When was the last time that an image stopped you in your tracks and stirred emotion?  Do you remember when last a piece of music transported you to a different place or a sequence of film moved you so deeply that you felt it in a tight ball in your throat, or the sting of tears in your eyes? Today, before we’ve looked up from the latest Instagram story, or Facebook post, the beauty of life has, quite simply, passed us by.

Photography, in particular, has become so instant. Sudden even. We no longer live in the hope that by pressing the shutter button, we’ve captured something magical on film. We don’t need to wait in anticipation anymore – we simply shoot, review a digital version, delete it if it’s not to our liking and move on. Gone are the days of the ritual of developing our photographs in a dark room- using finesse, ancient wisdom and teaching to create pieces of thoughtful art. Today, through no fault of our own, and by way of incredible technological advancements, we’ve lost the dance of developing to cataloging, importing, manipulating and exporting.

What I think that we, as photographers, can sometimes forget is that we’re artists, honing an art form, and using our art to tell stories. This got me thinking about how, if you sit quietly with yourself and think about your craft, there are ways to return to the soulful side of making photographs, and ways to return to the pleasure that is found in immortalizing one moment in time from our own perspectives… a beautiful window into our souls.

Tip # 1: Be present

Presence, at its essence, is a form of meditation. To be present, you need to really see what’s in front of you. Open up your awareness to life in front of your eyes. As photographers, we inherently see things differently to the rest of the world. That’s what makes our passion our passion. If we actively practice the art of being aware of everything around us – the changes in light, the softness in colour, interesting shapes and form, shadows and bright light, contrasting qualities – we begin to see in high definition. This practice of being present often needs to start before we have even picked up our camera, and often begins with a sense of an internal questioning of the scenes that dance past us each day. A soulful capture is often the returned answer to this question.

I took this image whilst out shooting behind-the-scenes shots on our Live Guided campaign. We were incredibly lucky to come across this leopard on a cool, overcast morning. While everyone was busy capturing a photograph of guests viewing the leopard, I managed to steal a few seconds to be present with the moment – the colours, the shape of the tree and the interesting gaze of the leopard. I was left wondering what she was thinking …

Zebra in black and white

Being present while taking a photograph often manifests itself in being absolutely silent and still. I remember sitting so still that I forgot to breathe while taking this shot – fixated on the look in the stallion’s eyes as he stood, alert.

 

Tip # 2: Sink into the feeling of the shot

Feel the shot. Feel the moment. Notice how the scene makes you feel. This is the essence of conveying soul to the shot in order to share it with others. If you feel wonder while you’re making your photograph, chances are that the viewer will feel wonder too.

The best view from a tree at Londolozi Game Reserve

On another behind-the-scenes mission I managed to make this photograph of Amy Attenborough. We were waiting for the perfect light and searching for angles. Unbeknownst to me, Amy had climbed into a nearby tree. As I looked up and noticed her there, I could feel her love of trees so tangibly. She was cradled by these ancient branches and I wanted to capture the feeling I had of this connection between woman and nature as the energy flowed between bark and fingertips.

This photograph of the Piva Male has quickly become one of my favourite shots. It was late afternoon and the light was fading fast. We were following this leopard on an evening patrol of his territory. He was completely unfazed by us, but very much aware that we were following him. I felt pure power and presence, and as he turned to look at something to our left, I managed to make this headshot with the beautiful soft colours contrasting against his bold markings and powerful shoulder blades.

I have always found photographing birds such a satisfying thing. They are very hard to capture (their speed and unpredictable movement make them tricky to focus on) and when you do get a good shot it always warrants a pat on the back. I also find them very expressive as subjects, and if you’re quiet and present, slight movements in their heads or body carriage can tell so much of a story. This glossy ibis was fishing for food, and I wanted to capture what felt like a kind of playfulness to me. The soft colours of the background mirrored the iridescence of the ibis’ feathers, another element I find so pleasing to the eye.

Tip # 3: Be slow and considered

Bringing the soul into your photography takes planning and patience. While you can get some shots by pure chance, it takes time to be present and to be aware, and it takes time to feel. You need to sit with yourself and in the quiet moments let the soul come through. Often a photograph can’t be made in the first instant. Like a good cup of tea, the flavour takes time to brew and intensify. So too does it require consideration to release the feeling you want to bring across in your story.

Sunset Crossing - Londolozi Game Reserve

When I first started thinking about writing this story I immediately took inspiration from this shot. And as I searched through my image library for the right photographs to share with you, I kept being drawn to landscape shots. It can often be so difficult to accurately capture the feeling of a place, and when you manage to achieve that, it can be one of the most soulful experiences. This shot was taken between downpours in the North of our property. Previous shots had come out dark and uninteresting. But then, out of nowhere, shards of silver light burst through the ominous clouds and it felt like something bigger than ourselves was showing through… Proof that slowing things down and waiting for the perfect moment makes all the difference.

