Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

How to Photograph Large Animals

Trevor McCall-Peat All Authors, Trevor 4 Comments

Something I hear about quite a bit, not only out on safari but in general is – ‘’I find it hard to photograph the larger animals, they are so dull and dark’’. This is understandable, especially if trying to photograph elephants, rhinos and buffalo.

There are a number of reasons that make it so tricky. Firstly, the size – depending on gear and the area the animal is situated in, it can be difficult to showcase your subject. It maybe be because of the zoom lens or possibly that the animal is in dense vegetation and you are unable to capture the scene effectively.

Secondly, the colour – looking at the larger animals they don’t offer any vibrance or striking colour which makes it very difficult at times to create a powerful image.

Thirdly, unlike other animals that offer a lot in terms of playfulness, territorial patrols (which allow for plentiful walk by opportunities) and other fast moving actions which build excitement.

So how do we combat this? Well we have to move out of our comfort zone and think outside the box.

Have you ever taken a moment to think – why you are picking up your camera? What image are you trying to capture? This may sound silly but goes a long way to creating and building an image. You can tell just by looking at an image, who has put some thought into what they are trying to capture and who hasn’t.

Below I have created 4 different things to look out for when you find yourself in a sighting with some of the larger animals. There is always a photographic opportunity, you just need the tools and knowledge to identify them.

Recognize Key Moments

When I pick up my camera, I am always thinking about – what caught my eye, why do I want to take a picture and how can I highlight or bring out my subject. The important thing to remember, is never to force an image, you cannot capture a moment that is not there. Being able to recognize key moments goes a long way to helping your photography and creating a mood or emotion through a still image. Moments to look out for are – animals in groups such as herds of elephant, a crash of rhinos or a herd of buffalo, the reason I say this is that there are generally a lot of small key moments within the herd and between members, such as a mother and calf, young males testing each others strength or perhaps some reassuring behavior.

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Capture The Scene

This depends on the gear that you have and area that you may be in, obviously with a large zoom lens in thicker areas and a close subject, you will struggle to capture the scene, but having a wide angle lens increases the possibility. In some cases its not all about your subject, it is about the entire scene that is in front of you and its about capturing that scene in the best way possible to showcase what you are looking at. What you will find is that by doing this it often enhances your subject and creates a great mood throughout the image. If you constantly take close ups of animals (there is always a time and a place for this) it can sometimes detract from the image. The beauty of capturing the entire scene and your subject in its natural environment you are showing off not only your subject but also showcasing the area that the image was taken. With such a variety of wilderness areas to visit, they are all unique and this should be used to your advantage when creating a variety filled portfolio.

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Capture Their Natural Behaviour

Animals that are doing something are always easier to photograph than animals that may be sleeping or stationary. Larger animals such as elephants are great subject to photograph because unlike other animals such as lioness and leopards that sleep majority of the time, elephants move around and feed for up to 20 hours a day. Just watching their behavior as they go about their daily business is great. Especially with the larger animals their are a variety things to look out for that are good photographic opportunities such as, dust bathing, wallowing, swimming (especially on really warm days) and in general – feeding.

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Be Creative

What do I mean by – Be Creative?

When you find yourself close up and personal with these large animals, it is a great opportunity to look for different opportunities. Close ups of the animals eyes, use contrasting light to enhance the image and especially with all these large great and dark animals, black and white conversions also tend to add an extra element to the subject and create a whole different feel to the end image.

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye
Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

Trevor McCall-Peat - Photography - Wild Eye

I hope that you all found this useful and that next time you out in the field you can enjoy a few of the above techniques and have fun with it.

Until next time,

Trevor

 

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About the Author

Trevor McCall-Peat

Having Grown up in White River which then was a small town in the Lowveld, I have had an inner burning desire to pursue my passion and love for wildlife. From a young age I was guided by my family who shares the same passion for the natural world as I do. Frequently visiting wilderness areas from a young age instilled a deep craving to explore and learn more about the bush. Once I left school I began my journey to becoming a guide and following my dream. I have been a field guide for the past 9 years, starting out in the Western Cape and then returning to the lowveld where I spent my last 4 years spend at Londolozi Game Reserve where I gained invaluable experience and had the opportunity to learn about myself as an individual. Through my love for wildlife it has kick started my passion for photography and has allowed me to grow and pursue it as a career. Combining an array of different elements such as safaris, photography, being one with nature and sharing experiences with others is something I have really enjoyed doing and looking forward to continuing it on this new and exciting chapter.

Comments 4

  1. Deji Odetoyinbo

    What an amazing coincidence! I was just about to write to seek help with this very problem. How do I create more interesting images of (large, grey, rectangular) beasts who often radiate the visual appeal of a cinder block?

    Your blog post answers that question brilliantly. I’m particularly inspired by the last bit of advice’ “Be creative” – you buffalo portraits and elephant trunk close-up are simply outstanding.

    Thanks for this awesome headshake!

    1. Post
      Author
      Trevor McCall-Peat

      Hello Deji,

      I am very glad to hear that I could be of assistance. I think it is a common issue that people struggle with and feel that any advice I can give to others the better.

      I am really enjoying the images that you have been posting lately – Keep it up and thank you so much for taking the time to drop me a comment.

  2. Callum Evans

    Brilliant, thank you so much!! I played around with a couple of these points (being creative and capturing the landscape) in Botswana but definitely still need to practise them and think about the other two points (unfortunately opportunities are somewhat limited in Cape Town on that front)

    1. Post
      Author
      Trevor McCall-Peat

      Hello Callum,

      Glad that you found this useful and hopefully it will help you in the future when you out in the field.

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