Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The obsession with eye contact

The last time I blogged, I spoke about "seeing the bigger picture" when you are out taking photos. In the meantime I was privileged to do a guest post for Photo-Africa about the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a safari destination (check it out here

I thought it prudent to share more of my thoughts on alternative approaches to wildlife photography. If you frequent various online photography forums (like I do), you will often find the critiques given lamenting the lack of better eye contact and/or a glint in the eye (catchlight). Now while this may be valid in many of the cases, this doesn't mean you should pack away your camera in situations when you're not getting that golden eye contact from your subject. Often while on safari we will be faced with a situation where the most gorgeous animal presents itself, only to spitefully shy away from eye contact with the tourists/photographers.

Many times there's nothing you can do about it but just sit back, relax and enjoy the sighting for what it is. But there are times when there is a specific REASON for the animal not looking your way or even moving away from you. Have you ever tried to capture the story behind the "lack of eye contact"? Given, it might not be possible in all of the cases, but it would be prudent of us to keep our eyes open and let our artistic leanings take over in so-called "less-than-ideal" situations.

One such a situation occurred during our recent trip to the Madikwe Game Reserve. The light had all but faded and we were hasting to get to a decent lookout point to shoot sunset landscapes, when we found a beautiful young female leopard in the road and started following her, forgetting all about our sundowner plans...

She barely gave us eye contact, and at the moments she did, her face was hidden by long blades of grass. I managed to look beyond that and try and capture her elusive behaviour. She was slinking away through the grass ever watchful for something. At last we found out that she had a kill in a tree and was making sure the coast was clear before continuing. This image portrays something of the story behind the sighting.

An yet another occasion, we came across the "Mapogo" clan, a vicious group of male lions who obliterate any insurgence into their territory and have become famous for wiping out entire lion prides. In this case, however, they were enjoying a VERY relaxed morning. This individual was particularly enjoying his time off and despite the lack of "eye contact", an image is still able to capture this relaxed killer.

I will indulge you with one last example...

We recently spent a wonderful morning with a family of relaxed cheetahs in the Kalahari. The female had 2 adolescent sons and one of them was lying on the crest of a calcrete ridge some distance away from his mother and brother.

After basking in the morning sun, waiting for a chance to take on a hunt, the mother and brother relented and walked up the ridge to lie down on it. The other brother promptly got up to join them, and with potential prey still hanging around close by he actually stalked across the ridge to go and lay down with his mother. Here I got no "eye contact", but I believe it resulted in a poignant image portraying this timeless African speedster stalking against a deep blue Kalahari sky.

So I leave you with this encouragement...always keep your eyes (and mind) open for the unexpected shot which might just be a lot better than the normal "candy floss" picture perfect portrait.


Morkel Erasmus 


  1. Awesome blog Morkel! Keep it up

  2. thanks Seyms! glad you like it...