5 Reasons you should consider shooting Panoramas in Wildlife Photography

Andrew Beck Andrew 6 Comments

Capturing a scene as a panorama is not new, its just been made easier than ever in Lightroom. It really is as simple as capturing your multiple frames in the field and then merging them in Lightroom. More on that in this post though.

What I’d like to share is why you should consider shooting panoramas in wildlife photography.

1. To Convey a sense of scale

Landscape photographers have been doing this for years and with great effect. There is simply no better way to preserve detail in a scene which needs to be captured in its expanse.

The same go’s for wildlife photography though. Whilst not every situation lends itself to this sort of photography there are those moments where the environment plays as much a role in the overall story as the subject itself.

This image from the Exclusive Amboseli & Tsavo safari earlier this year was one such example. The leopard, I know its not immediately visible at this scale, was completely dwarfed by the environment and, with some of the most incredible light I have ever photographed in, I had to capture the scene in its entirety.

 

This panorama was made up of two landscape orientation images shot at 400mm. The argument here on using a wider angle lens falls flat as the the detail and scale of the scene would have been lost at a focal length of say 200mm.

The same go’s for this image of a Rock Hyrax seated at the base of a crack in Tsavo West. The leading lines converge on the subject and the textured rock just had to be included in the scene.

This image of a leopard resting on the banks of the Mara River is another classic example. I pointed out to the guests with me that the grasses and unusual river bank formations were as much a part of the scene as the leopard itself.

This image of a cheetah in harsh mid morning light falls completely flat as a single frame.

 

Intentionally trying to show the scale of the environment by shooting 3 landscape frames transforms the scene and overall story. It also makes the harsh effects of heat-haze less evident.

The same go’s for a buffalo herd photographed recently in the Okavanago Delta in the late afternoon.

And a late afternoon storm in the Mara.

These may not be as impressive when presented at 1080px on the longest edge but rest assured, when seen at scale, as most environment images need to be seen to be appreciated, they are impressive.

2. Composition

Sometimes, especially when shooting with prime lenses, no matter how hard you try you simply cant get the perfect composition. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t keep the ear of this majestic male Lion in the frame whilst still keeping some sort of negative space for him to look into. Shooting two portrait images at 400mm stitched together in Lightroom helped me achieve my ideal composition.

In this example, at 400mm I couldn’t get both of the Balanite trees in the background (see how important it is to pay attention to your background).

Capturing a second frame to include the edges of the trees in the background I was able to capture my ideal composition without having to change focal length.

That brings me to the third point.

3. Making the most of Depth of Field

Sure, I could have pulled back and grabbed the 70-200mm, captured the scene and simply cropped to 16:9 but, there is a big change in the dynamics of the image that comes with this. As you know, depth of field decreases (reduces) as focal length increases. Shooting the same scene at 200mm would not have given me as much separation between my subject (the giraffe) and the background as I have achieved at 400mm.

Take this young male lion photographed in the Mara recently for example. He was seated right on the edge of the road, literally right on the edge, and I was able to capture him at 400mm. Notice how shallow the resultant depth of field is and how the background fades away.

Even if you don’t have a prime lens, you can take advantage of this. Shooting multiple images at 500mm rather than pulling back to 200mm will help to eliminate distracting elements in the background.

This was the case with a cheetah sighting we enjoyed during the Botswana Wilderness safari last month. The female and her cub were resting in deep shade in the middle of the day. Pulling back would not only have made a tricky exposure situation even worse by including more of the bright light in the background, but would have also meant that the grasses in the background and foreground would have been more prominent as the resultant depth of field would have been much greater.

I instructed guests with 200-400mm lenses to shoot at 400mm, compose for mom and the youngster leaving just a hint of space to the right of frame and wait for the cub to look up whilst taking a break from feeding. With the first shot in the bank they could then recompose (without shifting focus) and shoot the left hand side of the scene.

