Portrait shots, or simply photographs of individual animals in typical pose, are greatly enhanced when the subject matter ‘pops’. When it jumps out at you from the photograph. When your eye is immediately drawn to what ever point the photographer was intending to be the main point of attention.
There are a few ways to accomplish this ‘popping’ effect, but in this short post, we’ll just discuss two.
The first one is to try and make sure your subject is in focus, but everything else is out of focus. In photographic terminology, this is known as the depth of field. Ideally you want your subject matter far enough away from whatever the background is to ensure that that background is nicely blurred.
Obviously the animals in the bush haven’t taken a course in photography and aren’t just going to lie down or move to photographically convenient positions whenever a camera hoves into view, so you may have to wait awhile before an opportunity presents itself. A decent knowledge of animal behaviour comes in very handy here, and given the situation and species in question, your ranger should be able to make the call on whether he/she thinks the opportunity for a good photo will be forthcoming.
Shooting with your aperture wide open is the next step. The wider the aperture, the smaller the depth of field. I shoot with a Canon 70-200mm f2.8, which allows for a very shallow depth of field, but anything up to around f4.5 can be OK, especially as lenses that can go to really low f-stops tend to be rather more expensive, and not ideal for a first time bush visitor.
Getting closer to the subject can significantly increase the effectiveness of this depth of field effect.
We are very lucky at Londolozi in that the more high profile species such as lions and leopards have usually seen vehicles since they were young and have learnt to ignore them completely, allowing for unrivalled photo opportunities around relaxed animals exhibiting their natural behaviour.
The second way to increase the effectiveness of a ‘popping out’ shot is to try and reduce background clutter. Not only is the distance from the background important, but the less going on there the better. A uniformly thick green tree or bush as a background will be far better than one which has tangled branches leaving gaps of sky through them. Ideally you want your animal isolated, but again, it’s up to the animal. Repositioning the vehicle can change the angle, but ultimately, it is about patience and waiting for the right moment.
So trust your ranger to get you into position, make sure you have the right settings on your camera, be patient, and be ready!
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell