Do You Have a Photographic Reason?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

Why do we do it?

Why do we head out into the field with our cameras and spend hours photographing wildlife?

Wait, let me rephrase the question.

When you are out in the field photographing wildlife what ultimate goal, even in the back of your mind, do you have in mind for the images you are creating?

Do you photograph with competitions in mind?  Do you shoot specifically for publication or stock images?  Do you photograph just for the hell of it?

You see, during the last weekend I was leisurely scrolling through my database of images specifically looking for stock images when it struck me that a good wildlife photograph does not necessarily make for a good stock image and that’s when I started thinking about my approach and what goes through my mind when I’m out in the field.

As I worked through my personal reasons I couldn’t help but think about a two photographers I once shared a photographic hide with.  Their goal for photographing wildlife, and I know this because they were annoyingly vocal about it, was to see who could be the first to upload the images and then to see who got the most comments on their images.  In their case it seemed that the reason was not so much a deep-seated need to create something but rather a good, old fashioned ego-stroking.  Sure, it’s great to get lots of comments and ‘likes’ but I struggle to see how that alone can be the reason for picking up a camera and photographing anything.

If I sit back and think about my, let’s call it, photographic reason when I’m out in the field the answer didn’t come as easily as I would have hoped for.  You see, I am in my happy place when I’m out in the field and to think that I need a reason just sounds ludicrous but still, the exercise of asking myself the question has definitely made me think about it a bit more and, as time goes, I am sure it will make a difference.

When I am in the field my goal is to capture the beauty of nature.  Not for competitions, not for stock or publications and most definitely not for other people’s comments.  It’s a personal thing that comes from deep inside – something I am sure any passionate wildlife photographer will understand.  However, while I am out there photographing wildlife flags do pop up from time to time where I think ‘this will make a great canvas print’ or ‘this would make for a great blog post’.  Then, when I get home, I would work through my images and when the time and need arises I would scan the database for appropriate images.

As I was looking through my images, looking for potential stock images, I wondered if I would be able to go out and photograph with just one goal in mind.

Would I be able to go out and just shoot for competitions?  Yeah I suppose I could head out there with that intention but nature has a mind of it’s own so this could prove to be quite a difficult.  Sure, if you know which competition you are shooting for, and how the categories and judging works, you could go out to create a certain type of image but still, nature might not play along.

Would I be able to go out and shoot just for stock footage?  Sure.  Knowing how stock works and what kind of images the agencies need will help but for me this would be a too clinical approach to something that I feel should be about more than just pointing the camera at something and clicking the shutter.

Would I be able to go and shoot just for blog posts?  Probably.  I love teaching and doing blog posts but still, having to focus on just one type of image, and what I could write about it, might become a bit much.

Would I be able to go and shoot just for comments and likes?  No.

So, in the end I quite like going out there and just shooting.  Whatever I see, whatever I feel.  Shoot with passion, unless anything specific pops up, and then let the proverbial chips fall where they may.  Well kinda.  You see, when you sit down to work through your images you will have another chance to sit and work through your images, do your processing and then categorize your images according to different uses.   Works for me!

So, with that all said here are a few completely random images and a few thoughts on what they they could be used for.

This is one of my best selling stock images.  It’s sharp, pretty clean and is a great example of lions mating.  Add a few specific keywords and you have a great stock image.

Does this stand up as a good wildlife image?  Yeah I suppose.  Competition winner?  Doubt it.  Blog post?  Sure.

This image is a nice wildlife image but stock agencies wouldn’t necessarily like it.  Probable feedback would be something in the line of the focus is in the wrong place and the lighting is not even.

At the time I was quite pleased with the image as it was a reminder of a fantastic afternoon, with awesome light from the setting sun reflecting off the water, out in the field.  Competition winner?  Nothing major I would think.

This is a very stock standard wildlife image.  Yeah, pun intended.  Stock agencies love these kind of clean, portrait type images of Africa’s larger mammals.  The image is sharp, there are no distracting elements and it’s an easy image to fit into pretty much any type of lion story.

Great wildlife image?  It’s ok I guess and it’ll make for a nice blog post on depth of field.

 Stock image?  Competition winner?  Great wildlife image?  Nope.

This is one of those ‘evidence’ kind of shots that you keep to show people what you really saw.  The image a few frames before this one has done the rounds and has won several competition but something like this, which is not sharp and a bit faded, is purely to remind me of a magical afternoon out in the field.

 This is a great wildlife image showing a small herd of wildebeest in full stride.

Will this image win competitions?  Doubt it.  What about stock?  Maybe at a push as the feedback on this would probably be that the focus is not on the right place.  Sure, you could add a comment and explain what it is about but chances are that if somebody did not specifically ask for an image like this you are going to have a tough time uploading this as a stock image.  This image will also make for a great blog post on slow shutter speeds and how to create motion blur images.

The only thing an image like this would be good for, apart from showing how completely clueless some people are for tossing out a beer bottle in a game reserve, is a blog post such as a ‘add a caption’ post.

Those are just a few random examples so now I would love to hear from you.

Do you have a photographic reason when you head out into the field?

Do you purposefully shoot just for competitions?  For stock?  Comments?

Why do you do it?  Sorry, let me rephrase that…

When you are out in the field photographing wildlife what ultimate goal, even in the back of your mind, do you have in mind for the images you are creating?

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

PS: If you have a clever caption for the cub with the beer bottle feel free to add it to the comments as well!

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Comments 0

  1. Ivan

    Hi Gerry, nice article, some good thought provoking prods ;). I have always shot because I enjoy shooting nature. That is changing, I now have a couple of goals in mind.
    1) To get something a little different, unique, printable for my enjoyment.
    2) The possibility of stock is definitely now also a consideration, I think as you’ve said probably a very different goal to the “fine art” goal.
    3) Sometimes it’s simply a record of something I’ve seen and where I’ve seen it. I’ve contributed photo records to a number of local research Virtual Museums too.

    As to the lion and the beer bottle … love the pic, hate the fact that some idiot facilitated it by littering!
    here’s a caption : “After a hard days hunting, it’s always good to relax with a beer” or
    “Another day, another beer! – it’s a cats life”


  2. Peggy Childers

    I take wildlife photos because it is my favorite thing to do. I love it. Getting a shot of an animal I have never photographed before is the best feeling in the world, I do it for me.

    1. Gerry van der Walt

      Love what you say there Peggy – I do it for me!  Couldn’t agree more.  Even if, after the trip, you decide to do something with your images if you did not do it for yourself you’ve missed the experience!  Thanks for your comment.

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