Photographing Game Animals - Part 2
I sometimes wonder what my next progression as a hunter will be. (Maybe hunting them with a hand spear ?? Yeh, na !!)
I honestly don’t think there will be a ‘next’ in that so called progression. The evolution of my hunting over the years has been caused primarily by looking for new challenges. For example the transition from rifle to bow. Hunting and killing game animals with a rifle (for me personally) became all a bit too easy. With my photography the end result is an image of a live game animal rather than a dead one at my feet. I see the challenges of photographing game animals as infinite because each one (while alive) is individually unique, backgrounds and environments are never the same, lighting varies greatly, reactions, habits and actions of animals will be different and so on. So long as there are game animals out there in the hills, I figure there will always be exciting photographic challenges to be enjoyed.
The More the Merrier
In our own human lives whenever we spend time alone things are usually pretty quiet with not a lot ‘going on’. Maybe sitting around home watching television, listening to the stereo while cooking dinner or doing some mundane chore in the yard. As soon as another person or people arrive an environment is created that lends itself to interaction creating a much more dynamic and complex situation.
Game animals are very social just as we are so this exact same situation occurs in the wild all the time. As an example, one red hind feeding on a clearing is just that … one animal doing not a heck of a lot. Introduce, say, a fawn into the picture and instantly you have the potential for some very cool, interesting and often funny contact and interaction between the two.
So, what I’m leading up to here in relation to game photography is that two or more animals will always give you a much greater variety of opportunities for more diverse images. A typical scenario for me is one that begins with a long stalk to get within range (whether it be on one single animal or a group), gaining a small series of images of them, followed by often very long periods of just waiting and watching. What I’m waiting for here (apart from the chance that they might move closer to me) is the possibility for some kind of interaction in the case of a group of animals or if it happens to be an individual that I am photographing, the longer I hang about, the more chance there is of another (perhaps previously unseen) animal joining the first and capturing any ensuing interaction.
Wonderful interaction between two red deer fawns. I watched this group of two mature hinds, two fawns and a yearling for about an hour or so, half of which the fawns spent frolicking around playing with each other just enjoying their youth. Quite comical and a very cool encounter. I regret missing the opportunity for a great shot when one of the fawns approached ‘mum’ at full gallop and at the last minute (without slowing down one iota) ducked, went between her legs, under her belly and out the other side. ( 1/250 @ f/5.6, ISO 1600 )
Get the ‘low down’
The point-of-view or perspective of any wildlife image is one of the most important aspects of a great shot and how you portray your subject can make a world of difference. Aside from focus, some would argue that the point-of-view is absolutely vital to make an image ‘work’. As with the bird photography attempt to get an eye level perspective and even lower if you can. By achieving this kind of viewpoint the viewer is drawn right into the scene by way of a view of the world from your subject’s perspective. Images become so much more personal and appealing when taken from these lower angles simply because it feels like you’re right there with the subject in their world, sharing it with them.
Illustration of how a very high perspective/angle creates an ‘impersonal’ image. The viewer has very little personal relationship or connection with the group of piglets and not much of an insight into their world.
( 1/160 @ f/5.6, ISO 800 )
Conversely, I took this shot while lying on my belly which takes me, the camera, the perspective and consequently the viewer right down to his level showing how the world is from his viewpoint. ( 1/400 @ f/7.1, ISO 1600 )
Breaking the Rules
Over previous issues I have mentioned and talked about several ‘rules’ which generally apply to all types of photography. Such things as the rule of thirds, eyes being in focus, balanced composition, good exposure and so on. All these so called rules aid in achieving good quality, pleasing images. These guidelines are hugely beneficial to photographers who are just starting out as well as being the ‘bread and butter’ of seasoned pros who earn a living from their images and photography. These important aspects (‘rules’) should eventually become ingrained into your subconscious and used without a second thought to capture those fleeting photographic moments properly.
Wildlife (game animals) are very inconsistent and highly unpredictable as far as being cooperative photographic subjects is concerned. A wild animal knows nothing about best sunlight angles, compositional balance or distracting branches and grasses. I’ve always been a believer in making the absolute best out of any given situation … you know, ‘positives in every negative’ and ‘no such things as problems only opportunities’. So given game animals’ tendencies for being so inconsistent, why not just go with that theme and use it to break some of those photographic rules. You won’t pull it off every time. Far from it in fact. All I’m suggesting is that a little lateral thinking with no over-riding rules to limit your creative license may just produce some pretty neat and non-conforming photos.
