Thursday 1 July 2010

Seeing the BIGGER picture...

When I first made the switch from "point-and-shoot" snapper to a bona fide DSLR photographer, I couldn't wait to get my first close-up shots of my favourite animals. But alas, it didn't take me very long to get bored with getting standard close-up shots. Why? Mainly because everyone with a half-decent lens has them. You see, for me it was never going to be about just "getting" the photo. It was always going to be about creating art. Now don't get me wrong, for many people getting the photo is enough and it's the only reason they lug around a camera and some lenses on their safaris...and each to his own indeed. I've just always been artistically wired and on top of that I always throw myself 200% at something I'm passionate about (something which can be frustrating for people around me!).

So it didn't take very long for me to start becoming very aware of the myriad of possibilities that exist with every photographic opportunity that I encounter. Not that I recognise ALL the possible compositions and variations - oh no! Often I have come home and looked at the photos I created, only to realise then that I could have done something differently and it would have made all the difference in the world! In those moments, I try and file the mistake as a lesson learnt to tap from when faced with a similar opportunity.

Often we need to look at the bigger (or smaller for that matter) picture in order to turn a bleak photographic opportunity into a promising one - and if not a promising one, at least one that makes us feel we didn't drag all the gear along for nothing. Viewing an animal in a wider perspective also goes a long way in showing its behaviour, environment and the context in which you saw it.

A case in point is a recent sighting we had in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. We had spent a glorious morning with a battered male lion on the open plains (see the post "The narrow escape with the Lionscape"), and he was exchanging roars with his brother who was on the other side of the plains by the sound of it. We drove away in the direction where we'd heard him roar from. We found him lying flat on the ground (isn't that what lions do best during daylight?) next to a waterhole. He was so aware of his status as king of the beasts that he didn't even bother to look up or give us the time of day.

The standard photo of this sighting will probably look like this:

After a few minutes if became clear this fellow was not going to get up soon, and by now I'd taken a few shots of this lazy male lying there...and I started exploring other options. I thought about going closer, zooming in on those huge paws:

Right before coming on this trip I had invested in an ultra-wide angle lens with a polarising filter - so I changed lenses quickly and started playing around with the polarising filter until I got the sky nicely polarised by adjusting the filter to compensate for the direction the sunlight was coming from, and snapped away at some ultra-wide angle shots to show this typical behaviour by the king of beasts.

Oftentimes it's not even necessary to screw on a wider lens. If your telephoto zoom lens has quite a large zoom range, the difference between the shortest and longest focal length can really make a huge difference.

Another situation where one would be inclined to view the scene from a wider perspective is when there's a blatantly obvious reason to do so. Earlier this year while on safari in the Sabi-Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, we came across an immensely photogenic scene. We'd driven out in the rain on our afternoon game drive, hoping for it to clear up along the way...which it did! As the rain started to clear, we noticed a small herd of buffalo in a clearing - our first sighting of the afternoon. Upon our approach, something delightful happened: a large rainbow appeared in the sky!! Photographic heaven, but I'm sure you've experienced for yourself that in situations like this when the light is magical and you know you've got a few minutes or even seconds to make the most of it, you start panicking! It's actually quite funny - all of a sudden you don't know what the heck all the buttons on your camera are for, and it feels like a lead weight in your hands.

So - the first obvious shot was of the buffalo herd - with the rainbow touching down behind them.

Then I started looking at the bigger picture - where did the rainbow's ends touch down? Could I fit them into a wide-angle shot from the place where we were parked? Turns out I could. You will have to click on this photo to view it at a larger just doesn't cut it here.

I hope this little piece of prose has inspired you to look beyond the "cliche" shots and the "happy-snapper" moments, and to start thinking of what you can portray about the subject you are photographing by framing it a bit wider (or closer) (whether it be an animal, a child playing in the sprinkler or a couple getting married).

Let me know what you think by dropping a comment below this post...I've now made it possible to comment even though you're not a registered user (didn't even know the site did that!).

Below are some more of my wide-angle wildlife shots. 

Keep well, and keep clicking!

Morkel Erasmus


  1. Truely Stunning photorgaphy and art. Best J

  2. I’m fairly new to this wildlife photography gig and I love it. Thank you for this blog, it has confirmed I’m not entirely crazy- very few people understand how I can be upset by a great medium shot of a male lion but I just get frustrated when there is nothing that makes it remarkable or unique – we can’t expect the animals to do everything, sometime it’s up to the photographer to add the flair to the image. Your explanation of not understanding your camera when you have to act quickly could not have been more accurate – I had to laugh. Thanks for your great shots and awesome advice.

  3. Hi Morkel, There is absolutely no doubt that using wide angle changes the entire perspective and gives you an insight into their environment. The rainbow with a wide angle looks marvelous indeed. Your other shot that of a wildebeest is superb, more because of the negative space on top of the image. Imagine that one to be a close up with a super tele lens with no negative space.
    Suhail Khan.