This is just a quick one for the photographers out there.
Kylie Jones ran a post a few months ago in which she asked some of the Londolozi guides their best photographic tips.
The one I went with was to zoom out more often.
Many is the time I have seen people miss a great shot because of the temptation to over-use a camera’s zoom. When starting your journey into photography, it can be really exciting to see just how great a lion or leopard’s face can look when viewed through a 400mm lens, yet more often than not, by zooming in you are missing the most vital aspect of photography; story-telling.
I still regularly make that mistake; going full zoom to get the most detail I can in an animal, yet the real magic of the shot is actually in the landscape or area through which the animal is walking, or what is going on around it. I know we’ve probably beaten this same drum on the blog before, but it’s a point worth repeating.
A photograph of a leopard feeding on a kill in a tree, with a hyena prowling around the base, tells a story. A close-up portrait of the same leopard does not:
Of course the lens you are using can be a limiting factor. Prime lenses generally offer the best quality shots, especially as they will often be able to go to a lower f-stop, shallowing that depth of field and letting in more light. Personally though, I find them slightly limiting. Yes the quality is amazing, but compositionally they are much harder to work with, as you don’t have the luxury of being able to zoom in or out to depict a scene better. One way around this is to stitch frames together, which is what I did in the photo of the Anderson male above. The photo is actually a composite of eight images; the lens I was using wasn’t wide enough to capture the whole scene, and parking the vehicle much further away would have resulted in bushes between us and the action, obscuring the shot. Knowing that the real story was the full-tree-leopard-and-hyena shot, I snapped of 8 frames and used Lightroom to stitch them together.
One of each of the following pairs of photographs featured in last Friday’s TWIP:
The above two pictures are from the same sighting of the Mashaba female leopard drinking at a glassy pan. The first photo was taken with a prime lens, and although sharp and showing the leopard’s forequarters in detail, loses some of the feeling of the second picture, which shows the whole leopard. For me the second picture (zoomed out on a 70-200mm lens) is the more evocative. Leopards are seen as secretive animals, and – at least in my mind – the more mystery one can intimate in a photograph of one the better. I like the curled tail in the second photograph, and its reflection. Of course photography and the appreciation thereof is highly subjective, but I prefer the second picture to the first.
In the following two photographs, we have almost the same situation:
The first photograph simply shows a rhino having a drink. The second picture however (also stitched from multiple images), provides scale, and in doing so hints at more; the solitude of the rhino bull, the serenity of the scene, and the setting itself creates a story.
Look, sometimes zooming in is what you want. Zoom accentuates depth of field and can make a subject pop. It can provide incredible detail that would remain otherwise unappreciated.
All I’m saying is take the time to consider what you’re actually trying to convey in an image. Far more often than not, I’ve found that zooming out gets the story across that much better. For me at least…
Filed under Photography Wildlife
Love theae blogs where you can learn something. Sincd Kylie’s blog I have realized that I zoom everything too much and it is better to get the whole picture.
I happen to be in full agreement with you James. But it was a lesson learned over time. The larger view tells it’s own unique story and detail, whereas with the right light and subject, a tight shot can also bring a gasp. For a pro, negative space is important commercially. For me it’s all magic and a passion that spurs us all on to the next capture. Excitement and magic….what a phenominal combination….and there is a bounty of both in Londolozi! Insightful blog, James.
Great blog post, James. I would love to learn the stitching technique from you… I think it provides a great addition to a set of lenses if you can get a wide angle with a telephoto zoom… even if you have a wide angle lens handy 🙂
I agree! Our temptation is to get as close as we can, but that is not always the best idea. The leopard and hyena photo is a great example. Just the leopard is ‘another leopard in the tree’. The two animals together show the real story of what you witnessed. Excellent advice, James!
I totally agree with you. A picture should tell a story. Especially in nature.
So true James! Photographs should tell a story…….
Nice post, I am giving a lot of thought to the question of zoom v prime, half frame v full frame.
Thanks a lot James …..Ive been never been thinking of stitching the photographs when not having enough reach ,normally i take the other camera next to me with the other lens ….. but that takes time switching…..thanks for the idea … !
Really great post James. Spot on advice!!!
I’m a compulsive ‘zoom inner’. Will have to harness this compulsion on my next visit.
I used the longer range photo of the rhino drinking on Facebook here in the Midlands, England. Lots of my friends liked it too. I just thought it was so peaceful and conveyed a wonderful atmosphere. Yes, the close up was good, but maybe just factual? Well done with the stitching!
Just beautiful and so true. Thank you for including examples. Thank you for all you do.
Great tip. Loved the examples.
I’ve recently been trying to take your advice and to try and including the animals I’m photographing in the context of its home, while also taking close-ups. Both methods have their merits, but the three photos you have used here are definitely more impactful when the camera had zoomed out.