Be it a kitchen, lounge or bedroom, clutter will invariably make the place look messy. You want to have everything neat and tidy and in its place.
The same goes for wildlife photography; the busier a scene, the less likely it is that the photo will have a visual impact. The more going on in a picture, the more there is to distract you from the subject.
Clean or solid backgrounds, fewer objects, pronounced bokeh… there are a number of ways to reduce clutter in a photo, and we’ve selected what we feel are the most appropriate 5 for wildlife photography:
Look for It
By simply training yourself to notice what’s going on around your subject, you will go a long way towards reducing distractions in your photos. As tempting as it is to have eyes only for the lion or elephant that you have in your frame, make sure you let your eyes roam around the rest of the frame to see if there’s anything there that shouldn’t be, or that will detract from the final image.
Once you get into the habit of doing this it will start happening almost instantaneously. The more you practice, the faster you will adjust and the quicker you will be able to take the photo. In wildlife photography, milliseconds saved can be crucial!
Adjust Your Angle
Sometimes by shifting slightly in your seat or even just leaning, you can reframe a picture so that it cuts out unnecessary clutter.
Another technique we often stress is to get low. Obviously this can be tricky when it comes to wildlife photography, but there are steps you can take. Sit in the front row of the Land Rover. If the animals you are photographing are on a river bank, see if there’s a possibility of getting down into the riverbed. By shooting across or up instead of down, you generally establish a much greater distance between your subject and its beackground, which makes it far more likely you will get an effective bokeh (see points 3 and 5).
Be Patient and Look Ahead
As frustrating as it can be when you can see the perfect angle or place for an animal to be for a great shot but the animal isn’t there, by simply waiting, you will be surprised how many times that perfect situation will seem to manifest itself.
By assessing where an animal is moving and reading the terrain, you will be far more able to make predictions as to where the animal might end up. It’s always worth planning for the money shot; if it comes off, brilliant, but if it doesn’t there’s always next time.
Following a leopard or cheetah through a clearing? Look ahead to see if there are any fallen trees or termite mounds in its path, and get into position early just in case the animal climbs up.
Widen Your Aperture
The type of lens you are using here is key, but a wider aperture (ie. lower f-number) will narrow your depth of field, blurring the background more effectively and rendering any clutter there moot. Lenses with an aperture of f2.8 or wider (some get ridiculous and go to numbers like f1.2) will be more effective at blurring backgrounds, but two things to consider here are the distance from you to your subject and the distance from the subject to the background.
The closer the subject to the background the more clutter there will be, and the further you are from the subject the less of a blur you’ll get behind it from a wide aperture.
Closer to subject and subject further from background is the magic combination here.
Use a Bigger Zoom
Big lenses equal big blur. A large telephoto lens will automatically generate a wonderful bokeh behind a subject, reducing clutter, as well as flattening the angle so that it looks like you are more at eye level with your subject.
Sometimes things just won’t play into your hands and you won’t have a cheetah up on a mound, a leopard on a fallen tree or a 600mm lens at your disposal. Remember though, the photo should always be secondary to the sighting itself. If it isn’t lending itself to great photography, simply put the camera down and enjoy!