When you head to a wildlife photographic destination, whether you have been there before or not, do you have certain expectations? Do you have certain images in mind that you would like to create based on what you see online?
It is difficult, very difficult, to not be influenced by what we see online because regardless of what platform you browse through, and we all do it, there is a continuous stream of images which helps colour our vision. Head to Amboseli and you might find yourself looking for the quintessential African image of a large tusker with Kilimanjaro in the background. Head to the Sabi Sands, where I will find myself from tomorrow, and you will be looking for leopards dragging their kill up a tree. The list can go on and on.
I am all for finding inspiration and ideas online by looking at other people’s work but as a photographer I need to be realistic in that I can only shoot what I see and it is important to make a clear distinction between what we see online versus what we see out in the field.
What we see online is the highlights, the best of whoever’s work you are looking at. What you will not see online is the rest of the images from which the hero shots were picked. The sketch shots, the missed shots and even the good shots of the not so popular subjects we see a lot of when out in the field. Leopards and Lions surely trump Impala and Wildebeest? If judged by what we see online, absolutely but I disagree.
The last while, and this seems to be an ever-increasing trend, it feels like a lot of the apparent good wildlife images online is based on sensationalism. It’s based on truly unique, once in a lifetime type of sightings, the kind of sightings that very few people ever get to see and relies almost purely on it’s unique nature, not solid photographic principles, to get attention.
Link mining is massive on platforms like Facebook right now. Yes, you’ve seen them. The links with a screenshot with text that goes something like this: “This wildlife photographer was photographing a squirrel when his life changed. Unbelievable! You will not believe what happens next!”
More often than not these type of images and links are shared by content aggregators who are just after numbers. A good, solid portrait of an Elephant will not get as much online attention as a Lion killing a Wild Dog for example? There is just way more potential marketing mileage and ‘eyes on your page’ in the second option.
As a wildlife photographer it is difficult to not get caught in this trap, and believe me it is a trap. If your photographic mind starts thinking in these terms, if you start thinking that good images are based purely on the content of the frame you are going to be disappointed. You just cannot expect to keep on producing images that have shock value or are sensationalist enough to be shared regardless of the photographic quality of the frame. It’s not gonna happen.
Yes, lightning does strike every once in a while and you find yourself at the right place at the right time. By all means, let your shutter run wild and capture the unexpected moments nature sometimes shares with us and then let the online world decide whether it is sharable but for the love of everything that is good in nature photography do not make this your goal.
Do not get so caught up in trying to create images that people will share, sensationalist images, that you forget the reason you started photographing wildlife in the first place.
I’ve said it often. A good wildlife sighting does not necessarily make for good wildlife photography. If you focus on the basics of wildlife photography and respect the craft you will not only give yourself the perfect platform from which to create a good, solid portfolio of wildlife images but I guarantee you will also enjoy the process more.
Spend time learning and refining your own photography and you will succeed in the end. You will succeed in creating strong images you can be proud of regardless of whether the online community believe it to be sharable or not.
I for one would much rather enjoy the experience of being out in the wild places of the world while creating good, solid wildlife images than always having the unnecessary and completely unproductive pressure of trying to capture the next best thing.
Bottom line, respect the craft of wildlife photography, enjoy the experience and do it for yourself.
Until next time.