In her first two posts of our three-part series, Amanda Ritchie, the photography studio manager at Londolozi Game Reserve, in South Africa, recommended the ultimate photography gear to get the perfect wildlife shots on safari and how to use three fundamentals to master the art of photography. In her third and final post she reminds us not to get too caught up in the technical aspects of photography and to trust our instincts so we can capture the moment but also remember it.
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever … it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything. — Aaron Siskind
Aaron Siskind had the right idea. So often, we get caught up in the technical side of photography, worrying about what ISO, shutter speed or aperture we’re on, and how an incorrect setup might make us miss the shot of a lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, the theory and practice of photography is important, as I outlined in my last few posts. But, for me, the beauty of wildlife photography lies in the balance between getting the technical side of things right while still remaining present in the moment while you’re out experiencing nature, and reconnecting with your true nature at the same time.
After my last post, I wanted to move on to the softer side of photography, and chat about the more artistic and emotional side of it. Here are my top five quick tips for shooting in the wild:
“What do you want to get out of your photographs?” That’s my very first question to every photographer I meet. Have you brought your camera along to capture images to remember your time here? Are you an enthusiast who wishes to use your time in the bush to practice your skills, hoping to get some great shots to take home to show off to your friends and family? Or are you a photographer who places great emphasis on getting “the shot of a lifetime” during your stay, who will post-process your images and prioritize your photographic experience above all else? Let the answer to that question guide you when you pick up your camera. Let it guide you in the balance between photographing and experiencing nature.
Depending on what your objective is, you may find yourself caught up in changing the settings on your camera, or searching for the best composition, or shooting so many shots just in case you miss the best of the day. Taking photographs in the bush is an incredible experience in and of itself, but remember to experience the moments in the bush, too. If the light has faded, and you’re battling to get the shot you really want, why not put your camera down and let your senses take over. Smell the dust as it settles, feel the early morning mist in the air, absorb your surroundings and feel the ebb and flow of the bushveld all around you. Capture your memories on your camera, but don’t forget to truly live your safari.
Photographic style is similar to personality; it varies greatly from person to person. As with art, what is beautiful to one may be mundane and pointless to another. A moment will stir you to pick up your camera in order to capture it forever, as you remember it, through your eyes. It may be the swish of a zebra’s tail through the long grass as the golden flecks of light bounce around, or the slow, rhythmic browsing of a breeding herd of elephant. Whatever stirred you to pick up your camera should be the focus of your shot. And, for you, that may be something that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. It may be a shot that cuts off an ear, or chops off four feet. For me, the magic lies in those differences in perception. Let what stirred you to pick up your camera guide your composition, and let that composition tell the story that stirred you.
While the general pace at on safari is one that supports rest and relaxation, the pace of the wild while out on a drive can be pretty fast sometimes. After all, you may experience that once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a cheetah running through an open area at a speed of 60 mph. Mix up your shooting style by playing around in manual, but be ready to switch to auto if you feel more comfortable letting the camera decide which settings to use. Enjoy the fact that you are going to capture wildlife at its best with none of the stress.
Don’t forget to get some shots of the beautiful landscapes and the small creatures that cross your path. The big-cat close-ups are a must when out on safari, but zooming out to capture the scene of a lone giraffe quietly strolling in front of you adds to those all-important memories of your safari.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what it is that you want to achieve with your photography. I once again lean on Siskind’s words of wisdom when he says:
“As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs. Move on objects with your eye straight on, to the left, around on the right. Watch them grow large as they approach, group and regroup as you shift your position. Relationships gradually emerge and sometimes assert themselves with finality. And that’s your picture.”