Case in point is this image of a very large boar … nothing in focus, (no detail), let alone the eye, under exposed and distracting grasses to list the main downfalls of this shot. Probably the only technically correct aspect of this image is the composition. Despite all those technically incorrect features and in fact because of them, I think this image is quite appealing. ( 1/10 @ f/7.1, ISO 6400 )
Technically correct vs Content
Following on from the topic of ‘technical correctness and following rules’ (just mentioned), I’d now like to introduce you to yet another age old ‘this vs that’ conundrum. Text books, internet tutorials and seasoned photographers will drum into you these confined photographic rules and boundaries to create ‘correct’ images. Now don’t get me wrong ... they all are absolutely fantastic for helping photographers produce really good images that would otherwise have been ‘deletes’ had those same people not had the knowledge of these so called ‘rules’.Now, here’s the thing. By employing the text book stuff such as the rule of thirds, level horizons, correct exposure, eye focus and catch lights, negative space and so on and so on, what we end up with is a visually pleasing and balanced image that hopefully viewers will ‘ooh and aah’ over. Photographically, it will be a technically correct photo even though the ‘content’ maybe stock standard or average. Here’s an example of what I mean …
This shot of a fallow doe is pretty sound when it comes to technical correctness. Good lighting (sun over my shoulder), eyes in focus and in contact with the viewer, great sharpness and detail, no distracting features and even the rock in the background adds some balance. However, the content in a nutshell is simply a deer standing looking at the camera. (By the way, I love this shot. Another of my favourites).
( 1/500 @ f/7.1, ISO 200 )
Now compare this really poor quality image of a chamois buck below …
In this situation the lighting was terrible !! However, the way the buck is running down a near vertical face, front feet off the ground, about to leap into space provides so much more ‘content’ than the fallow doe image. ( 1/200 @f/5.6, ISO 400 )
So, with these two examples one could argue that the dynamic, lively ‘content’ of the poor quality chamois image trumps the average ‘content’ of the much more technically correct fallow shot. At the end of the day I think its personal opinion and taste as to which comes out on top. Which one do you prefer ??
Know Your Gear
The title of this topic is self explanatory and very clichéd. It is however very true and important especially when it comes to game animals.
Most of our game animals are inherently wary, flighty, nervous, alert and often times just downright secretive and difficult to find. Good photographic moments (and they frequently are only that … moments) can be rare. Action packed moments are even more sporadic and will last usually only mere seconds. Remember the fawn running between mum’s legs I mentioned earlier in the piece ?? Just prior to that moment I had the camera set up for static shots. The fawn started out well back from the hind and I recall trying to change the settings to capture a moving subject correctly. Back then I wasn’t familiar enough with my gear to make those changes quickly and without taking my eye from the viewfinder.
Consequently I lost valuable time having to look down at the dials and buttons. End result, moment gone !!
Aside from the ability to alter settings ‘blindly’, here are a few other points you should endeavour to become reasonably familiar with –
- Know what the minimum shutter speed is at which you can obtain a sharp image with your camera/lens combo;
- Know how to quickly toggle between focus points or focus modes;
- Know how high you can push the ISO on your particular set up to achieve respectable results;
- Know at which aperture your lens produces the sharpest image. (Most lenses are sharpest at one particular aperture. Usually this is two to three stops down from the maximum aperture - smallest number).
- Know where each ‘mode’ is on the main dial in relation to each other … without having to look.
My last piece of advice in this issue is nice and simple … GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT.
Photography is quite a technical subject and although I’ve tried to keep that side of it nice and easy to understand in these articles, there is simply a certain amount of basic technical understanding you do need. While the camera settings, buttons, dials, what they all mean and how they affect each other and the final image can be quite daunting, try not to let these technical aspects override your enjoyment of being out in the wild places amongst our wild animals.
Remember to take in the moments you are witnessing, revel in the fresh air and mountain landscapes and don’t take for granted how privileged we are here in New Zealand to have free access to wonderful back country and the game animals that live there.
Great content as well as being technically very ‘right’. Another of my favourite images.
( 1/500 @ f/7.1, ISO 800 )