Starry night at Londolozi Game Reserve

Every time I look at this photograph I get the feeling of the milky way falling from the sky as if to pepper the horizon with millions of tiny flecks of light. Capturing the night sky fills us with absolute wonder and forces us, as photographers, to slow down, consider the light, consider composition and think about the purpose of our shot… All the while setting the intention of filling the viewer with the wonder of being under African skies.

Tip # 4: Become a storyteller, not just a photographer

Think of the beginning, the middle and the end of your shot, and how you want someone to take in the information in front of them. Plan where you want them to start thinking. Is there a question you want them to ask about the shot that will lead them to the rest of your story? Is there a better composition that will allow the eye to enter from one side and amble through the shot to the end of the story? Plan your shot, not in terms of one single moment, but as a layered story for the viewer to get lost in.

The journey of this pack of jackal pups inspired me to put together a photographic journal on them. It isn’t technically the best photograph, but a few things came together to create a story in one shot. The fact that I was at eye-level with the jackals; the leading perspective of the track that draws your eye to the center and the exit line of the road in the distance, all give a feeling of entering the shot and traveling along with these pups as they trot into their future on Londolozi.

Sometimes the story of a photograph comes in the form of the questions it asks of the viewer. I love the story within a story that this photograph creates as Don Heyneke kneels down to look for tracks in a drainage line while we were out on a bush walk one afternoon. The ancient art of tracking is, in and of itself, a story waiting to be told. The complete focus with which Don was searching the ground for tracks to piece together creates a question… “What is he looking at? What’s there?” The way that the dappled light spotlights his arm, leading our eye to his hand perfectly rounded out the story I wanted to tell with this shot.

Tip # 5: Craft this story and the journey of the eye by using light and texture

Neurologically, our eyes are drawn to areas that are bright, or areas that are sharply in focus- both forms of contrast (just as our cameras seek contrast in order to focus). We can become expert story-tellers by crafting the journey that the eye takes when viewing our photograph. By accentuating light areas, we pull the eye’s attention to them. By creating areas of large contrast by increasing clarity and sharpness, we can guide the eye in certain directions. All of this can be used to get the eye to enter the frame at a certain point (as Ansel Adams did with ‘the push’) and then land on key areas… like puzzle pieces to pull the story together. Identify these parts of your photograph and enhance them through the editing process to guide the eye around your story.

A lioness pads across the edge of a pan at Londolozi Game Reserve

I almost rejected this shot when I saw it in colour. The colours were dull, and there wasn’t much contrast or interest. But, what did catch my attention was the form of this lion’s huge paws swinging as she walked, and feeling of rhythm and purpose. As I transformed it into black and white, her reflection came to life. By lightning the areas of focus, and darkening the parts I didn’t want the eye to land on first, I crafted the journey that I wanted the viewer’s eye to take. The resulting mercurial feel of this photograph left me with the feeling that we’re never truly alone.

The glint in this Tawny Eagle’s eye and the beautiful contrast of its light and dark feathers against a grey sky meant that there was no doubt where the viewer’s eye would land. The incredible curve of its wing feathers also provided the perfect scoop to draw attention out of shot, creating a question of where this magnificent bird was off to…

In a world where instant gratification is the name of the game, we’re compelled- now more than ever- to slow down and return to more ancient ways. We can’t allow ourselves to forget the power of presence, of feeling things deeply and of sharing stories that will enable us to immortalize all of life’s lessons, instead of letting them pass by without touching down. When everything from shopping online to communicating with loved ones is done with the swift click of a mouse, it couldn’t be a better time to bring purpose back by remembering what it’s like to feel one’s soul through a single photograph.

About the Author

Amanda Ritchie

Marketing & Photography Manager

Amanda joined the Londolozi team early in 2015 & immediately took the Londolozi Studio to an exciting new level. Her unflappable work ethic & perfectionism are exemplary, & under her guidance the Studio has become one of the busiest areas on Londolozi. The ...

View Amanda's profile

25 Comments

on 5 Tips for Soulful Photography

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Lovely blog Amanda. I take pictures just for memories. I realized after reading your blog that I just click away most of the time and don’t enjoy the moment. Definitely going to try to be more aware.

Amanda Ritchie

Thanks Marinda! I hope that you managed to take some soulful photographs over the last few days at Londolozi.

Marinda Drake

Some of the photos are lovely. We had such a great time at Londolozi. It was a wonderful experience.

Ginger Brucker

I love the words “soulful capture”. Great key to unlock these wonderful tips. It also reminds us what to look for when viewing photos. I especially love Amy in the tree. Having had the opportunity to spend my two Londolozi trips with her I know some of her favorite places are anchored by some beautiful ones.

Amanda Ritchie

Thanks so much for your kind words, Ginger. I think that the word “soulful” means something different to each person, so I’m glad that it resonated with you.

Callum Evans

Thank you so much for such a beautiful, helpful and meaningful article!! I know that I can learn a lot from this post and hopefully become a better photographer.

Amanda Ritchie

Thank you so much, Callum. I’m delighted that you found it so useful. I think the other part of bringing back the soul to photography is to practice as much as possible so that we develop our eye even more, so I hope that you can take some of these tips and put them into practice yourself 🙂

Callum Evans

Pleasure Amanda! I’ve definetely gotten a lot of practise over the last few years, honing my skills in Kirstenbosch in preparation for the bush!

