Why do we love elevated subjects so much?

Andrew Beck Andrew Leave a Comment

You don’t need to be a photographic guide to spot the termite mound or fallen tree in a leopard sighting and say to yourself ” Can you imagine if she climbs up on there?”.

What is it about elevated subjects that appeal so much to photographers? Well, there are a couple of things that make photographing elevated subjects that much more appealing and rewarding for the wildlife photographer.

That one blade of grass…

So often, the perfect portrait loses its appeal because of “that one blade of grass” which runs across the face of tor subject. Often, being elevated on a termite mount or fallen stump lifts the subject out of the grass layer and into a position which eliminates these potentially distracting elements.

Mara Triangle Conservancy, Kenya

Mara Triangle Conservancy, Kenya

That Creamy, dreamy background

An elevated subject is not only lifted from a potentially distracting foreground but it is often set apart from the background and, understanding how the distance from your subject to the background effects your effective depth of field, this allows you to have greater separation between your subject and the background.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, South Africa

In this example, the cub was very close to our vehicle and shooting down from the window the background was initially the grass just 30 cm behind the cub. Waiting for the cub to come to a more elevated position meant that the background was now more than 2 metres away, leaving a soft creamy background which wildlife photographers crave in our portrait shots.

Mara Triangle Conservancy, kenya


Subject Separation

Whilst depth of field and the distance to the background can help isolate and draw attention to your subject, so can placing it against the sky. The only way to do this is when a subject is elevated on a rock..

Tsavo West, Kenya

A termite mound…

Mara Triangle Conservancy, Kenya

Or a tree…

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, South Africa



One of the reasons that animals will elevate themselves is to scan the horizon for potential prey or predators. This often results in them exhibiting alert postures and stances which are always good for photography.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

For the younger generations, elevated positions offer the ideal opportunity to practice their climbing skills and gain a new perspective on the world around them.

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

This sighting in madikwe was a textbook example of how paying attention to the surrounding environment and understanding animal behaviour can help you position yourself for the key moment. You can see how I was able to anticipate the moment and position my guests for this sighting here.

Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, South Africa

The WOW factor

Sometimes seeing subjects elevated in places or manners which you wouldn’t usually expect them to be just makes for incredible photography.

Mara Triangle Conservancy, Kenya

The Take Home Message

  • Always be aware of the surrounding environment and anticipate where your subject may move to It wont always work out the way you plan but when it does and you’re in the right place, its very rewarding.
  • Maximise the opportunity blur the background by position yourself at an angle where the distance between your subject and the background is as great as possible.
  • Travel with guides like those in the Wild Eye team who are always critically aware of the variables at play in every sighting and ensure that your photographic opportunities are maximised.

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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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.

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