What makes some wildlife images more powerful than others? I’ve had this discussion with numerous photographers many times. Some of the characteristics that were cited include great action, humor, fantastic settings and clean backgrounds. Given enough time, the discussions could have gone on for hours. When lulls occurred, I always added a quip that got them to think. I stated, “A good wildlife photo should be wild .” Quizzical expressions abounded along with a few responses of “Well that’s obvious.” I responded by clarifying with the following and the discussion resumed. It proceeded to carry on for hours!
To help make a wildlife photo stand out amongst the millions made every year, make it WILD with weather. Dramatic Weather contributes to great conditions. I continue the talk and add that I nteraction between multiple subjects should be unique, the L ight should be special, and a D istinctive aspect should be depicted. If you noticed a pattern or questioned why certain words in this paragraph are bold and in red, good for you. If not, look back at each bold red letter and put them together—now that’s WILD!
W = W eather
It’s perfect that weather and wolf both start with “W” to double emphasize the concept of the photo above that illustrates it. I can’t deny that I love to make images in clear morning light with no clouds, but there’s nothing like the drama and intrigue that’s associated when the weather is adversely cold, snowy, blustery, teeming rain, windy, etc. It adds a more intense dimension to the image as it tells a story of the conditions under which the animals have to survive. That being said, I also waited for the wolf to make eye contact. I also made sure the background behind him was all white and the subject didn’t merge with the dark row of trees. I also chose the pose with two paws off the snow. If weather can help add drama to your images, go for it.
I = I nteraction
It’s difficult enough to show the action of a single animal let alone more than one. When interaction of multiple subjects occurs, you must contend with mergers, greater areas of potential background , head angles of all the subjects, the way in which they connect and more. In the photo of the two young elephants, the light was late afternoon, the way in which they connect is like two pieces of a puzzle that set well; the entire background is clean; and both are depicting action. When you encounter multiple subjects, be patient and wait for the moment when it all comes together. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the reward is high.
L = L ight
I most definitely the virtues of strong sunrise and sunset light. When I’m not dealt the hand I desire, I make the most of the cards I hold and play them to their max. In the image of the flighted cattle egret, I knew I had to find a clean background since the light gray sky that surrounded most of the area didn’t allow the bird to stand out. A white bird against a gray sky produces a bland photo. There was a small window of vegetation in the egret’s flight trajectory, so I set up my tripod and waited for the few times he flew in that direction. I used a long lens with a wide aperture to help keep the background out of focus. I also set my camara compensation to -1 1/3 stops. Because the background was dark, the meter wanted to “add” light, which would have the delicate whites of the bird. When it comes to light, it behooves you to learn how to read it and know how to adjust your settings so it makes the “correct” decision.
D = D istinctive
Find something unique and take advantage of the situation. Exhaust all possibilities in the way you go about making the capture. Photograph in every which way possible. Be sure to use a variety of focal lengths and also camera orientations, both vertically and horizontally. Let the given focal length dictate the orientation. In the photo of the hippo, it was so camouflaged we almost drove past it until it raised its head. We thought it was an egret on a mound of grass. We stayed with both the entire time the hippo continued to consume the grasses and then decided to move on. He gave us about 10 minutes of “uniqueness.” It was a special moment in the Ngorongoro Crater.