Page 1

P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

We used a fairly shallow depth of field here to help single out one solitary young flamingo from the crowd (not yet so beautifully pink like the rest). Finding the ‘odd one out’ in a crowd is one way to help make sense of large numbers of subjects and create a meaningful image. Canon EOS 1DX, 500mm f4 lens and 1.4x converter, 1/320s @ f/9, ISO 800. | 42 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


WILDLIFE

BY

BY ANN & STEVE TOON

Wildlife portraits of single subjects are one thing, quite literally, but taking shots of groups of animals is a much tougher ask. Pro shooters Ann and Steve Toon show you how to play the wildlife numbers game.

| 43 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

Ground squirrels in the Kalahari live in small, but tightly-knit social groups. During the day they disperse and scatter to feed, but at dawn and dusk they interact back at their burrow to reinforce their bonds. This is the time to photograph them in a huddle when great compositions form naturally. Canon EOS 5D, 300mm f4 lens and 1.4x converter, 1/250s @ f/10, ISO 320.

W

hether it’s family groups or full-on flocks, handfuls of animals or whole herds, photographing multiple wildlife subjects presents a bunch of challenges and choices that can easily freeze up your trigger finger if you’re not adequately prepared. Many species seek safety in numbers, organise themselves in packs or troops, are sociable by nature or gather in one spot because food and/or water is plentiful or it’s breeding season. Some of our favourite and most successful images are those conveying a mass of wildlife subjects or highlighting the inter-relationships within groups. The problem is that while ‘wall to wall’ wildlife witnessed with the naked eye can be truly amazing, how on earth do you convey the sense or distil the beauty of it all in a single image? The end results often don’t

match the experience of the moment. Even if you’re faced with a relatively small group of subjects it can still be a real nightmare working out where to point the camera and judging what needs to be sharp. But don’t be put off. Playing the numbers game can be richly rewarding when you get it right, and mastering the techniques and approaches involved will help you take your photography to the next level. Deciding exactly what it is you want to show the viewer or say about the group of subjects in front of you is your first step. Ask yourself what it is about the group that’s attracting you to photograph it in the first place – is it the sheer weight of numbers or the shape of the group that appeals? Are you inspired by forms and patterns within the group or is there something else within the crowd that stands out for you?

| 44 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

THREE’S A CROWD

It’s not a bad idea to start your photography of multiple wildlife subjects by concentrating on smaller groups. Anything more than two counts as a group here so, as the saying goes, three’s a crowd. We’re always on the lookout for ‘threesomes’ when scouring for subjects in the wild because they can be very effective visually and it’s much easier finding compositions that work with three animals than it is with 300. It’s useful to remember too that odd numbers of animal subjects arranged in the frame will generally have more aesthetic appeal than even ones as the latter tend to make images look a bit too symmetrical – be alert for units of threes, fives, sevens and so on when you’re in the field. Families in nature are another great starting point as they’re often easy to find, make immediately appealing group shots and compositions tend to suggest themselves – moments of tenderness for example – without you having to look too hard to find them. One of the main technical issues to bear in mind when photographing groups of wildlife is getting the sharpness you want throughout and mastering depth of field issues. With small groups where the individuals are all in parallel and in the same plane you shouldn’t need to worry too much about depth of field. Just keep in mind if you’re using long telephoto lenses, which have shallow depth of field, that you might need to stop the aperture down to ensure all subjects in the group are pin-sharp, even when they appear to be standing quite close.

ABOVE: Photographing individual raptors in flight one morning when vultures and eagles were coming down to a carcass made for pleasing action shots, but didn’t convey how the sky was filling up with birds of prey. Shallow depth of field, focusing on a single bird and allowing the others to break the frame helped suggest how the birds were swirling around above us. Canon EOS 1DX, 100-400mm f4-5.6 zoom lens, 1/800s @ f/10, ISO 800. BELOW: African wild dog pups with reflections. No isolation of subjects, no clean shape or design, a muddled background and confusing reflections – there’s no order in the chaos here as these wild dog pups chase about. Yet the rich colours and organic swirling shapes have lots of appeal for us in this rule-breaking image. Canon EOS 1DX, 100-400mm f4-5.6 lens and 1.4x converter, 1/160s @ f/7.1, ISO 1000.

| 45 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

“WATCH OUT FOR LITTLE CAMEO ‘SCENES WITHIN SCENES’ IN THE WILDLIFE GROUPS YOU ENCOUNTER.” SPLENDID ISOLATION

Once you’ve got a group of subjects you want to photograph, and an idea of what you want to convey about them, the next thing to do is to cultivate the habit of watching and waiting for the ‘isolation’ of subjects within that group before firing the shutter. By this we mean ensuring that each individual member of the group is reasonably distinct from the other so the scene isn’t jumbled and confusing and you haven’t inadvertently framed the shot with one subject’s head sticking out from behind another’s bottom. It might sound obvious but it’s amazing how much you don’t notice subjects overlapping awkwardly and so on straightaway with the naked eye. We’ll wait a long time sometimes for a promising group of wildlife subjects to re-arrange itself so we get the ‘isolation’ between group members we’re looking for. If it doesn’t happen we won’t press the button. You need to be uber-critical about such things because the difference between a group shot that comes off and a muddled one that doesn’t, rests on tiny details such as this.

