Breaking it down with long glass

Andrew Beck Andrew 4 Comments

I returned from hosting the last of our Exclusive Madikwe Photo safaris for 2016 this week and will be sharing a trip report which will be compiled by one of our guests in the coming days  (you know who you are if you’re reading this – no pressure).

One of the main attractions of this safari is having 24 hour access to an underground hide where herds of elephants quench their thirst just metres away from your lens.

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 24-70mm F2.8 @ 33mm and F10, ISO 640, 1/1000, +2/3 EV

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 24-70mm F2.8 @ 33mm and F10, ISO 640, 1/1000, +2/3 EV

Harsh mid day light makes wide angle scenes like this difficult as one would need to over expose quite considerably in order to lift shadows and ensure that the subject is correctly exposed. This makes it difficult to maintain detail in the bright background which invariably ends up being too bright and lacking in detail.

Great for high-key black and whites but not much else..

Using a longer focal length though we are able to reduce the dynamic range between the darks and brights in a scene and are able to create for more balanced exposures and, with a bit of creative thinking, more interesting compositions.

Bare in mind that all of these images were captured with a 600mm lens between 12:00 and 15:00 in some of the harshest light you can imagine.

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 600mm F4.0 at F9.0, ISO 640, 1/250, -2/3 EV

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 600mm F4.0 at F9.0, ISO 640, 1/250, -2/3 EV

If you’ve travelled with our team you’ve heard us suggesting that you try and get in tight and “deconstruct” photographic subjects.

What we’re looking for is interesting and creative ways of capturing a scene or subject without the stock standard ID shots. Think about the definitive features of an elephant. Elements which even when viewed out of context will always allow the viewer to identify that the subject is an elephant although it may not be immediately obvious.

Their feet for example.

Their backs.


Their eyes.


All far more interesting and taken during what was without a doubt some of the harshest midday light you can imagine.

Going in tighter helped to eliminate the harsh bright backgrounds whilst simultaneously providing far more interesting and compelling stories and compositions. This doesn’t just apply to elephants though and when we came across a beautiful male lion who was facing away from the beautiful morning light, essentially casting his face in shadow, deconstructing the scene once again provided interesting opportunities.


Some tips on deconstructing a scene

  • When going in tight to deconstruct a scene like this your subject is usually pretty close to you and you will be fully extended in terms of your focal length. These two variables result in a shallow depth of field meaning that you will more often than not end up shooting at aperture values of F8 and upwards in order to preserve detail across the scene. Don’t forget that this will have an effect on your shutter speed.
  • Explore the subject at your maximum focal length. Move around and loo for interesting patterns, textures and features which could provide photographic opportunities.
  • Experiment. Whilst there are some iconic tight portrait like compositions used by many photographers, trying something completely different can sometimes be far more rewarding and draw more interest to you work. Don’t be afraid to experiment and break the mould.
About the Author

Andrew Beck

Facebook Twitter Google+

Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

Comments 4

  1. Vikram Ghanekar

    Nice article , Andrew. Especially when you have a long lens and the subject comes right close to you and you don’t know what to do with it.

    1. Post
  2. Carol Bell

    Andrew Just what I needed to read…… I have been wanting to contact you over buying a new lens…..and thought I would wait till you have quietened down with safaris…….. I will be in contact. Thankyou.

  3. Pingback: Creating Panorama's with Primes - Wild Eye

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *