© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer


Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny Leave a Comment

“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”
— Scott Lorenzo

When we say we take wildlife photographs, we don’t always realize that there is so much more to that statement than what the whole encompasses.

What wildlife images do you take? Do you have a particular style, vision and execution when you lift your camera to your eye? Are you aware of why you are lifting your camera to your eye and pressing the shutter?

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

In the last couple of weeks Gerry has been answering a variety of questions of the Wildlife Photography Q&A series, where people ask questions and we will answer as best as we can. One lady asked a particular question that stood out to me and made me think about it a lot deeper than what she mentioned. It was along the lines of ‘apart from understanding animal behaviour, how can you improve your wildlife photography – can you study further, do courses, etc’.

Automatically my answer would include the following:

  • Know your camera and the technical settings of it, and therefore their resultant effect. Knowing how aperture works in creating depth of view can either create your subject to be isolated from the background and create the story around it, or include more of the background in focus and therefore changing the story to become a portrayal of animal in environment, etc.
  • Wildlife photography courses are a perfect way to get introduced into the genre and the field as it takes your knowledge from the above mentioned point, and allows you to apply it out in the field on a dedicate course. This also then allows you to experiment more and push your understanding a little bit further as you practice under the tutelage and guidance of your photographic guide and lecturer.
  • Practice. Before you roll your eyes at this point as we have all heard it before, it stands true and holds fast. One cannot expect to just pick up their camera and capture the image that they envisioned straight away. The more familiar you become with your camera, its settings and their effects on an image, the more creative aspects you know and are familiar with, and understanding the animal’s behaviour will enable you to capture the image you envisioned more often than not.


Are you aware of why you are picking up your camera at the sighting at the first place?

Here is the point that for me is incredibly important but gets overlooked when people want to improve their wildlife photography…

Know your triggers.

What about the scene in front of you is making you press the shutter? If you just raise your camera and rattle off the shutter for the hell of it, you can be sure of the following: You may get a technically good image but it is going to be emotionless and lack impression or impact.

Why? Because by shooting in an automatic state without thinking about why you are wanting to take an image and what you want to capture, your emotional state and personal vision and emotions evoked from the sighting won’t come through into your images. Makes sense as it wasn’t there when you hurriedly lifted your camera and kept your finger pressed down tight on the shutter.

So think about it – what is/are your trigger(s)?

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

Here are some points to consider when you are out in the field, editing your images, or anywhere for that matter:

  • What about a situation or scene makes you long to capture it and present it in a certain way
  • Is it moments within a scene that are fleeting or longer lasting
  • Do you look to capture mood and look at different lighting situations as your main player in this
  • Is it colour that grabs your attention initially. If so, think about how you can get this across and what technical and compositional tools you can use to highlight it.
  • Are your triggers specie specific? Destination bound? If you have an affinity for – lets say – buffalo, then your vision and focus on how you photograph them will probably be much stronger as you know how you want to your final image to look and the story that will be told.

The emotional connection you feel for whatever your trigger may be will automatically give your image more credibility and strength as the viewer will be able to see and ‘feel’ this through the story your image is presenting, whether they like the subject matter or not.

There will be people who connect with your image and your vision. I can promise you as well that the emotions that come through your image will affect them as much if not more than it did you.

The points above are just a few to start getting you to take a look at your photography and your vision as a whole. Identifying your triggers or at least starting to look at why you are picking up your camera at sightings is something to think about, as that trigger may be a running theme throughout your images. This will give you a good understanding of your vision and then you can start honing in on it.

Photography is about your interpretation and presentation of the scene. You can study all you want and practice until your camera is an additional appendage, but if you cannot identify why you want to capture  before you and what about it evokes certain emotions in you, then you will be left with good images that lack impact and soul.

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

People look for connections in their everyday lives. Your viewers will look for the same in your images, just as you do. When you feel something for your image, you will know that no matter what people say or how many people like it, it doesn’t matter as it means something to YOU.

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
— Don McCullin

 What’s your trigger?

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