Photographing Kills

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan Leave a Comment

This is often a heated topic amongst Safari goers.  Should you photograph an animal being killed?  We are often asked, why did you not help the animal?

Think of it this way, why are you taking a camera with you on Safari?

Everybody will have some things that attracts their eyes, whether it be birds, landscapes, flowers, insects, large mammals etc.  For me personally, I am trying to document Africa, its wildlife, potential dangers that each of these species have, whether it be from Humans or predators and without me, or anyone that I am with, interfering with their natural behaviour.

I remember when I was Guiding a few years ago in a Reserve in South Africa, the owners preferred that we shouldn’t take anyone to photograph or see a Rhino that was poached.  Although I agree that it is a very sensitive thing to see, how else are we going to get our point across?  How are we going to protect these animals and be their voice if we are not showing and documenting to the world what is going on?  Wildlife for me is the same, there are parts that not everyone enjoys seeing, but that is nature, that is what happens in the wild.  Is it easy to witness?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Witnessing a Kill on TV and seeing it happen in front of you are two totally different things.  The smells and the sounds you experience in the wild can be very traumatic but somehow (and I hope this is not interpreted in the wrong way) looking through a lens does make it a bit easier… more technicality in the moment.

The safety, well being and respect of and for the animals is always the number one priority, but we need to remember there are Predators out there…  They are carnivorous and need to kill to stay survive.  You help the Zebra escape from the Lions jaws, what happens to the Lion?  It happens naturally and will happen whether we are there to witness it or not.

Although some parts of a kill can be very messy and not too pleasing on the eye, there are various parts of a kill, which I think can make for very interesting and striking images:

The Approach

Watching a Predator stalk and capturing their body language and intent can make for powerful images.  If you can get the predator with its prey in the back or foreground, you’ve hit the jackpot!!


The Chase

Probably the hardest part to capture.  Things happen quickly and keeping focus on the action can be very tricky.  Make sure you have a fast shutter speed, at least 1/1000 to freeze the action and give yourself some depth of field, for example, F7.1 to give you just a little room for error.

The Takedown or Impact

In my opinion, this is most probably the most powerful image.  It captures the Predator with it’s prey, yet the prey’s life is not over yet.  It makes your viewer wonder what happened next?

The Start of the Feeding

These images make it clear to your viewer that the hunt was successful, and apart from maybe some blood on the Predators face, the scene is still relatively clean.

Personally these are the four stages that I would look to Photograph.  No one really wants to see blood and guts spilled all over the place! Apart maybe from a few reference shots, this is normally a time to sit and view something that is not witnessed all that often and should be appreciated for what it is… natural selection.

So next time when you are fortunate enough to view something amazing like this, I hope this will help guide you to know what to look for.

Till next time.


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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