We often talk about the large predator hierarchy of Londolozi, with lions at the top, cheetahs at the bottom, and the rest filling in the space in between.
What we don’t often talk about however, is the photography hierarchy.
Ok I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but what I’m referring to is the importance of various elements in your photograph in order to make it work.
The top two are fairly obvious (subject and light), but number three (the bronze medal position, clearly very important) is your background.
There are a number of different things to look for when aiming for the right background, but your number one goal should be to have a background that doesn’t detract from your subject.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to keep it clean. The simpler the background is, the more your subject will stand out against it. This can mean a background of a single colour, one that is completely blurred, or both. Simply repositioning by moving a few metres left or right can vastly improve your shot. Avoid clutter and look out for small bits of light coming through the trees or foliage that can be distracting.
On the subject of colour, a background should ideally compliment your subject; the colours shouldn’t clash. It’s a fine line to tread though, because to get your subject to pop, it can’t mirror the background colour too closely either. Going into winter as we are, with the grass turning dun-coloured, the favourite photographic subjects of lion and leopard become slightly harder to obtain striking images of from a purely background perspective. Yes, the light is fantastic and the bush is more open, but it does become a challenge getting a lion to stand out against grass that is essentially the same colour as its coat. This is where your angle of shooting becomes important.
Winter out here is usually defined by clear blue skies, so if you can get low down – either down a slope for lions or having a leopard up in a tree or on a termite mound – you can photograph them against a clean blue background, which ticks two of the all-important background boxes.
Blurring your background helps enormously in drawing attention to your subject, but this usually involves distance from the subject to the background or a telephoto lens. We’ll leave that discussion for another day.
When composing your image, make sure you let your eyes wander out from your subject to scrutinise for things like branches coming out from behind the head, glaring highlights or others of that sort.
If you are really struggling with the background and it’s just not playing ball, another option is to simply zoom right into the subject and eliminate the background altogether!
Remember, if it doesn’t make the image better, it makes it worse.