Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography - Wild Eye

Content and Context in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 3 Comments

Content and context.

If you have ever done any reading on social media you will know that these two concepts play a vital part in creating authentic engagement with your online audience.  Sharing an image on Facebook, tweeting a link or creating snaps is simple enough but it means nothing without context.  Context refers to the the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea or social media post and in terms of which it can be fully understood.

Many people post great and eye catching content – awesome images, profound quote and valuable links – but give no thought to context.  It’s kind of like drinking flat Coke.  It still tastes like Coke but without the fizz.  It could be so much better.

I believe the same goes for wildlife photography.  Good content and context in your frames will make for authentic images that speak to your audience.

Content is easy.

It’s the various subjects and elements that you decide to include in your viewfinder.  The leopard in the tree, pride of lions or the herd of wildebeest crossing a river.

Good content is easy to include – fill the frame and you’re pretty much there.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography - Wild Eye

The problem with this type of content is that, nice as it is, there is virtually zero context.  You can add all the inspirational quotes you want it still won’t change the fact that it’s an image lacking context.

You’re not telling the story of the subject, where it lives or anything more than just showcasing the animal.  An image like this could have been taken in a zoo.  No context.  Sure, it’s a great wildlife portrait and there’s nothing wrong with it just as there’s nothing wrong with just posting a nice image or quote to your social media channels but if it’s the only thing you do then you are missing out on amazing story telling.

Context has to do with the narrative you create around the content in your frame but it’s something that lot of wildlife photographers struggle with.  Zooming in tight all the time – a result of an obsession with long lenses and the lack of compositional creativity – might lead to solid content but a distinct lack of context in your images. Flat Coke.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of creating great images – content – that lack context because it’s easy.  It’s easy to create striking images by filling the frame with a leopard’s face or a yawning lion.  It’s easy to create an ‘abstract’ by filling the frame with the texture of an elephant’s skin.  It’s easy to just post content – wildlife images – to your social media channels without giving any thought to context.  In all these instances you are leaving a lot of value, enjoyment and potential magic on the table.

Creating context is not difficult and, at the risk of over simplifying it, all you have to do is think of the bigger picture.  Ask yourself questions around the image or post and then answer them.

It’s about the subtle narrative that supports and enhances the main subject in the frame.  It’s about sharing not only the subject but a bit more about them.  It’s about not getting stuck on the close up view but looking wider and deeper in the frame.

It’s not difficult and even though it takes a bit of creative thinking it’s easy to script.  With a 100-400mm or similar lens create an image at 400mm, pull back to 300mm create a frame, pull back to 200mm and create a frame, pull back to 100mm and create a frame.

You will be left with 4 different images which all have the same content – your main subject – but with varying degrees of context.    The more you do this, the more you play with it, the more you will start thinking about  content versus context.

In the below images the content is the same – a lion in a tree – but the context becomes more clear and dramatic as I considered the unique nature of the scene and how to best capture it in my frame.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography - Wild Eye

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography - Wild Eye

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography - Wild Eye

There is nothing wrong with good solid content – a close up portrait or simple post on your social platform.  It can be fun and I believe it’s something we need to do from time to time in order to keep the momentum going but we need to be careful to get stuck in a content only rut.

When you introduce context into your work – both photographically and online – you will create more value for your viewers and followers, the narrative in your images and posts will be more clear and engaging and you will start building a portfolio of work that is more than just a collection of one dimensional images.

Content is the what.

Context is the why, how, when and where.

Make sure you use both.

Until next time.

Gerry

About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope.  I look forward to changing the way you see the world! Have you checked out The Wildlife Photography Podcast?

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  1. Pingback: Content and Context in Wildlife Photography - Africa Freak

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