Landscape photography is just that; illustrating the landscape in a still image. It furthermore encapsulates nature photography by discarding the rule of the “subject”. Capturing natural landscapes can be done with or without an intentional subject in the frame, allowing the argument to be made that a part of the environment is considered to be the subject instead. This expands creativity…

finfoot wide, SC

An ultra wide view of the Sand River bed with very low flowing river water and dramatic summer thunderclouds. 1/50 at f/4.5; ISO 800.

sunrise, SC

Landscaping need not be done with a wide angle lens. The close perspective on this rising sun puts the surrounding terrain into distant context. 1/320 at f/11; ISO 200.

Wildlife photography seizes a moment (and sometimes more) of an animal in the wild, and illustrates it into a story; a leopard climbing a tree, a lion stretching before a rest, a Kingfisher dropping off a perch to begin its search for food. When the surroundings lend themselves to a wider view, often pulling the zoom back to reveal the subject’s immediate environment can completely change the photograph and its story. What was a photograph of a buffalo nursing its calf is now a landscape of a herd of hundreds amongst the rolling mist-laden grasslands. What was a photograph of a perched African Goshawk is now a wide shot of a waterhole with a hunter surveying the water’s visitors. And what was a photograph of an elephant digging in the sand is now a dry riverbed landscape with the sun setting over its scorching banks.

matimba, wide, marula, SC

No longer just a powerful male lion, but a sense of kingdom atop one of Londolozi’s Marula tree crests. 1/500 at f/5; ISO 100.

elephant, leadwood, mist, SC

No longer a wise adult elephant, but a sense of mystery among the winter mist accompanying an ancient Leadwood tree which dwarfs the largest land mammal there is. 1/250 at f/4; ISO 200.

tsalala cubs, vomba dam, wide, SC

No longer a lioness and cubs’ moment together, but a scene revealing the vulnerability of competition as a large elephant bull approaches the waterhole from out of sight. 1/200 at f/5; ISO 100.

elephant herd, wide, SC

Golden afternoon rays penetrate the lens from above a curious elephant as she passes close to the vehicle; the sky and shadows begin stealing the viewer’s attention. 1/50 at f/8; ISO 100.

giraffe, sunrise, SC

Again, the scenery starts to become the main foundation of the image. The twisted foliage and layered terrain stained by the rising sun from behind low-level clouds is enough to inspire. The idling giraffe only adds to the incredible setting. 1/800 at f/2.8; ISO 100.

cheetah, SC

This cheetah’s pristine coat and figure is contrasted by the dead and decaying branches of this fallen tree. The chaos of the scenery is topped with a cherry, and only becomes apparent when the wider picture is considered. 1/400 at f/4; ISO 400.

tsalala, landscape, SC

Even more striking than the pride of lions on the lower left of the frame is the unshakable rocky outcrop rising from the mist in the distance. The Tsalala pride of 2014 walks deep into the Sabi Sands as their shadows stretch. 1/500 at f/5.6; ISO 640.

This additional context to a situation is not limited to animals though, and it is not restrained to landscape photography. Any view of any “thing” or area can be subject to focus. It may tell a story, it may inspire a thought, or most simply it may please the eye and generate a smile.

For the creative type, a “subject” can be chosen and placed accordingly within the frame; a dead tree, a granite boulder, a distant hill or cascading waterfall. Furthermore, a theme attached to the feeling of the environment can come through in the photograph; a heat-swept baron land foiled by a surviving shrub, or the streak of a low altitude satellite across an otherwise uninhabited night sky.

sunrise, clouds, SC

With a crescent moon shrunk into the vast throw of pink-lit clouds, this sunrise has no “subject” other than the emotion brought on by this amazing time of the day. 1/60 at f/4.5; ISO 200.

sunrise, jet stream, SC

By honing in on the sun itself, this moment becomes the entire subject of the photograph; an awe-inspiring jet stream darts through raging clouds hundreds of miles away. The beating rays of light form the centre of the image while they illuminate the subject. 1/3200 at f/2.8; ISO 1000.

distant landscape, SC

A feeling, an emotion and an aura. Cold clouds melting into the valley mist below were perfectly lit by an approaching sunrise, giving this scene a subject of its own; untouched wilderness. 1/160 at f/11; ISO 200.

full moon, SC

What is the eye attracted to here? The full moon climbing into brightness, the wild terrain with upwardly reaching dead tree below, or the dramatic dance of cloud and colour between? Does it matter? 1/50 at f/11; ISO 250.

sunset, SC

The “rule of thirds” allows this setting sun’s fading rays to cast texture across the majority of this scene, while the silhouette of the oddly shaped tree to the left draws the viewer’s eye. 1/100 at f/20; ISO 200.

rob h, tracker, mist, SC

Although the tracker in the centre forms a pleasing subject, the daunting weather ahead steals the show. Here, Rob Hlatshwayo tracks through long grass during a cold and overcast morning. 1/800 at f/6; ISO 320.

It is the type of photograph which cannot be designed, but the situation should present itself suddenly and often unexpectedly. Some would say that only those looking for the beauty of nature will notice the photographic opportunity, but I believe that such landscapes and scenarios catch anyone’s attention and often shake us out of our often bland and blinded state of mind.

giraffe, silhouette, SC

Given enough space, the intangible tells more than the tangible. Here, the colour change in the sky was more important than details on the otherwise towering giraffe. 1/80 at f/10; ISO 250.

hooded vulture, sunset, silhouette, SC

Setting sunlight refracts into a spectrum of beauty, silhouetting a Hooded vulture ready to roost; colour bands being the subject of the scene. 1/400 at f/2.8; ISO 2500.

Nature photography is simply the appreciation of its beauty and the innocent attempt to nearing its replication.

About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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6 Comments

on Photographic Journal: Reassessing the Subject

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Ian Hall
Guest

We often ignore the landscape the animal is in, there are some lovely pictures in this article warning of this error.

Debbie
Guest

Stunning pictures Sean – they truly do capture so much – The “soul” of the bush!

Chris Cresswell
Guest

Awesome photos Sean…inspiring!

Michael & Terri Klauber
Guest

Sean, Great work and thanks for the “big picture” images!

Jill Larone
Guest

Really beautiful pictures Sean, capturing the larger story that may be missed when concentrating on one subject. I really love seeing landscapes of Londolozi (especially) — they bring back many happy memories of being on game drive and just taking everything in.

Sue Prince
Guest

Great pics Sean …

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