Ideally when taking photographs in the bush, you simply want to capture the moment and tell the story, and any man-made structure or object in the frame can seriously detract from what would otherwise have been a great picture. However, what can be nice from time to time is to incorporate something of human origin in order to gain some kind of perspective, be it the size of the animal or even how close the action is. In this day and age, with super telephoto lenses and the ability to crop and enhance digital photos, it can often seem like the subject in the frame is or was far closer than the reality. At Londolozi, however, we are in the privileged position of being able to view animals up close, and have them ignore us completely whilst exhibiting their natural behaviour. I sometimes like to show this in my photos.
Perspective is a funny thing. When you get right down to it, perspective is the way our eye relates to spacial separation and the relationship between the size of objects within that spacial separation. Take the sun and the moon for example. From our perspective, they look pretty much the same size in the sky, yet the sun is vastly more enormous than the moon, it is just the incredible distance away from us that makes it appear smaller. This spacial separation can be manipulated within a photograph by you, the photographer, in a number of ways. Distance from subject, angle of shooting, distance between objects in the frame, lens used, etc… the list goes on.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to get too technical in posts, mainly for my own sake, but after taking photographs for a couple of years in the bush, I have – mainly through dumb luck – found out what can work and what doesn’t. Here are just a few tips to add a little something to your photos, when dealing with perspective.
Shoot little with large.
Taking photographs of young animals can be very rewarding. Often far more likely to be active than the adults, sometimes in the most delightful ways, cubs, pups, calves and lambs are great photographic subjects. What can add nicely to your photographic repertoire, and significantly enhance just how cute a young animal is, is photographing them next to an adult of the same species. The larger the adult next to the youngster the better, as the size difference will emphasised more.
Show the terrain.
It can be tough getting the shot. Manoeuvring the vehicle into position can be tricky, especially if the animals you are trying to photograph are on the move. It is often a nice idea to try and include something that highlights the position the animals are in, particularly if it is in quite an inaccessible area. Another vehicle in the photo often works well to add an extra dimension.
Get Low. Give a Reference.
This has definitely been mentioned before, but by simply shooting from lower down, one can emphasise the size of an animal. This is particularly effective when photographing big, impressive animals like elephants or lions, as one wants them to ‘loom’ in the photograph, creating the impression of power.
By including a vehicle in a photograph of an elephant, particularly a big elephant and particularly if the vehicle is quite close, one can dramatically emphasise their size. Seeing an elephant next to other elephants can be misleading, as you are simply comparing a big animal to another big animal. I always like to compare this scenario to watching the South African rugby team on TV. Seeing them on television, you are simply comparing them to their teammates, all of whom are very large individuals. It is only when you are standing next to them in real life that you can appreciate what large individuals they are. It is often the same with large animals in the bush; you need some kind of human reference to fully appreciate how big they are.
I am by no means advocating simply driving up to a large elephant bull. Care must be taken to assess the animal’s mood and they must always be viewed with respect. Your ranger and tracker will be able to judge exactly what a safe distance for the vehicle will be.
The beauty of digital photography is the scope for experimentation that is possible. As long as there is space on your memory card, you can keep shooting, zooming out, zooming in, changing the angle, and creating all kinds of different perspectives of what can even be a relatively mundane scene.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell