If we break it right down to the basics there are two kinds of images you can create in wildlife photography. Images of static subjects and images of moving or interacting subjects.
It goes without saying that photographing static subjects is a lot easier as you have time to think about your settings, play with different compositions and take your time to use a trial and error type of approach until you find that perfect shot.
There is nothing wrong with this and it’s where, as a photographic safari guide, I do a lot of teaching, helping and also push my guests to try different techniques and compositions during this time.
It’s when the subjects start moving around and the action starts happening that a sense of panic sets in.
Many photographers loose their confidence in their own photographic abilities, hence the panic, and the faster the action plays out the more panic sets in. Add to this very low light shooting, which is normally when the good stuff happens, and the involvement of high profile species like leopards, lions or polar bears and that feeling of nervous uncertainty hits the roof.
When the action starts a lot of photographers suddenly stop thinking about the basics and they end up fluffing shots when the leopard is about to come down from the tree, the cheetah is about to give chase or the two elephants are about to clash.
When this kind of action induced panic sets in your photographic brain cannot focus on the basics of composition not to mention the technical side of things and the result is missed images and disappointment.
Yes, the faster the action the higher the photographic risk especially if you are trying to create specific types of image but the rewards, when you pull it off, is so worth it.
When the action starts there are a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favour in order to get the shot and this includes, apart from a bit of luck, how you position yourself, thinking ahead to where the action could potentially move to and having a solid understanding of the technical aspects of photography.
Many people will have a pretty solid portfolio of static wildlife images but the numbers drop off dramatically the more intense and fast paced the action becomes.
The nice thing is that the more time you spend in the field and with people who inspire you to be better the easier the action shots will become.
You will know to not zoom in too tight when the leopard is about to jump from the tree and where to focus when a lion is about to charge at the wildebeest. You will know, and remember, to take the changes in background into account and how it affects exposure and when to be ready for a potential panning shot.
The static images are easy and yes, you should be banking those shots as much as possible but don’t let the learning part of the photography pass you by.
On a separate but related note the thought for this post came up when I was looking through some of my images from the last few photo safaris I have guided.
Long story short. I realised how the quality, and quantity, of my images from static subjects were way superior to the ones from action packed or mobile sightings and I quickly figured out why.
During a static sighting I always have time to first check on, guide and assist my guests in getting their shots and only then create a few of my own images. Static subjects and sightings makes this possible.
During sightings where the subject is mobile or action might happen at any time everything speeds up and my goal is then to call the shots for my clients, try and assist with settings and composition on the go and also try and manage the general level of photographic panic that might be present.
My advise to you?
Continue to remind yourself of the basics, don’t be afraid to miss a few shot when trying new things, travel with people and guides who are not there for their own images but who focus on your photographic process and, most importantly, try not to panic and just enjoy the experience.
As always I look forward to your comments.