Behind the Frame: Wild Eyes

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 6 Comments

I was scheduled to do a proper Photoshop tutorial, but time has got the better of me (since I’m off on safari from Saturday), so I’ve put that post on the ice and decided to tie in with Gerry’s post on monochrome processing with a short post detailing my thoughts behind a specific photograph…

So, here’s the story:

It’s about 9AM on a sunny late winter’s morning in the northern Kruger National Park. We had just come from a chaotic sighting of hordes of vultures squabbling over an elephant carcass. We had to stop in Shingwedzi Rest Camp, pack up our chalet and head south towards Olifants Rest Camp where we were scheduled to spend the night. I decided to drive the dirt road towards Mopani Rest Camp via the Kanniedood dam. There had been frequent sightings of leopards on this route over the past 4 days, and given my luck with leopards that year, we had missed them all. So imagine my chagrin and frustration when we round a corner, see a parked vehicle and the driver tells me that we’d JUST missed a female leopard and her cub who had sat next to the road for about 30 minutes!!

“They’ve moved off into the mopani thickets now. Too bad,” was the dude’s last response before turning his Pajero around and moving off. We decided to sit tight and wait a few minutes. My wife with her piercing gaze told me about 20 seconds later: “I see him!”

The youngster had been left in the thickets not 15 meters from us, and he was lazying around. I saw spots and a flick of a tail…and thought we can tick it off the sightings list but I’m not going to walk away from this one with a decent photo. I was wrong – though the photo isn’t the best leopard shot I’ve seen and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. After sitting around for about 15 minutes the youngster started to get curious (as these cats often do). He never really left the thickets, moving from the mopani thicket to a palm thicket right next to it…but he did peer out between the leaves and made eye contact with me.

I adjusted my aperture to shoot wide open to maximise the blurring of the busy environment around the leopard.

Here’s one of the photos from this fleeting moment of eye contact…works okay in colour but that’s not how I envisioned the final outcome of these photos when I tripped the shutter.

Hidden Hunter

What I really wanted to convey, was the stealthy and elusive nature of this predator…the eyes of the hidden hunter always watching, waiting.

To do this, I had to revert to black-and-white. In order to get the final result you see below, I used 2 layers and converted each layer with a different colour filter to ensure that certain hues rendered dark and certain hues rendered bright, for the palm leaves and the leopard separately…and then it was just a matter of a quick mask to punch through the top layer selectively.

leopard_hidden_2a_BW_KNP_2011

I like this.

In fact, I think it says more about the nature of these special creatures than any of the perfect-golden-light-on-an-open-branch photos you so often see taken in the Sabi Sands where leopards are plentiful and accustomed to vehicles tailing them all day long.

What do you think??

I hope this post gives you some inspiration for your next safari – both in terms of thinking about the shot when you are in the moment, and about using post-processing to complete your initial vision for the image.

Cheers!

Morkel Erasmus

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