Behind the Frame: Clash of Stripes

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 4 Comments

You have never seen more Zebra in one area than when you are in the Masai Mara during the annual Great Migration.

This is a time where you can see an exceptional number of Wildebeest, Zebra and Thompson’s Gazelle making their way from the Serengeti to occupy the Mara before they return back again.

Zebra Crossing

Due to this migration, herds of Zebra end up forming one great mass of stripes where fights between the animals become a commonality as herds, hierarchy and dominance become lost.

Personally coming from a large family, the above is frequently at family gatherings is seen as tempers start to flare due to challenges of authority between the males and hostility between the females increases as they determine who is looking better than the rest.

Yes, I sympathise with the Zebra and understand their plight. Large gatherings of any species is bound to create conflict within the troops.


While waiting for a potential crossing to happen, two Zebra’s started nipping at each other and became more agressive with one another right infront of our vehicle.

As the sun was pretty high in the sky and quite harsh, the images that I took at a ‘correct’ exposure came out looking pretty average.

There was also quite a lot of foliage in the background that was quite distracting. I was already using a wide aperture (f/5.6) to get as shallow a depth of field as I could – which was pretty risky to use anyway as the zebras were constantly moving in all directions which could affect my focus point and therefore what part of my image would be sharp.

For more information on aperture and its affect on depth of field, check out this blog!

To compensate for the bright light we were shooting under and the uninteresting background that I could blur out enough, I decided to overexpose my image by 2 stops, creating a high key image that I could convert later for black and white.

Another reason I decided to expose my image this way is that I wanted to blow out the background as much as possible in order for the focus to be completely on the zebra. As a black and white image, the stripes of both zebra and the chaos of them would be accentuated.

Here you can see that by overexposing my image, it washes out the overall image but detail in the dark areas are still visible.

In Lightroom 5, I then converted the image into black and white by clicking on the ‘black and white’ preset in the basic panel.

Still in the basic panel, I changed the following settings:

  • Contrast: +18
  • Shadow: -100
  • Whites: +90
  • Blacks: 63
  • Clarity: +10
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The reason I pulled my whites so high is in order to blow out almost every overexposed detail so that I am left with as white and clear a background as possible. As zebras are not pure white, detail was still evitable in the areas that did not blowout when I overexposed the image.

To get rid of the background that was still visible, as all I wanted to keep was the detail in the grass that the zebras were standing on, I used the Brush Tool to brush over the areas that I wanted to get rid off.

The area I used the brush tool on is shown in pink in the image below:

After I had brushed over the areas I wanted to erase, I then lifted the exposure to +100 which blew out the areas that was selected. I had to do this three different times as some places I had to zoom into to make sure all the unwanted marks were gone.

I was then left with the final image that became one in the series of three that are shown below.

I processed my other fighting zebra images the same way as I did the above.

If you have any questions please leave a comment!

For more examples on shooting for high key black and white images, check out this blog that has a video tutorial as well.

Penny Robartes

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