what wildlife photographers can learn from

Landscape photography

By slowing down the photography process a wildlife photographers can learn a wealth of skills from landscape photography.

My view of landscape photography for many years is probably quiet similar to most new wildlife photographers. That it is a form of photography that presents little to no challenges … I could not have be further from the truth, wildlife photographers rely heavily on luck. Where everything a landscape photographer does could be repeated again the next day. Its this planning and slowing down of the photographic process, that is forgotten by wildlife photographers. Its only when they dive into landscape photography full on. That they will learn these skills again …

” You don’t take a photograph, you make it …  Ansel Adams

Wildlife photography is a reactive activity. Wildlife photographers will spend time with their photographic quarry and the time they pick up their camera’s is completely governed by their subject’s movements or behavior. Don’t, believe me? Close your eyes in a lion sighting and listen, when the shutters clap away … the Lion, it is yawning!

So our camera equipment of choice, have excessively fast frame rates and large buffers. We are able to capture a whole scene with out much thought and afterwards select the moments from the hundreds of photographs captured.

TASK: On your next visit to a reserve, don’t just snap away multiple frames in one go. Take your time watch your subject and take small bursts as a time. I will even challenge you to take a single frame at a time. You will start thinking about individual images again.

Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment … Ansel Adams

The Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park is a place that pushes any photographer to develop their Landscape photography. There is an abundance of geographical beauty in the region. I had my reservations about the title of a course that I traveled to this region to provide on behalf of Ecotraining. The course was titled as a Wildlife Photography course and I have up in this region enough times to know that it was not going to be a week filled with Lion and Leopard photography. From previous visits I had a clear idea that the course will be heavily reliant on the regions Landscapes as photographic subject matter. It will have to be dramatic to hold the attention of 7 photographers over 6 days.

Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter … Ansel Adams

My first first sort of serrious foray into Landscape photography, came about accidentally. I was teaching my self the ability to create time-lapse videos and this inevitably got me photographing still landscapes (see these time-lapse videos here). Now in theory the same reactive process apply to landscape photography, as they do to wildlife photography. With one fundamental difference, landscape photographers rely on light to give an image that something special. Unlike wildlife photographers relying on their subject matter to provide the spark.

Every aspect of landscape photography process is planned. Granted this is not always possible with wildlife, but this post is about the learning process and not about which is a better art form.

The planning of the landscape photograph is what develops a photographer. Composition become critical component to a landscape photograph, understanding the relationship of foreground, middle ground and background is something the wildlife photographers very rarely understand. Wildlife images are often two dimensional, subject and its background. Where a landscape image is very often composed of all three areas, foreground, middle ground and background.

Task: for your next visit to a reserve, look for a wildlife scene where you can include a foreground detail.

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. … Ansel Adams

Wildlife photography has become so misdirected by the technical ability of a photographer, because its a reactive activity. I often get a lot of comments & criticism of my images not always being tack sharp, this is amazingly frustrating for me. Similar to how my dyslexia makes me constantly think how I write these blogs, no one likes there faults to be point out.

I find a lot of wildlife photographers that I come in-contact with, are overly focussed on the technical aspect of there images, is it sharp, is the aperture correct, is my shutter-speed fast enough. They think this way because they have to react very quickly to a animals behavior. So I find they spend less time looking at what story they want to tell with the photograph. I wrote a blog for Africa Photographic Services about photographic intention of a photographer, where I simply ask “why are you taking pictures?”. Read the full post here.

If your intention is simply to have sharp images, then carry on … you don’t need to read the rest of this blog. I want to help people tell their photographic story, this requires stepping back and thinking about their photograph before they take it. This is an art that wildlife photographers struggle with. In planning their photographs, a Landscape photographer has to think about, the light, the composition and the content of the image.

TASK: If you know where your next reserve visit is, write down 5 images you would like to take at that reserve. Think about the light, the behavior and then the settings. Get that planning back into your wildlife photography.

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer … Ansel Adams

Our EcoTraining wildlife photography course was a huge success because we were forced to plan our photography around the landscapes of the region and not be reliant on the possible chance of seeing a great wildlife sighting. It gave the group of photographers an opportunity to think about each image individually and not just setup the camera in Aperture priority with Auto ISO. Each corner of the exposure triangle became a conversation point. Composition was discussed in depth, with out the possibility of being distracted by an animal running away or a change in behavior. Under these controlled conditions that landscape photography offers, we remove the frustration factor.



the Author

Etienne Oosthuizen

Etienne Oosthuizen

Photographic Guide

I’m a guide with an insatiable enthusiasm for African wildlife and an absolute passion to help photographers photograph Africa!

2 replies
  1. Lynne Kruger-Haye
    Lynne Kruger-Haye says:

    Hi Etienne, Ansel Adams also said “Your first 10 000 photographs are your worst!” and we forget that he was talking about film – not digital!! That really adds impact to what you are saying. The challenge truly is now in the discipline of considering our images rather than clicking a button that lets off over 10 frames a second. Thanks for your post!

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