Blood and Guts. Or Not?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

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?

GerryvanderWalt-Crocodile on a Kill

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.

Gerry van der Walt - Cheetah Kill

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.

Gerry van der Walt - Cheetah Kill

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.

Think different.


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.

GerryvanderWalt-Cheetah on a Kill

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

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Comments 0

  1. Guy Dekelver

    Hi Gerry, great sharing, … making people think, nice. Myself, I’m slowly slowly getting back into my rythm after a month in Europe. Migrating data (PC to Mac), … A pitty your visit here just coincided with my leave. Keep me posted on your next visit to the area, I’m really up for the by then long long overdue beer 😉

    As an answer to your question: the last shot in the post is my clear favorite, followed by the one with the young wildebeest head, I guess that answers the question, I prefer shots in which some things are left to the imagination of the viewer (a bit like a woman in lingerie or that movie scene that actually doesn’t show you anything, leaving the spectator with some of the guesswork, … ;-))

    Have a good one, Guy

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  2. Wayne Marinovich

    Another good blog post Gerry.

    I personally believe that if its included in a documentary form (article or blog) its acceptable although a few folks would be put off by it.
    I, like yourself have quite a few gruesome photos that document the full life-cycle of both the predator and prey – this is what I like to shoot, birth til death. However I don’t blog the bloodiest pics because there are so many ‘predators on a kill’ photo’s out there. Being creative about it is indeed the challenge.



  3. Marcelle

    You want to know what I think?? Nothing. HAHAHAHAHA…I find any and all of the above interesting and quite cool to look at. No, I agree I havent seen any award winning images with hyena ripping apart antelopes etc etc (film doc yes) but who cares. If you a blogger, you have great “footage” , if you a “photographer” and you have these kind of pics, its cool proof of an AMAZING sighting. If its relevant to the story or info you want to convey, then you need the more graphic images. If you trying to win comps and get magazine covers, then you would be a complete plonker to put forward the gory ones. In truth, it makes no difference what is in your portfolio. It only makes a difference how you use the images…to what end.

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      Thanks for the comment Marcelle. Yeah, as you say the bottom line is what you use the images for.

      I do however think that, as a photographer, it is important which images you choose to have in your portfolio – compared to the RAW images we all have on our hard drives – as the exercise of actually taking the time to compile a portfolio of your best images not only defines you as a photographer but will also make you think and look for specific images that compliment your style of photography. A portfolio should be something that showcases your approach to wildlife photography so I reckon it is very important that you take the time to consider every image that makes the grade. Then again, these days not too many people are actually taking the time to put together a formal portofolio! 😉

  4. Sammi

    I agree with you on this one Gerry. No need to show the obvious. The croc sightning was amazing, but a bit bloody… but as said above, it all depends on what you use the images for. award winning images, then i’d definitely go for one of the last ones 😉

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  5. Laura

    Really love the image with the wildebeest head, great story telling. For me, no problem with a bit of blood, but it depends on the context. I have a few images from lion kills with blood, but where I find the red adds vibrancy to the image especially in good light. Guts- not for me thanks! Those images are just for memory sake- which is after all a large part of the reason we go out shooting as often as possible- the amazing memories we make and things we see.

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  6. Marcelle

    Sorry, my fault in original post. Portfolio not the best word to use…I think I meant archives. As in your RAW images lying around.
    Maybe a post on what really IS a formal portfolio would be a nice one to share Gerry. You have to remember that a incredibly large amount of people who are taking up photography have no idea of these things or if they do, have no idea why it is relevant to have or HOW one goes about compiling a portfolio, myself included. Allot of new and learning togs, are not even sure of exactly what is their specific style or preference. Me for example, it seems pointless to compile a formal portfolio of my specific style and genre as Im still experimenting on which styles and genres I appreciate more.
    Does this make sense? Allot of what you say seems aimed at a learned tog. However some are still in the process of learning these things. No offence, just an observation.
    So a personal request: a blog on compiling a formal portfolio for dummies/woman who run households and take much longer to learn everything. 🙂 Thanks G.

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      Thanks Marcelle and no offense taken. 😉

      I think that even as a new photographer it is important to start compiling a portfolio of sorts – or at least a collection of images – as a part of finding your own style and preference of images. Unless you take the time to try and put something together – however good or bad that might be – you are never going to be able to see what you are missing, where your strengths are and, eventually, what our style is. I know that I have gone through numerous ‘portfolios’ in the past and looking back now they were complete crap!! 🙂 I had to however go through the motions to grow past that point and start building something more resembling a ‘real’ portfolio.

      As mentioned in this blog post ( I think that social media is causing a lot of photographers to not look at building their own portfolio and just rely on the random images they upload to the various sharing sites as their portfolio.

      Will most definitely take you up on that personal request and look at a blog post on how to build a portfolio. Or at least how I think it can be done. 😉 Always appreciate your comments.

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