The Zebra and the Flamingoes

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 2 Comments

One of the many photographic tips, guides, rules and the such that you are bound to hear – if you have not already – is ‘capture the eye’s of your subject’ or ‘eye contact with the subject creates powerful images’, and so on.

All of this is most definitely true and in no way do I discredit it or shy away from its use, as it does indeed create images that are striking and evokes certain emotions into the reading of it.

Why is this?

As human beings, we automatically look people in their eyes when we speak to them (or I should say, most of us), as this is a direct way in which we connect with others.

William Shakespeare coined “The eyes are the windows to the soul” for a reason.

Makes sense that we are then pulled more forcefully into an image where we can see the subject’s eye. We are given a way to connect on a deeper level with the subject, and therefore the image as well.

But what happens if the subject will just not look your way or even look to their side and peer into the distance?

I had such a subject.

The setting was perfect; Fever Trees in the background, flamingoes surrounding my subject and helping to create a magical swirl of colours and atmosphere to the image.  But the zebra would not turn it’s head and look in my direction.

Even though it’s body was indeed facing in the right direction, the surrounding mass of flamingoes behind it had caught it’s attention, and by no means was the zebra’s attention going to be diverted to a photographer who was crouching in the dirt!

Instead of getting ‘put off’ at the fact that my arms where getting sore from holding the lens in place for the exact moment the zebra would turn around, or that this creature was being photographically unaccommodating, I recomposed my image and released the shutter.

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

I wasn’t taking an image for the hell-of-it.

There is no point in doing that as it would have just be an proof shot – no meaning, no story, nothing that will make or encourage the viewer to keep their attention on the image.

I took the image because a different story was now being told in front of me. I therefore recomposed my frame to tell it…one that might even be stronger, more intimate, tell more of a story than if the zebra was facing the camera or looking off to the side.

This is when the lights dimmed around the stage, leaving only a spotlight on as my photographic voice took a step forward and picked up the microphone.

There are a massive amount of flamingoes all gathered here, surrounding this lone zebra. They are all moving around, oblivious to their numbers and the striped creature in their midst. How can I convey this sense of the zebra’s wonderment as it gazes back at the sea of flamingoes?

Challenge yourself to capture and portray your subject that shows a different side (and of course I dont always mean in the literal sense!) of them. Don’t be dissuaded by not getting the shot you imagined getting. The fact that we can’t control wildlife and our subjects is one of the reasons why photographing them is so exhilarating and keeps us coming back for more!

Penny Robartes

Comments 2

  1. Nancy Moon

    Penny, this shot is just stunning even without the zebra looking straight at you! I love the depth of field and the flamingos in the grass. Congrats on this. I think I will freak out when I see my first zebra in the wild in Sept with Wild-Eye. What size lens were you using? And did you use a small tripod or monopod? Thanks

  2. Penny Robartes

    Thanks Nancy!

    Really appreciate the comment 🙂 For me it reinforces the power and importance of being on a photographic safari in regards to the type of images you take, as it really encourages one to open themselves up to different and new possibilities that they may not have thought of. That is definitely one of the reasons why I was able to ‘see’ and then capture this image.

    You will absolutely love it at the Mara in September! The amount of Zebras, and wildlife in general, you will see will definitely take your breath away!

    I was using a 300mm lens, and my knees as a tripod as I was sitting on the ground 🙂

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