelling way that results in a bond between subject and the viewer.
What’s a lot more amazing is that the subject doesn’t need to be looking at the camera for the eyes to obtain effect on the picture. With our natural instinct to try to make eye contact, we are inclined to check first in the eyes of the subject and also to follow its gaze. Therefore if the subject is looking to the left, our eyes will have a tendency to wander in that direction. Envision the power this can have in a composition. Using the position of the subject and the direction of its gaze, you could influence the way in which viewer looks at the picture. For example, imagine a picture with a kangaroo and a striking tree in the background. Position yourself so the kangaroo is on the left and the tree is on the right. If you take your shot once the kangaroo is looking to the right (towards the tree), you’ll have created a composition which brings both components of the image together. People will first notice the kangaroo, then follow its gaze to take a better look at the tree.
This is a great approach to developing structure in your composition, but it also adds a small amount of pressure on you to get it right.
To begin with, photograph your subjects once the light is soft and even, to get rid of harsh shadows across the face of the subject. This is a straightforward matter of shooting earlier or later in the day once the sun is low, or on cloudy days when shadows aren’t an issue.
Secondly, make sure the subject is facing towards the centre of the photo. Remember that just as the eyes often leads the viewer in to the picture, they can also lead the viewers away from the picture. When your animal subject is on the right, make an effort to catch it facing left (and vice-versa).
These are just simple guidelines. As with all nature photography, every rule is made to be broken. You’ll occasionally find situations where these pointers just don’t work with the picture. You may also decide to break with convention from time to time, just to develop a different kind of impact. However, even though you decide to try something different, always remember the strength of the eyes in your wildlife photography. Generally, this means the distinction between a snapshot and something really unique.
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