Wildlife photography is an art form that allows one to convey, or rather attempt to convey, one’s interpretation of the natural world around us. Most of the time the final product will showcase the beauty of our subject, but in other instances, we may attempt to convey a sense of awe, passion, darkness or the absolute raw nature of the world around us. Because nature is not always beautiful. Often it is savage and harsh.
The lens of a skilled wildlife photographer offers us a glimpse into the fascinating lives of the creatures that allow us to share their space with them. Wildlife photography can have a profound impact on our understanding and conservation of the natural world and as such makes any of us that choose to raise our lens, an ambassador for these last wild places.
The Power of Wildlife Photography
A photo can evoke a deeply emotional response in people, allowing us to connect to nature on a deeper level. Showcasing a single moment in time has the potential to change how an animal is seen by the large majority of people.
As with game viewing, photography is best practised ethically. One of the major frustrations we all deal with out there is working around the scene presented to us. Sometimes you may be tempted to push down a tree or bush that is just where you want to be, but you must remember to ask yourself how that is going to impact the animal you are hoping to capture or whether that species of tree is slow-growing and how much damage you may be inflicting on the environment around you. And if it just is not a possibility to get a perfectly clean shot, well then it just isn’t possible.
Rather, a good photographer will start experimenting with angles and abstracts; a shot of an eye staring out from the thicket or a tail draped along a branch, a trunk emerging from the canopy like a periscope from the ocean, there are many ways to highlight your subject despite the challenging circumstances.
Gear and Techniques for Wildlife Photography
There is a saying, “all the gear and no idea.” Gear is expensive and if you are bothering to invest in a set-up like a new mirrorless camera or some such then I encourage you to educate yourself as much as possible before embarking on a photographic mission, reading the manual, a deep dive into YouTube tutorials or read some of our photography blogs to help familiarise yourself. YouTube is your friend when it comes to figuring out how to set up your camera initially and then problem-solving as you go.
If you are buying a camera specifically for your trip to the bush then I advise taking it out and playing with it before you get on the plane, it will be well worth the hassle to be able to start snapping away with minimal hassle when you get here. Having said that, most of our rangers are pretty proficient camera users and will be able to help with most of the questions you may have. Finally, one must also remember that you do not need the latest in photographic technology to capture a decent image, it’s all about knowing how to work with what you’ve got.
On the note of gear, I should also point out that any would-be photographers can speak to their camp manager or ranger on arrival; we have a wide range of Canon and Nikon bodies available for rent as well as lenses of varying focal length and quality. Alternatively, you can visit the rental site here to browse and book a set-up for your upcoming stay.
Reading the situation
Much of what it takes to get that shot that you’re looking for lies in understanding animal behaviour. This is where your guide will be an incredible asset. After years of working in the bush many of us have become somewhat adept at predicting what an animal is going to do based on current behaviours. Understanding and intangible intuition are often the keys to success. We definitely don’t get it right every time but we definitely try! So talk to your guide and ask them what they think is going to happen. When that leopard is dragging a carcass across the ground, can you guess which tree they will head for? Is there water about and do you think that lion may want to stop for a drink. When that elephant emerges from the thicket, where will they be heading and can we line up for the emergence? Your guide will almost certainly already be on it already but there’s nothing wrong with discussing your options with them.
Good light is obviously also a crucial element to photography and one can work it to your advantage in many different ways. Having a leopard’s face bathed in beautiful golden dusk light is a huge win but when that may not be a possibility, well then you have to start exploring other creative techniques. Looking for a silhouette shot, zooming in on the detail, panning/motion blur, wide-angles.
Getting the shot is the most important part, obviously and there is an adage “You can always fix it in post.” Ok not always, but often a photo that you may think is rubbish may be salvageable, given some time in a post-processing programme such as Lightroom. Now, there are two camps when it comes to editing; there are the purists who believe an image must be left as is, and there are those, like myself, who enjoy the “art” of editing. I think that post-processing is just as much a part of the creative process as the taking of the image itself. The impact that a photo can have can be dramatically increased with just a few minor tweaks and sometimes an image can be completely altered through a bit more intense editing. I think there is merit in either path and the results really do speak for themselves.
Wildlife photography is a medium that has the power to capture the beauty, fragility, and awe-inspiring moments in the natural world. It’s also just a fun way to remember an awesome time that you had when you visited our beautiful country. So the next time you visit Londolozi, talk to us about taking some photos. We’d love to share our passion with you.