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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wildlife Composition - Thanda Photography Workshop


A 6 shot stitch to create a panoramic view of the large herd of buffalo on Thanda coming to drink.

A colleague of mine, Sean Tilden, wrote an article for Photo Writing some time ago that commented that far too many photographers shooting wildlife try to get in close for the portrait, or simply to squeeze the entirety of the animal into the frame. Sean pointed out that really effective images can be created using wide-er angle lenses that show the animals in their environmental context. This isn't easy to do admittedly, but it makes for some new opportunities and also means that great images don't necessarily need an exotic chunk of glass plugged onto the front of the camera. It's something I should take to heart more often as well. Everyone shoots the individual animal, but what about the herd? What about the animal in it's environment? A brief glance through some of the best wildlife articles in the National Geographic and you will see that a great many of the memorable images created show not a close-up, but the animal and it's surroundings. Jim Brandenburg's incredible image entitled 'White Wolf Leaping' comes to mind immediately for me (to see this image navigate to his site and look for the image on the front page among a selection of his favourites that are available for purchase as prints).

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The sky can also be part of the environmental context...and it doesn't always have to be an animal.

As a visual exercise consider the giraffe. This can be quite an ungainly animal and is surprisingly difficult to effectively photograph. The animal just doesn't lend itself to being squeezed easily into a frame. Using the giraffe as an element in a greater contextual image is another story entirely. Out of interest, a group of giraffe standing still is known as a 'tower of giraffe' while a group of giraffe walking is called a 'journey of giraffe'. Seeing images of giraffe in their environment (as opposed to up close) always reminds me of this, whether it's a criss-cross tangle fo necks or the iconic shape of the animals as they traverse the grassy veld or dry semi-desert (see this Frans Lanting image as an example).

To me one of the most significant aspects of an elephant is the texture of its skin. Abstract close-ups exude 'elephant' without actually showing the whole.

Of course, not everyone wants to the wide-er angle thing. This doesn't mean that you are constrained to shooting portraits either. Move in even closer if at all possible and look at the smaller details. Go abstract. The shot doesn't necessarily need to have the head in it. I've mentioned before, there is a sort of mantra that states that the goal of the photographer is to make the familiar new and the new familiar. Abstractism is one of the easiest ways to make familiar new, to get people to look at the image and say, 'huh, I never looked at it quite like that before'.

So it was that we had a another successful week at the Intibane lodge at Thanda. One student in particular, Brianna, is having an interesting time creating wildlife photography with nothing more than a 15-85mm lens. My guess is that by the end of her month on the reserve she will know her lens and it abilities backwards and will have learnt to create amazing images that actually wildlife in their surroundings. Now we should all be so brave!
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