Behind the Shot: Giraffe Skies

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 2 Comments

Hi guys!

It’s been some time coming but here I am typing up my first official contributing post to the Wild Eye blog since becoming a Wild Eye Ambassador.

I will be explaining some of my thinking, in-camera adjustments and post-processing choices for this image…one that I have not even shared on my own Facebook page as yet.

Two Giraffes trudge along the Chobe floodplains in Botswana.

I think that as long as I photograph the African natural heritage, I will always in some way try to capture the “Big Sky Country” that much of our continent seems to scream at us. Only people who’ve walked the African soil under tumultuous skies or even pristine puffy-cloud skies will know what I mean, as I don’t think a single photograph can ever really capture the essence of the African expanse.

I’ve tried it with ultra-wide angle lenses, and most attempts fail dismally. Your natural photographic voice would tell you that you need to go as wide as possible…yet in this case it wasn’t necessary.

Here are the technical details behind the shot:

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II

Aperture: f11

Shutter Speed: 1/500

ISO: 400

Focal Length: 180mm!!

Did the focal length come as a surprise?

I chose the aperture for proper depth-of-field…on a zoom lens f11 doesn’t give you as much DOF as on a wide-angle, but in this case it was enough. The ISO and Shutter Speed were chosen to get a good balanced exposure. With the D800 I’ve found that you need to opt for a slightly higher SS than normal due to the massive resolution of the sensor – ie you need to minimise the effect of camera shake. I also like how the effect of telephoto compression, even at 180mm, enhanced the overall look-and-feel of the photo (the apparent distance between the giraffes and the clouds in the image is not as much as it was in reality).

This image could well have been captured on the East African Rift Valley. It could have been taken on the floodplains of Zambia. Yet it was taken on the shores of the Chobe river in Botswana. We were photographing this serene scene from the comfort of the Wild Eye photographic boat which is used on our Chobe Photographic Safaris. I was sitting on the floor of the boat, making sure I would get the lowest angle possible. So why did I frame vertically?

1. There were some trees and shrubs starting to appear to the left of this scene out-of-frame. I do have some images in horizontal/landscape format, but immediately after capturing them and reviewing on the camera LCD I knew that they bugged me. They were paradoxical to the sensory experience of this wide open space with the big cloudy sky I was having. A great quote I once read goes something like this:

“Photography is not so much about deciding what to INCLUDE as it is deciding what to EXCLUDE from the frame.”

2. By framing vertically, I could capture a better sense of the layers of land and clouds that seemed to stack up to the stratosphere.

3. I’ve always preferred portraying Giraffes in a vertical format, to accentuate their height and graceful poise. In this frame it works even better for me as you really get a sense for how small they are in the bigger scheme of things, despite your brain knowing that they are some of the biggest mammals on the continent.

So why monochrome then?

Besides the fact that I have a particular affinity for wildlife in monochrome (which doesn’t mean I just blindly convert any image into B&W – but perhaps that is a discussion for another blog post), I just knew at the trip of the shutter that I would be trying to convert this into a monochrome image, stripping away the colours (which were quite flat and dull to begin with) and focusing the viewer’s attention on mood, layers, depth and texture.

Do you shoot with a purpose? Do you know what the end-result will be even before you trip the shutter? Obviously not all situations pertaining to wildlife photography are conducive to these questions and afford you the time to make these decisions…on rare occasions you really do need to “spray-and-pray” (that elusive cheetah running at full speed, anyone?)…but overall I want to challenge you to start thinking about your photos in greater depth and detail. Shoot with a purpose. Experiment. Grow.

On our safaris we will be spending time mulling these things over and trying to set photographic goals, despite the apparent “randomness” of sighting on a wildlife safari.

Oh, and one more thing, I often don’t think enough about my composition and settings and final outcome.

This fabulous hobby is a great and steep learning curve which can humble you very quickly once you think that you’ve got everything under wraps.

Until next time…keep shooting and keep exploring!

Morkel Erasmus


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Comments 2

  1. Mike

    I think you have this style down really well. (Long focal length landscape).
    It’s pretty unique out of the box thinking, but man, it gives a tremendous sense of scale.
    Big sky country indeed.

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