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.
Filed under Photography Wildlife
Very interesting post!
James, I use canon FX70 – long zoom – it works perfectly for catching the glint of an eye🤗
Never noticed it, but(not deliberately) my favorite photos do have the “eye glint.”
Thank you for one of the most important tips in animal photography. Your illustrative examples were perfect.
Love this, James! I’ve been an eye-sparkle seeker for years! Without it, there is a generally lifeless look to the animal. Thank you for reminding me, once again, what works!
What a wonderful collection in composition of pictures! They speak to the mind and the heart in their own special way.
Thank you for these good tips. Photos are beautiful, especially the Tamboti cub. Loved the Tamboti female!
Well described James! A friend who is a wildlife photographer for National Geographic told me the sparkle of light was a minimum necessity for a non-action shot and that the money shot was a straight on eye to eye shot with the camera and if the sparkle was there the day was worthwhile. Needless to say, patience was a paramount requirement!!!
😮 That is a really good post, thanks James . I think I will reread it few times today
Look into their eyes, and you will just fall in love with them……
I agree about the “Glint”. we were lucky enough to be out with Guy and Shad a few weeks ago and I too have photos with that magical glint. Matt has copies on his hard drive!