There is a kind of wildlife image that has always spoken to me deeply.
If you have been following my photography for more than a month you would have noticed that I often share these kinds of images.
I like to call it “The Animalscape”. The animal in the landscape. The landscape with the animal(s) in it.
I guess I like it so much on the one hand because it brings together my two preferred photographic genres: wildlife photography and landscape photography.
On the other hand, and I think this is the main reason I like it: I think this kind of image paints a better context and story about the wilderness areas of Africa that are so quickly dwindling.
We cannot preserve the wildlife if we don’t preserve the habitat. And yet it is futile to preserve the habitat while killing off the wildlife. The two are interconnected, intertwined, inseparable…
This kind of image is all about telling the bigger story of the the species you are photographing. Where do they roam? Where do they eke out their survival? What other species live around them? What’s the weather like?
The biggest mistake you can make is to think the only way you can create an animalscape is to use a wide angle lens. Sure, wider angles work well to show as much of the environment as possible, but you either need a very big subject (think elephant or giraffe) or you need to be super close to the subject.
I often use the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens for these shots. You can’t go too wide in most cases for fear of losing the subject in the frame. An example of a wide angle animalscape:
The wide angle emphasizes the extreme depth of the scene, the immense sky, and the elements of the landscape. The elephant is just big enough to be a key element in the composition.The mid-range zoom lens can often be used for effective animalscapes.
For this purpose my go-to lens is the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II, as it’s tack sharp through the focal range, and super quick to focus.
It doesn’t have to stop there, though. I find it amusing that so many wildlife photographers only feel they are using their super telephoto lenses properly if they can use it to fill the frame with a portrait of the animal’s face or full body. If a subject is deemed “too far” the possibility of a workable shot being taken is not even considered.
The telephoto compression effect can bring a different element to the animalscape. My previous telephoto was the Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II, which I traded last year for the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR-II. You obviously won’t include as much of the landscape, but that’s not the point.
I hope this post encourages you to try your hand at more of these kinds of photos.I wish more wildlife photographers would venture for the contextual shot, the animalscape, to show people not just the wonderful wildlife they encounter, but also the amazing landscape in which those animals carve out an existence.
I used to relish writing these kinds of “bio” pieces and would flaunt the odd impressive word and use dashing grammar to make it sound like I am a boundary-shifting photographer. These days I prefer stating it in much simpler ways, much more relatable ways, much more believable ways… The fact of the matter is this: I love Africa. I love its people, its wild places and its wildlife. I love being immersed in these places, observing and photographing the fall of light on the land and the daily lives of the creatures that call it home, and presenting the results to whoever will take a look. To me, nature photography is all about being in the moment, and capturing that moment in a way that can relate to someone who didn’t have the privilege of being there with me. Sometimes I am able to capture a unique vision of the scene before me, and sometimes I just capture it the way most folks would according to classical photographic guidelines. Yet I always enjoy sharing the images and experiences and imparting the knowledge I have, both in-the-field and later online or in presentations, workshops and courses. I also just simply enjoy capturing and sharing the beauty of God's creation! The greatest thing I’ve found about wildlife and nature photography in Southern Africa is the unity and familiarity of the community of people that share this passion. We come from all walks of life and all cultures and backgrounds, yet our passion for our natural heritage and our dream to see it preserved for future generations binds strangers together and fuels conversations around campfires long after other people have run out of conversation and energy. Join me on a WildEye adventure to experience this sharing community spirit and learn to anticipate that fleeting moment and be ready for it, learn to immerse yourself in the experience without losing focus of your photographic goals…and above all, learn to see Africa anew… because there are none as blind as those who look but do not see!
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