Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

High Risk High Reward Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

Intent and risk.  These are two of the things you will need in order to create striking and unique wildlife photography.

All too often we go for the safe shot – the predictable shot – but it’s when you try using different techniques for different sightings that magic happens.  I know there are a lot of photographers who, on the safaris they host, preach that a wildlife images has to look a certain way and it has to be clean with nothing in the background but I find this approach boring and quite unrealistic.  More often than not the sightings we are faced with will demand that you think out of the box as to not only what you will include and exclude from the frame  but which techniques you can play with in order to photograph the scene.

Don’t you also think that if you always go for the safe, clean shots your portfolio will be rather one dimensional?

On our recent Ndutu Calving Safari in Tanzania we were faced with this scene.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

A moment like this means you have a few quick decisions to make because what goes up must come down.

As the cub was paused at the top of the tree I decided to go for broke by trying to pan the young cat coming down.  My decision was, in part, based on already having banked a few images of lions coming down from tree.  Even though none of these photographs were outright winners I was more excited at the possibility of getting an unusual slow shutter speed image than getting another ‘easy’ image by just pushing the shutter speed and shooting a burst of images.

I always shoot in AV mode so I quickly changed my aperture from f/5.6 to f/22 – literally thee scrolls on the front camera dial – which lowered my shutter speed to 1/15.  You do understand the relationship don’t you?

As the young lion came down the tree my shutter speed allowed for only three frames as I panned along with the downward movement.

This was the middle of the three images and the best of the sequence.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Wildlife Photography

Sure, this might be an almost interesting abstract image but most definitely not the greatest slow shutter speed image I’ve ever taken.  Probably will never feature on any of my portfolios or social media platforms.

So, on this particular day the high risk high reward approach didn’t work but man, what if it did?

What if I nailed the image and the young lion’s head was perfectly crisp?

It’s that ‘what if‘ that excites me.

I love the uncertainty of shooting on this creative tightrope.  Of trying different techniques and, for that brief second when you hit the playback button on the back of your camera, not knowing what you’re going to see.  Sure, you might fluff it.  But what if you don’t?

Make no mistake.  If it’s the first time ever you see a lion coming down from a tree I would most definitely advise you, and I tell this to all the people on the photographic safaris that I host, to bank the crisp shots but once you have the shot why not try something different?  Why have 2, 3 or 10 of the same types of images?

I reckon it’s way better to have many different types of images than many almost the same images.

High risk.  High reward.

Until next time.


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 or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

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