Penny Robartes - Amboseli

Backgrounds in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny Leave a Comment

There is always an excitement in the air and a bounce in my step when I am getting ready to go to any destination to photograph its wildlife and natural elements.

And I know that I am not the only one that feels that way. As wildlife enthusiasts and passionate photographers, it takes a strong person to hold us back from taking the opportunity to get out in the field and experience and capture what we love!

But this enthusiastic passion may sometimes hinder your photography.

Picture this; you are on your first game drive of your safari and the excitement is always electrifying as you not only take in the beautiful surroundings that you are in, but also the anticipation of what you are going to see will make you sit up straight as you avidly scan the environment as you drive by.  And there is your subject. And man oh man that camera is being raised to your eye as you set up your shot.

*click* or *click x 100* depending on your style, and you have captured your subject according to your creative vision and the technical settings to accentuate it.

Perfect, yes?

Sometimes, but not always.

Penny Robartes - Amboseli

When the background is pretty open and there aren’t many or any potential distractions, then it is not hard to not pay attention to it as we focus on the subject.

But remember this – we see in 3D. We can see distance and acknowledge depth. Our camera can’t. It “see’s” in 2D and depending on how far your background is to your subject, even a relatively shallow aperture can’t create enough depth between your subject and your background to separate them.

Your background is as important as your subject.

This does not just apply to being aware of elements that could potentially be distracting and take away from the power and story of your image. Like the above branch nicely curving towards the leopards head.
Including the background/environment in your image will also out your subject into context and offer your viewer more information about your subject and where you captured your image.

Penny Robartes - Amboseli

What you need to be aware of next time you are in the field:

  • Look up about the destination if you have not been there before so that you are aware of the environment you are going into. Portraying your subject in it is as powerful an image and story than completely isolating your subject.
  • Look at your background! As mentioned already, it is as important as your subject as it can hold elements that take your viewer’s attention away from your story and decrease it’s impact.

Keep passionate and keep shooting!


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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 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!

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