© Penny Robartes - Elephant

The Art of Concealment

Gerry van der Walt Penny

We travel to wild destinations to be immersed in a beauty that is particular to it, to experience a freedom and relief that is unique to it and that cannot be substituted in our daily lives, to close our eyes and breathe in the fresh crisp air that is untouched by our affects and habitation in urban areas.

To look upon the wild and all it encompasses and feel that burning in our hearts.

To look into a lion’s eye and see the fierce, untamed beauty of our natural world and have it awake in us a zest that may lay dormant until these moments arise.

To photograph in these areas, to capture the essence of the wildlife and natural surrounding, to create an image that reflects your interpretation of it… well, there is nothing quite as magical and privileged as that.

So why would you want to clone out pieces of grass, sticks, or other natural elements that come into your frame?
Yes it can be frustrating having a portrait of an elephant calf with a branch running in front of it and across your frame, but that is just a frame of mind that you can change.

© Penny Robartes - Masai Mara

Depending on the environment that you are photographing in, you can start looking at ways to incorporate the previously frustrating natural elements into aspects of your frame that accentuate your subject, story, or what you are capturing within your frame by deciding what you choose to show and what you choose to conceal.

Shooting your subject through grass, leaves, branches etc can be a very hit-and-miss task that can test the patience of anyone, but the results can be incredibly fulfilling if you get what you started off looking for.

Not only does the image convey a sense of animal in its environment, but the type of natural framing and what is sharp and in focus within the frame adds a whole new dimension, a variety of emotions and interpretations to an image that could originally have been just a good portrait or shot.

But the art of concealment is not just about shooting into dense bush. It is so much more.

What you exclude in your frame is as important as what is included. Concealing aspects and characteristics of your subject that are generally recognised ensures that a very different reading of that subject is created.

Now the viewer is encouraged to further identify and engage with what is happening in the image and ask questions that may not have been created in a different circumstance.

By having another person take the time to look deeper and for a longer period of time at your image, it has already succeeded in placing itself above others in a medium that is inundated.

© Penny Robartes - Elephant

Here is an idea of what kind of concealment I start looking for when out in the field:

Environment – Grassy, bushy, dense


Widest aperture (small number). This will have a huge effect of what is sharp and in focus depending on a variety of factors, such as your lens magnification, your distance from the subject, lenses aperture, and more.


If there is dense growth around your subject, such as the grass in the image of the lion cub, a small aperture will help blur the foreground and background which not only will isolate the subject from it, but the blur will soften the grass and create a smoothish frame.

Environment – Clear, open, no ‘distractions’


Anything goes. This is completely dependant on your scene. With the elephant image above, I didn’t have any natural elements in the frame that I could use to conceal certain parts of my subject, making what I chose to be blurred redundant. In this instance, I had to use framing as my tool for concealment.


By identifying what image I wanted to create, it was up to me to compose it as best as possible out in the field so that I could enhance my vision when it came to processing. This not only enabled me to not will away time trying to figure out what I wanted from the image, but by choosing the right gear for the shot I envisioned, I could guarantee the quality and what is presented to be that of one that I feel reflects myself as a photographer.

Start looking at scenes differently and changing your mindset from what concealment hides, to what concealment shows.


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About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!