Joanne Wadsworth

Thank you Amanda for sharing your professional tips. Great reminders of all that a photo moment can become. I’ll carry your advice forward with greater awareness!

Amanda Ritchie

Thank you so much, Joanne. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post and I do hope that you can carry some tips forward for yourself.

Lucie Easley

Thank you, Amanda, for these insights and the photographs that beautifully illustrate. It is awesome to feel present with you as you create the story.

Amanda Ritchie

I’m so glad that you felt like you were along with me for the ride! Thank you for the comment, Lucie.

Denise Vouri

Your blog was artfully written and so true on all levels. I’m of the school that making pictures is much more important than taking pictures. I used to shoot everything, trying to record for posterity and then I had the aha moment – look, listen and pay attention to what’s around me. While traveling in Africa it’s difficult to contain enthusiasm when seeing so many animals and birds, but truly less is more.
Your photos are soulful and I appreciate your sharing these images.

Amanda Ritchie

Thank you so much for the wonderful comment, Denise. I just love the fact that each photographer (artist) has their own perspective on their craft. I totally agree that less can be more, but also that there are so many incredible things to capture. I suppose walking that fine line is where the soul really does come in. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my images 🙂

Ian Hall

Lovely blog, it is so much about the moment. I love the wading bird photograph, very good to get that angle and I think the cropping is superb. .

Jos Van Bommel

Hi Ian and Amanda,
Amanda, thanks for writing this! Wonderful and fully supported by me.
Ian made a nice comment on the ibis picture, the only thing I would like to ask you: is this photo taken at Londolozi or at Zimanga? Ian, if you interested, it is a wonderful place for photography of birds from hides (from small once to big once!). I have been there now 3 times and will go back next year again.
Kind regards to both of you,
Jos

Ian Hall

Thanks Jos, I got some wonderful bird photos at Londolozi , I booked a single use Land Rover for a day, hired a massive lens using the lens hire facility and we decamped to the causeway . Saw three species of kingfishers and (deep joy ) a kingfisher caught a small fish , dispatched it and ate it on a branch within three metres of the Land Rover.
I have been waiting for a moment like that all my life.
About ten minutes after that Andrea Campbell asked if I would like to see a mating pair of leopards, so we pootled off . We saw the mating pair, and a third leopard just walked past .
I have had worse game drives.
My next trip is the complete opposite to Londolozi in that I am going to Samburu in Central Kenya and then going north to the Matthews Mountains. Oh and yes – they have a hide.
I think you are spot on and hides will become more important as a game viewing option.
Best wishes

Amanda Ritchie

Hi Jos. Thank you so much for the comment and kind words. You are absolutely right; that shot was taken at Zimanga Private Nature reserve. It was an incredible experience, and definitely something I look forward to doing again soon!

Amanda Ritchie

Thank you so much for the comment, Ian. That is also one of my favourite shots. It was, indeed, taken at Zimanga Private Nature Reserve during a two week period of leave from Londolozi. I was lucky enough to experience their lagoon hide, and it was just mindblowing how close the birds came, and the types of angles I could get on various shots… we really were immersed in their world. As a result, I couldn’t help but share it in this post as I felt that it carried a lot of soul and magic from my experience there. I would highly recommend a visit if you are interested in photographing birds, or simply want to play around with another style of photography. Thanks again for the comments!

Jeff Rodgers

Wonderful post . . . thanks for this.

Amanda Ritchie

Thanks, Jeff, I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. And thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

Michael & Terri Klauber

Amanda, What an incredible post to inspire all of us who love photography! This is one of your most thoughtful and insightful posts ever and we will do our best to become more “soulful” going forward!

Amanda Ritchie

Thank you so much for your comment, Michael and Terri! It’s always so great to hear from you both, and I’m sorry I missed you on your last trip to Londolozi. I’m delighted that you enjoyed my post, and thank you for the kind words. As always, if a writer can stir some form of emotion with a piece, it is infinitely worth it. Much love from a rainy, cool, fresh Londolozi today!

Judy Hayden

Amanda. after I read your wonderful educational blog, I had to put my beloved border collie down. But before the sad event I took her to her favorite spot at the lake and I followed her around and really took my time taking her pictures. I can actually sense that she knew her time was coming and she just stared out towards a place she always wanted to go, but could not swim that far. She just took it in, her head up and she just breathed. The picture is beautiful. I have several lasting memories. Thank you for your tips. It has affected people across the world from you.

Amanda Ritchie

Hi Judy. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your hound (in our family, dogs often rank higher than humans 🙂 so I can completely relate. I’m so glad that you felt connected and inspired by this post, and that it helped you to create a memory that will last forever. We so appreciate your contribution to our online Family via the blog, so thanks again for your kind words. Much love from us all here at Londolozi.

Connect with Londolozi

Follow Us

Sign up for our newsletter

One moment...
+
Add Profile