This works wonders in otherwise busy environments. Focus on the point of action and then bank the rest of the scene. In this case, the first (and actually multiple) images was the interaction between the two lioness. Then, with those images in the bank, I captured the left hand side of the frame in what became a two image landscape orientation panorama.

 Pulling back and shooting at 200mm rather than 400mm would not have had the same effect.

4. That tail

Ever captured an image or scene only to find that you’ve clipped the tip of a tail or paw?

Me too. Especially when shooting with a prime lens. This is a great way of once again maximising shallow DOF’s without compromising your composition.

These two male cheetah had killed a wildebeest in the Mara earlier this year and, true to cheetah fashion, would not keep still whilst feeding. Constantly alert and changing feeding position they kept us busy in terms of composition. In this instance I captured the left hand side of the frame first, waiting for the second cheetah to look up from feeding before capturing that frame.

5. Shooting for Pixels and Print

Certain scenes just have to be captured in their entirety to be fully appreciated. This image of a massive male leopard finishing off his warthog kill in the Timbavati was an interesting one for me. Rather than shooting with a 24-70mm lens I opted to shoot 4 portrait orientations with a 70-200mm at 200mm, preserving details and keeping the option for a large format print wide open.

For most photographers, the number of pixels in a single frame would be more than enough for any prints that you may wish to do. Sometimes you may just want that extra bit of detail, especially when your subject is such a small part of the frame as is the case in this instance.

Sometimes its just about exploring and playing around with new techniques.

So, as a take home message, if you’re shooting with a prime lens and are sick of cropping off tails and ears, think about capturing multiple frames. If you shoot with a variable zoom lens, think about making the most of your reach and shallow depth of field. If you’re used to simply capturing tight portraits, think about trying something different and showcasing a sense of scale in your images!

I hope this post will inspire you to try creating panoramas of your own!

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

Comments 6

  1. Subi

    Hi Andrew

    Very informative. Is there a chance that you can post the images before stitching please, which will help in doing the same?

    Thanks
    Subi

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  2. Stefan

    Hi Andrew,

    Great post! This really helps me for my upcoming Botswana trip. I recently added a Tamron 150-600 G2 to the collection and with just 1 body it’s not ideal to have to change lenses every now and than. With this in mind I can still create those pictures I normally would need less mm’s for.

    A few questions if possible. I just started photography just a year ago and learning every single day. Into the basics now but I want to develop my skills.

    With the giraffe as an example: where do you keep the focus point? Using f6.3 for example. Do you have to put it in the exact same spot in both the pictures (head of giraffe I suppose)? Since you merge them and want the giraffe ‘sharp’ and the background blurry.

    In case of the male leopard in the tree, use f8 for example and just center focused. And shoot different parts of the tree? Or is my thinking wrong?

    Thanks a lot for you time andthis great blog!

    Cheers,
    Stefan

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      Andrew Beck

      Hi Stefan

      Thanks so much for the comment, I hope you’re enjoying the photographic journey so far!

      With the Giraffe example, I achieved focus using the back button (be sure to check out my post on back button focus) and then recomposed without achieving focus again. The same applies to the leopard. Starting with the central frame i composed and achieved focus, then, without refocussing, I started on the left hand side of the tree and shot the sequence of frames.

      I hope this answers your question?

  3. Mac McMillen

    Hi Andrew,

    Great post, as usual. Yours are the best! 🙂

    When shooting multiple images to construct your pano, do you shoot in manual mode, locking down your exposure settings with the first frame?

    Thanks,

    Mac

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      Andrew Beck

      Hi Mac

      Ideally this is the way that it should be done as areas that are brighter will be rendered as such. However, if you are shooting a scene in AV mode with a prime lens and need to grab a quick series of images, Lightroom actually does a bloody good job of blending the exposures. Granted , there is a lot less variation in dynamic range/exposure in an image shot with telephoto lenses rather than a wide angle, but still, I’ve found very little issue when merging images shot outside of Manual mode.

      In short, you certainly can shoot and merge in other modes. I wouldn’t try this in a landscape environment though.

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