Patience is a virtue, and especially when it comes to wildlife photography.
But it can be far simpler than waiting hours for a lion pride to get up and go hunting, or a leopard leaping up into a tree. It can be as easy as just waiting a few moments for the appropriate head tilt, or for a cloud to move away from the sun. What can add immeasurable value to a photo of an animal – particularly a close-up – is eye-glint. That little sparkle in the eye of a predator can change what would be an otherwise mundane photo into one that leaps off the screen at you (I still find it weird saying “off the screen” instead of ‘off the page”…aaah the digital age).
Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some more useful tips like this to incorporate in your wildlife photography, but today we’ll simply be concentrating on eye-glint.
Have a look at the following two cheetah photos…
In the above photo, I absolutely love the position the sleeping cheetah has taken on its sibling’s forelegs. As cheetah photos go, it’s relatively unique, yet looking at it now in the context of this post, I’m very aware that something is lost because of the lack of sparkle in the awake cheetah’s eyes. Cheetahs in general are tough to photograph with good eye-sparkle; their extended brows over their eyes which reduce glare, also hinder photographers trying to catch that elusive glint. The sun needs to be low, the cheetah needs to be looking up, or even a flash needs to be employed.
The photo below is nothing special as far as cheetah photos go (it’s actually of one of the same siblings in the picture above), but the right eye has a sparkle in it, so – for me at least – it is immediately more appealing. The photo was taken just before sunset, so the low light made it much easier to capture the eye-glint.
Exactly the same thing applies in the two elephant photos below. The top photo for me is far more appealing. I prefer the colour scheme in the second, and the isolation of the eye in the focal plane, but it doesn’t have the glint in it, so it’s missing that extra something.
Leopards and lions are far easier subjects in which to capture that elusive sparkle. Both species look up regularly. Lions scan the skies to follow vultures flying (as do leopards to a lesser extent), and leopards look up into the trees they are thinking of climbing.
All it takes is a bit of patience and ideally a basic understanding of animal behaviour, and you will recognise the moment when it comes.
Professional wildlife photographers will discard photos without eye-glint immediately, almost every time. I’m talking mainly about close-ups here, or at least medium-shots. Obviously one can’t hope for eye-glint in an entire herd of impalas.
Just sit tight; don’t be tempted to push the shutter button because the lion has its head up. Wait a few seconds or minutes, and it will invariably raise its eyes above the horizontal.
That’s your chance.