One almost every safari and photographic safari I have ever been on there are people who want to see ‘a kill’.
No there is no doubt that watching a predator stalk, chase and ultimately kill it’s prey in it’s natural habitat is a serious adrenalin rush but photographing it makes for some interesting questions.
First off, it is not easy to photograph a kill.
Trying to focus on a leopard hidden behind a thicket or a cheetah at full tilt is challenging but I suppose that is what makes it such a sought after photographic scene. The point of contact, when the predator takes down the prey is even more difficult to capture and more often than not these images end up in the boo boo bin.
Once the predator has control over the prey the scene is normally easier to photograph as their is no more hiding or running all over the place.
Or is it?
If you have ever seen a fresh kill you will know that can be a bloody mess.
A lot of wildlife photographers quite enjoy photographing blood and guts, and I suppose there is nothing wrong with that. The question you have to ask yourself is why would you take these kinds of images?
Shock value? Documentary purposes? Publications? Portfolio? Canvas print?
I personally can not think of a magazine cover, award winning image, piece of art or any other acclaimed image that shows excessive amount of blood and guts yet I am certain that every wildlife photographer out there has images like the above one somewhere in their Lightroom catalog. I know I have.
I was with Jono when he shot the above frame. It was an amazing wildlife sighting and I also fired off a good number of frames but even as I my shutter was clicking away I knew that the images would never be more than proof of the amazing sighting we had.
Does that mean we should put our cameras away when predators do what they do?
Not at all.
There are many different ways in which we can tell the story of the kill without showing the hardcore blood and guts type of images. Check out this shot Jono took at the same hyena kill sighting.
Mush less blood and guts but still an image that shows the raw beauty of nature.
There is no doubt that the hyena is on a fresh kill and the fact that the legs have been cut off leave you wondering what he is feeding on. The bloody mask also makes him look like a villain from a horror movie which kind of echoes how people feel about these often misunderstood animals.
Still, does this image have too much blood and emotion to be considered more than a natural history documentary image?
What about this one?
We found this massive crocodile just after he killed the zebra but we still spent about an hour watching and photographing the scene.
Again, the sighting was amazing and as the croc fed on the zebra the shutters were firing away. From a documentary point of view we were able to get one amazing images of croc feeding behavior but a lot of these are, in my opinion, too gruesome to be used for anything else.
Surely you would not want a canvas print of the above scene on your dining room wall?
Each photographer will have their own idea and approach to scenes like this but I believe that, as a wildlife photographer, you should be able to tell the story of a kill in much more subtle ways.
When doing this you not only create image that most people will want to look at – because a lot of people do not want to look at scenes like this or even images of scenes like this – and you also maintain some sort of romance around the African wildlife story.
Yes, the interaction between predator and prey will always be harsh and uncompromising but to me there is still an old-fashioned type of romance and beauty that surrounds the way these stories play out that I would like to convey in my images.
Apart from the above sightings we saw three successful cheetah kills during our last photo safari in the Masai Mara. During these exciting sightings I kept on photographing throughout the chase, kill and feeding so here are a few images that I feel tell the story of the kill without all the excessive blood and guts.
This male cheetah pulled down a young wildebeest just after a rover crossing.
Instead of photographing the cheetah smothering the wildebeest I chose this shot which shows, without a doubt, the story that just took place – without any blood and guts.
During a different sighting we were watching a female cheetah feeding on a young Thomson’s Gazelle. If I were to present a number of images to show the scene I would more likely go for something like the image below rather than the large cat chewing on the small carcass.
Not quite as dramatic as the blood covered hyena but an image that still tells a story.
As with photography in general there is no right or wrong and the same goes for photographing sightings like these.
There are literally a hundred different ways you can photograph a predator feeding on it’s kill so when you are next face with a scene like this think out the box. Don’t just go for the hardcore blood and guts images. Don’t go for the obvious.
During the above mentioned photo safari I was speaking to a few of the guests and we discussed this very thing – thinking about your images. I strongly believe that a lot of wildlife photographers can drastically improve their images by just thinking about it.
Gonna finish off with one more image from a cheetah kill.
No blood and guts – just a story.
I personally prefer to not show excessive blood and guts in my nature and wildlife images.
What about you?
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt[divider scroll_text=”Go to Top”]