That Little Photographic Voice in Your Head

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

Every photographers hears voices in their head.

Wait, let me clarify that. Every photographer hears photographic voices in their head… and it’s a good thing.

Whenever I am out in the field with my camera, the little photographic voice in my heads starts talking.

And it does not stop.

Every subject, every scene kicks the little voice into overdrive as it produces a monologue of photographic garble which contains anything and everything photographic related.  The key is to get to know your photographic voice, listen to it, and then decide what to take from it.

You see, this little voice is like a coffee fuelled Gerry in B&H in New York – uncontrollable!  It keeps going and going and going, all over the place, and it’s your responsibility to let it run wild with childish abandon.

When the action is on and things are happening, the little voice is still going but you might not get a chance to listen to it, and you have to rely on gut instinct and for nature to produce it’s magic.

This image is an example of one of these moments.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye

The young elephant was thrashing around in the Chobe River and while I fired off short bursts, my attention was on framing and whether my shutter speed and aperture was sufficient to capture the scene in front of me.

Sure, my little photographic voice was probably going completely crazy, but this was one of those times when I felt that I needed to pay attention to the action and ignore whatever it was trying to tell me.

It’s when things slow down, when you have a scene you can work and when you are struggling to pick your shots, that’s when you need to start listening to your photographic voice and see what value it can add to your photographic endeavours.

Take this image for example.

Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye

A very busy scene and one that is quite difficult to photograph when compared to a more clean, simple scene.

So, here is what my photographic voice might have sounded like when photographing this scene.

“let’s use a long lens and get in tight on the youngster cause that’s the focus of the story. am I still in aperture mode? ok let’s zoom in tight and use the other ellies as a frame? hey, but what about shooting wide or am I too close? maybe I should rather use the D800 so I can get more resolution and crop in. the details on the D800 still blows me away but man the file sizes are huge.  oooh, the drinking water let’s focus on the water splashes.  maybe try a slower shutter speed and get blur.  no man, you do too much of that slow stuff try something different.  ok ok, what is the story I am trying to tell.  family?  summer?  come on man, this shot is not going to be special at all it’s just going to be another one of thousands of ellie shots out there.  would it even be worth posting to Facebook? ok wait, must focus now.  stay with the baby.  that’s what caught my attention first.  yes, the baby is the story.  ok, so now we need to check that there aren’t any trunks that cover the babies face when I press the shutter.  trunks are cool.  hey, I wonder what Rocky and Ziggy are doing?  wait, need to find a female that can play the mother in the frame. there she is. ok, so now I have to try and time it so that the baby is drinking, the mom’s head is turned in the right direction and there are no distractions in the frame. damn it’s hot. there. one shot. ok, what if I play with depth of field to see what the results could be. no, the group is too tight together to really make a difference. hey, what’s that iPhone app called that calculates DoF?  hmm, perhaps I need to take a few iPhone pics so I can share. no, no signal here so worry about  that later. when am I upgrading my phone?  focus. perhaps I should use a wide angle now? no, it’s too far away rather stick to what you have. wonder if I should put on a bigger lens. maybe the 600mm? nah, the 200-400 versatility is what you want here cause you can create different types of images. yes, but will they be special and will people love them? umm… nah, don’t really care. but. I still need to look through and work on my WPOTY entires so focus now and think. let’s see what I can create here. no no no. don’t do that, shoot for yourself.  just enjoy it. ooh, there, the one ellie just splashed water over itself. yes, but wasn’t I focusing on the baby? oh yes. wonder how I’m going to process this. perhaps punch the blues afterwards. damn, should I be doing any exposure compensation? come one man, this is just another ellie shot. but ellies are cool so let’s keep going…”

And it goes on and on.

And on and on.

There are no breaks, there is no pattern, but everything this little voice says revolves around the scene and subject in the viewfinder. Well, most of the time, and that why you need to get to know your little voice and what to take from it.

Most of the time your little voices focuses completely on the moment and that is the important thing.

You need to learn to trust that little photographic voice in your head. You need to listen to it and allow it to guide you. Sure, it might seem like it’s jumping all over the place but regardless of this, your photogrpahic voice will focus on the moment and you need to learn to trust yourself. The more you trust that little voice – which gets better with time – the better your images will become.

The more YOU your images will become.

By shooting more, looking at other people’s work, doing courses, workshops, sharing, talking and shooting with other people, your voice will, well, find it’s voice. And when this happens you can allow that voice to start guiding you towards better wildlife images.

There is nothing better in this world than to get lost in the moment when you pick up a camera when you are out in the field, so let your photographic voice guide you.

So, what does YOUR photographic voice tell you?

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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