Photography is all about showing people what something looked like.
Simple as this sounds I would like to believe that there is more to it than that. There should be more to your images than just what it looks like because if that’s all it’s about your images will, eventually, look like everybody else’s. The goal is to make people feel your images.
Having just wrapped up our 2014 Great Migration season in the Mara – hey, did you know that 2015 bookings are open already – I thought we’d look at a river crossing as an example.
This is a stock standard type of river crossing image.
It’s pretty easy to get a shot like this. You set your camera up on a bean bag or tripod, point it at the point where the wildebeest are crashing into the river, dial in a fast shutter speed and fire at will.
Yes, there is most definitely a huge element of luck involved but the recipe is quite simple and easy to follow and you will more than likely end up with some great images.
But does the above image make you feel what a crossing is like or is it just, as so many people like to announce on social media platforms, just another crossing image?
Nailing the crisp shots of river crossings is something you should definitely do for yourself when you experience it for the first time but then you need to make your viewers feel something.
The intensity, the chaos, the drama.
As with anything to do with art and photography this is obviously open to artistic interpretation, personal taste, whatever. The important thing is that you, as the photographer, should be aiming to capture the emotion that you felt at the time of clicking the shutter and hopefully make your audience feel something. I call bullshit on any photographer who follows a strictly technical approach to wildlife photography and dismisses the creative side of the craft because the underlying passion of what we do, and what we feel, is an essential ingredient in images that speak to people.
That being said, your primary goal should not be to create images that speak to people but rather to create images that speak to you. If people like what you do and it makes them feel something, that’s great and a nice, albeit not essential, side effect.
Now whichever way you cut it, watching a crossing does evoke certain feelings and emotions. One particular crossing a few weeks ago was quite challenging from a photographic point of view and after trying to bank a few stock standard shots I decided to throw that approach out of the window and rather try and create images of what I was feeling rather than what I was seeing.
The banks of the river was high, there was a more than usual amount of nervous tension within the group of wildebeest, and it was frantic.
Slower shutter speeds, a little bit of intentional camera movement and vision driven post processing has left me with three images that makes me feel what that particular crossing was like rather than just what it looked like.
If you think that a creative approach to wildlife photography is just a wishy washy type of point and pray approach, then read the first half of the above sentence again. The foundation of a creative approach to wildlife photography requires a good, solid understanding of the technical aspects of photography which, when applied with a specific goal in mind, is just another tool in your photographic toolbox to use as and when needed.
It’s all fine and well to create images that can show people what a river crossing looked like but why not go that one step further and try to create images that make them feel what it was like.
After all of that I suppose the message here is simple really; Shoot for yourself and create images that make you feel something.
If other people like what they see that’s great.
If they like what they feel, even better!
Until next time.
Gerry van der Walt
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