Being on safari is exciting! There are wonderful scenes to be enjoyed, thrilling encounters to be observed and high-speed dramas that unfold over a very short time. Sometimes it’s a lot to take in, even without the added consideration of trying to capture the action on a camera! In this article, I want to offer a suggestion to photographers, something that is often forgotten in the heat of the moment: don’t forget to show the situation as part of the wider scene.
Since leopard sightings are when wildlife lovers are most likely to get excited and perhaps forget this idea, I will use three encounters I had with these stunning cats in South Luangwa to illustrate my point.
In the first situation, we had been sitting for some time, waiting for a leopard to approach a grazing puku antelope across open ground. We parked well back, hoping, of course, to see the leopard’s hunt come to its natural conclusion. The light was dropping by the minute, and we knew that soon it would be too dark to take photos.
When the puku finally spotted the leopard, there was a temptation to drive in close and take some shots of the leopard, but the light was poor and the photos would have been of low quality.
Instead, I chose to think of the wider scene and line my guests up for a shot of the retreating leopard as it passed behind the squeaking puku. As a result, we ended up with a ‘story’ shot that says much more about the encounter than a poor quality picture of the leopard alone.
The second situation was one of the most exciting sightings that I have witnessed in the Luangwa. You can read the whole story on my blog. For the purpose of this article, we will simply say that we had a chance to photograph a leopard that had just killed an impala. While it was dragging the carcass towards the gully (which was between us and the leopard) we took a large number of close-ups.
But I could hear and see other impala snorting in alarm in the background, so I advised my guests to zoom out and include the wider scene with the antelope as well. Having already banked the close-ups, these wider shots were a good addition to illustrate the whole drama, and perhaps have more impact than the original shots.
The final situation involves a leopard that was feeding in a tree. We had taken a number of shots of him with the carcass, and it occurred to me that there was potential to show him in the context of the wider environment.
Zooming out to include most of the canopy helped to show the stunning setting where we found him, and emphasised the incredible strength involved in lifting a carcass into such a position.
So, next time you are shooting an exciting scene, bank some great close-ups and then think about whether there is value in zooming out and showing what is happening around the subject. This is particularly helpful when light levels are low, since you will get away with a slower shutter speed at a focal length of 100mm than you will at 500mm.
Edward Selfe has been running photographic safaris in the South Luangwa for the last ten years. Through his images, he’s sharing some of his tip for creating beautiful photos of wildlife in this fantastic national park.
For more information on some of the concepts in this article, have a read of Edward’s Photo Safari Skills section on his website. Specifically, there are articles on setting up your camera for safari, using metering modes for night time photography, adjusting exposure compensation and an article on Luangwa’s leopards