There is no secret to creating good wildlife images

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 6 Comments

If you search the internet for tips on how to improve your wildlife photography you will find a lot of pretty useful links.  A lot.

Links that give you good, solid advise that, if it is in fact good and solid, can be found as recurring themes from various different sources in cyberspace.

Here’s the short version – there is no secret to creating good, solid wildlife images.

It is purely a matter of learning as much as you can and spending as much time out in the field with your camera as possible. It really is as easy as that.  Yes, luck most definitely plays a role, as does creativity, but the one you have no control over except for stacking the odds in your favour by being out there as much as possible and the other one can be trained and developed over time.  Yes it can.  And yes, a good solid understanding of the technical aspects of photography is also a must.

Searching online, you will unfortunately also find some rather questionable advise and it is up to you to check and double check the information you choose to follow. It’s just too easy to believe everything you read on the internet – but that’s a whole different story and something we can discuss some other time – so make sure you check and double check the information and sources of inspiration you choose to follow.

Based on a number of conversations I have had with the guests who joined us in the Mara during the last few months and recurring questions on workshops earlier this year there is another topic, or rather a number of related topics, that not many people seem to worry or think about but is actually quite relevant.

It’s relevant because it’s seems to have become the norm of how to rate yourself as a wildlife photographer on various online forums and social platforms and can very easily derail you in your search for better wildlife images and to growing as a wildlife photographer.

Here are a few of the of these not so often discussed topics that have repeatedly come up in discussions on safaris and workshops from new photographers.

1)  More followers on Facebook does not make you a better wildlife photographer.
You can buy followers on pretty much any social platform, we all know this.  It’s also very obvious when someone is paying for Likes.  If your fresh new Facebook page suddenly rockets from a few hundred to deep in the thousands you are only kidding yourself if you think that the newly acquired followers makes you a better photographer.  Sorry, but it doesn’t.   The sad reality is that many, many, many people out there seem to look at the amount of followers on a photographer’s page and judge the quality of the images on the page based on that. Don’t get caught in the online numbers game.

2)  Boosting a post on Facebook in order to get more shares, likes and comments does not make that particular image any better.
Again, rent-a-crowd comes to mind.  Yes, I have boosted posts in the past as an attempt to get more reach on one or two images which I wanted to get out there but it really means nothing.  Nothing.  From a purely business point of view it might have been slightly successful at best but do these comments, shares and likes make a difference?  Hell no.  On the contrary, the type of feedback that these bought like and shares will provide on your images is the most fickle kind and adds absolutely no value to you as the photographers whether from a critique or praise point of view.  Yes, we need people to tell us they like our images and yes we need good, honest critique but does it not come across as desperate to pay people to, random people, people you don’t even know to do this for you?

3)  Being featured on other pages does not make you a good wildlife photographer.
There are people and companies out there who generate their own content and there are others that aggregate sharable content and share this on their pages to get their own likes.  Having your images shared on someone else’s page is awesome but it does not necessarily mean you are a great photographer.  It just means your images is sharable which is not the same as a good image.  In the same breath, and probably the more valuable approach, if your images are not featured on this or that page it does not mean you are a worse photographer than someone whose images are featured.

4)  Don’t take online photographic forums too seriously.
Online photographic forums used to be a place where you could go to learn and get honest feedback on your images.  Yes, I am sure there must be exceptions out there but most forums seems to have gone the route of camera clubs.  They are driven by rules and a pecking order which gives some people’s comments, and images, more perceived weight than others.   Images are judged according to whatever the local house rules are with comments normally revolving around the sharpness and post processing of images.  What happened to capturing moments and telling stories regardless of slight technical imperfections?  Some people on these forums seem to spend more time behind their keyboard arguing about the best colour balance and sharpening techniques than out in the field with their cameras so don’t worry too much about what gets said about your images.  I know of two amazing photographers who shot the exact same scene and produced literally the same image, a great image!  The one image was published in National Geographic, enough said, while the other one was torn to pieces in an online forum as it was not conventional and did not fit the mould of what the rules say a good image should adhere to.

5)  The camera you are using does not make you a better wildlife photographer.
It just doesn’t. Stop thinking it does.  Ignore the people who cannot get enough of telling you that this or that brand is better  and who keep on adding the brand they shoot with to each post and image.  Is the equipment more important that the final result?  Just get on with it.  D4s, 1Dx, whatever.  If the brand and model of camera you have in your hand is the only thing you think about out in the field you are missing out on an amazing world of natural beauty and experiences.  Learn to get the most out of your camera, the camera you have with you, and stop focusing on something you might never have. Enjoy being out there and use whatever tools at your disposal to tell your stories.  David duChemin said it best – “Gear is good, vision is better.”

The list goes go on and on.

Over sharing online, seeing photography as a competition, worrying about what other people think of your work – all of these topics seem to come up again and again.

The online world has forever changed the way we learn about photography, share our images and interact with other photographers but we need to be careful that this very open and public form of communication does not take away the essence of what it is that we do.  I might sound like a broken recored but telling stories, capturing the look and feel of a moment and doing these things for yourself is way more important than having your photographic ego stroked by your online friends.

Would you be happy to head out into the field, capture incredible images, process them to the best of your ability and then print that image to put up on your own wall without showing it to anybody online?  Without asking for affirmation from the online world that your images is in fact good enough?  Then you are doing it for the right reasons.  You are doing it for you.

Yes yes, I know that some of you make money of your images and that you need to get your images out there but if your passion is not centred around the moments out in the field, the moments of creation, then you will eventually run out of gas.  The online world is fickle and people will only remember you for your last image, whether for good or bad, making the goal of continuously pleasing them a rather futile exercise.  If you tap into your own passion and believe in your own work you will not only be true to yourself, and the craft of wildlife photography, but the people that really care about your images, the people that feel your images, will follow your work and give you honest and real feedback.

Personally, I would much rather have a smaller community of people following my work, people who really care about what I do and who I can truly engage with, than a massive following of people who, in the bigger scheme of things, really means nothing and are just following the next best thing and the next sharable image.  Our goal, as photographers, should not be to collect the most followers but rather to focus on what we do.

Enjoy the process, aim to produce the best images you can, to tell the best stories you can, but do it for the right reasons.

Do it for yourself.  And if there are people out there who like what you do, who like what you create, that’s just a bonus.

There is no secret to creating good wildlife images so fire away and create the images that you want to create regardless of what people think!

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Until next time.

Gerry 

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 www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope.  I look forward to changing the way you see the world! Have you checked out The Wildlife Photography Podcast?

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Comments 6

  1. Louise Darch

    Hello Gerry. You’ve just made my heart sing! All of what you wrote is very true. I’ve been reading a lot of articles on improving and PP my pics….some rather confusing and others I’ll never use. The simplicity of your writing gave me hope and belief / confidence in myself. Not everyone, me included, want to be a pro photographer, but we all want to improve and hone our skills to get that great shot of whatever the subject! Thank you for easing my anxiety! I look forward to your other posts.

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      Gerry

      Thanks so much for your comment Louise! Good luck on your journey and like mentioned in the post, don’t worry about pleasing other people. Your photographic journey is yours and yours alone so don’t allow other people to derail your passion! Look forward to seeing you on the blog and keep me posted! 🙂

  2. Morkel Erasmus

    Succinct post, Gerry, and your points ring true and need to be repeated often in this world of digital overload. I only have one question…

    Give us the settings for the cool zebra photo you included 😉

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