Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Telling Stories in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 4 Comments

If you’ve been following along for a while or you’ve traveled with me you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the ‘you can only shoot what you see‘ approach to wildlife photography.

You’ll also know that I quite enjoy exploring the more creative side of wildlife photography but never without banking the necessary shots first.  It’s normally at this point, after banking the shots, where a lot of photographers get stuck.  I strongly believe that creativity is something you can work on and train if you are willing to take photographic risks and do so with intent but if you aren’t there yet all you have to do is slow down and tell stories.

A lot of people say that their images are all about telling stories and that’s what they try and do every time they pick up their cameras but when you look at their images it’s just not quite the case with image after image composed exactly the same.  Whether it’s a case of trying too hard or not quite understanding the visual language in an image story telling should not have to be difficult.

When you look at a scene through your viewfinder simply ask yourself “what am I photographing?”

The image below is, at the risk of simplifying it too much, about a two elephants doing what they do.  It’s more a story of the environment and the two ellies in it than about the subjects.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Simple storytelling.

By zooming in to the large elephant my story changes completely.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

This image is now about a single elephant reaching up to a tree.

Same scene, two different stories.

Nothing changed and I didn’t have to dig too deep into my creative toolbox in oder to create something different.  I simply zoomed in and changed my shooting orientation in order to create different stories.

A story can be told in a 500 page book or in a 2 hour movie.  As photographers our stories are much, much shorter – somewhere between 30 seconds and 1/8000 of a second – but I would like to believe just as effective and powerful.

Don’t get carried away with all kinds of creative tricks and ideas if you haven’t explored the most basic stories in the scenes you are photographing.

Zoom in, zoom out, change your angle, change your orientation then simply ask yourself “what am I photographing?” and tell your stories from there.

Until next time,


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 or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

Comments 4

  1. Alison Fordham

    I am just getting to the point where I am not having to agonise over the settings for so much of the time before bagging the shot. This year I left home on our trip to Namibia and had a clear idea of what shots I wanted. I had researched what I needed to get them too. Your tutorials and blogs have helped me to be more organised and to have a clear concept of what I am trying to achieve. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise….not too many professionals are prepared to do this.

    1. Post
  2. Carol Bell

    What Alison has said is so true…about how the team and the blogs have helped me. I also like the way you remind me of what you have said before. The notes you gave me on our Tuli workshop live in my camera bag…. and I keep on going back to them and reading them…ie “be inspired by Portraits”…..Thank you.

    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *