Africa’s natural heritage is world-renowned. People from all over the world travel to Africa each year to witness and photograph the amazing wildlife our continent has to offer.
When looking around on social media platforms like Facebook you will see a huge amount of images from Africa’s wild places which all attest to the fact that the photographic opportunities are quite amazing in both their abundance and diversity.
That being said, there are only a handful of images that stand about above the masses. I am sure you have found yourself looking at these images wondering what special tricks the photographer used or why your images don’t look the same.
The reality is that it is not difficult to create striking wildlife images.
By focusing on the basics you will see an immediate improvement in your own photography so let’s look at three things you can do to get you started on the exciting journey that is wildlife photography.
1. You Can Only Shoot What You See
The first thing to always keep in mind is that you can only shoot what you see.
You cannot, will not, photograph a herd of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest crossing a river in the Kruger National Park. The Great Migration takes place in Kenya so hoping to photo something like that in the Kruger will create false expectations.
Before heading out to a destination do your homework. Read up on the area, check out field guides and browse through one of the many online forums where you will get real and up to date information of the wildlife you can expect to see and photograph.
When you then get out into the field open your mind and do not go out with preconceived ideas of getting images that you’ve seen in magazines or on Facebook.
Take each and every subject that you find and take it from there. Shoot what’s in front of you and don’t worry about whether it’s a leopard or a zebra. By doing this you will create a more comprehensive portfolio of images from every trip that you do.
The more time you spend out in the field and the more destinations you visit the more you will see and the more you will be able to photograph.
2. Focus on the Basics
Getting to a wildlife sighting, picking up your camera and firing at will might give you some decent images but you will have to spend a lot of time working through your images afterwards to find the keepers.
You can however up your strike rate, and immediately improve the quality of your images by focusing on a few of the basics of photography.
• Rule of Thirds
• Shoot in both landscape and portrait orientation
• Know your equipment
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is one of the foundations of photography and will, from the moment you start applying it to your images, make a difference to your images.
Simply put, the rule states that you should not place your subject in the dead center of the frame but rather on one of the 4 points created when you divide your frame into three both vertically and horizontally.
The four power points that are created in the frame are the strongest visual areas in a frame and will best highlight the subject in your image.
Shoot in both landscape and portrait orientation
Most of the time we get stuck shooting in landscape orientation but there are most definitely times when a portrait orientation will serve you better. This is especially true with giraffe and large trees where you want to emphasize the height of the subject.
The best way to decide which orientation would best suit a particular scene is to see which way the visual energy in a frame is moving. Do you find your eye moving side to side through the frame? In that case, shoot in landscape mode. If you find your eyes moves up and down in the frame you might be better served shooting in portrait orientation.
When you next find yourself in a sighting make a point of trying to shoot in both landscape and portrait orientations.
Know your Equipment
There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in an incredible sighting and not being able to capture the moment. One of the reasons that many people miss shots is that they do not know their equipment. Take the time to do a course and get to know exactly what your equipment is capable of. You won’t be sorry!
3. Shoot More, Look More
This is something that all wildlife photographers should do more of. I am not referring to rattling off a hundred frames of a static subject but rather looking for different angles, different settings and different stories.
By continually trying to create different images and working a scene or subject you will improve not only your images but also your photographic eye. In time you will start ‘seeing’ shots even before you take them.
Closely linked to this is to look at other photographer’s image. By looking at more images, and specifically the work of photographers whose images resonate with you, your photographic eye will become more trained and you will find it easier to see shots out in the field.
That being said, don’t try and mimic other people’s images but rather use them as inspiration to create your own unique stories. Your own unique images.
In the next article we will look at more specific techniques you can use out in the field to create unique and interesting wildlife and nature images. For now it’s time to head out into the wild places of Africa and capture the amazing wildlife that only Africa has to offer. Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt: www.gerryvanderwalt.com
Courses & Safaris: photography.wild-eye.co.za