ORDER IN CHAOS

The wildlife numbers game is all about finding ways to make pleasing visual sense of a random group of subjects. That’s why we stress the need for ‘isolation’, but it doesn’t mean we don’t ever want our subjects touching each other. Physical connections between individuals within a group can be hugely helpful when framing groups because they provide a helpful and obvious focal point for your shot – two young bucks locking horns in a bachelor herd of antelope for example. Be ever ready to home in on such interactions, as well as interesting individuals that stand out from the crowd and watch out for little cameo ‘scenes with scenes’ in the wildlife groups you encounter. It will also help you find some order in the chaos if you can train your eye to look past your subjects as identifiable members of a species and see them instead as a series of shapes – the building blocks or jigsaw pieces of | 46 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

BELOW: Jettison the received wisdom that says you need order to shoot a winning shot of wildlife. We reckon this unorthodox approach helps convey a real sense of being in among this flock of geese as it takes to the skies. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 500mm f4 lens and 1.4x converter, 1/2000s @ f/9, ISO 800.

| 47 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


your picture. How you choose to arrange these shapes within the frame will make or break your picture. We always look hard for shapes that will make appealing pictures. Things like repetition – where a group of animals each echoes the other’s position or stance; fluid circular shapes so the viewer’s eye is continually redirected around the frame; snaking lines of subjects trekking across the frame; or bold diagonal rows of animals bisecting the image dramatically. And we make a beeline for water on still, calm days so we can crank up the impact by including the appealing shapes of the animals’ reflections as well – thereby doubling the impact.

CHAOS IN ORDER

As usual in photography every rule is worth breaking from time to time to give your images added vitality and make them stand out. In the competitive world of wildlife photography these days we’re always striving to present our subjects in new and striking ways. So sometimes when you’re photographing wildlife in big numbers and are struggling to find order in the chaos it can help to jettison the photography-by-numbers rulebook completely. Try simply capturing that sense of chaos when there’s a myri-

ad of subjects, rather than trying to organise the scene and impose a shape on it. Give free reign to your emotions and let them govern where you point your camera. Just click away instinctively as you enjoy the sheer scale and overwhelming mass of life before you. Don’t overthink it – the results can be quite powerful and evoke exactly what it feels like first-hand to experience a sky filled with birds or plains teeming with wildlife. To make such shots work you need to allow your subjects to exploit all of the frame and even burst out the edges, like repeat pattern wallpaper. This is a great way to add emphasis to the weight of numbers you’re photographing, communicating that there’s so much wildlife you can’t contain it in the frame. It also helps if you select to use shallow depth of field and focus on one or two subjects in the centre of the crowd, allowing those in the fore and backgrounds to fall off and frame the subjects in focus. This creates a 3D feel and puts your audience right in the middle of the crowd. This is also time to completely ignore our old friend ‘isolation’. Allowing subjects to overlap here – subtlety is key here – will also help underscore how wonderfully wild and natural it all is.

| 48 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM


P H O T O T I P S: TA K E S T U N N I N G W I L D L I F E I M A G E S

“THE ONLY WAY TO GET THE RIGHT TRADE-OFF BETWEEN DEPTH OF FIELD AND SHARPNESS...IS PRACTISE.”

LEFT: We deliberately opted for shallow depth of field for this group of puffins which has the effect of singling out the lead subject while softly suggesting those in the background. There’s just enough definition to make them out, but not enough to take attention away from our main focal point. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 300mm f4 lens and 1.4x converter, 1/1600s @ f/8, ISO 320. BELOW: Plains zebra drinking at night. School yourself to look at groups of subjects in terms of the shapes and designs they can make within the frame of your image like these zebra with their reflections at night. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 17-40mm lens, 1/60s @ f/4.5, -2EV, ISO 2000.

CROWD CONTROL

Getting the ‘correct’ amount of depth of field when photographing groups can be a problem. Not enough and your group shot may appear soft, too much and you risk bringing the background up so much so it fights with your subjects. It’s a constant trade-off with no neat solutions, but thankfully these days with the ability to shoot at high ISOs it’s a lot easier to get the right balance. A lot of people panic when photographing groups because they’re not sure where to point the camera to get the maximum depth of field. Keep in mind when selecting where to focus that available depth of field extends a third of a way in front of the point you focus on and two-thirds behind it. If you’re unsure about all this in the heat of the moment, our advice would be to focus clearly on the nearest animal in the group. Depending on the size of the animal in the frame this might mean focusing on one animal’s eye if it’s in close-up, the head if it’s further away, or its body if it’s much smaller in the picture. Then move to the nearest group of animals and so on. We’re often photographing wildlife in low light where it’s not always possible to get the depth of field we’d ideally like to ensure every individual in a group is pin-sharp. The only way to get the right trade-off between depth of field and sharpness in these situations is practise. Start by taking several captures, stopping down a bit more each time. At the editing stage you can evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Bear in mind depth of field considerations like exposure are not always clear cut. Some of the best group wildlife shots work precisely because the photographer has chosen to minimise available depth of field rather than maximise it. Deliberately exploiting shallow depth of field when photographing groups to isolate that ‘one-in-a-million’ individual to make it appear to stand proud, is a classic technique for shooting wildlife numbers; for example, a single zebra in a wallpaper shot of endless migrating wildebeest. Creatively using shallow depth of field helps when shooting numbers because it allows the rest of the herd or flock to fall away softly. You’re singling out one or two individuals distinctly while still conveying a real sense of the crowd. The key thing is selecting an obvious focal point in the group that the viewer can immediately latch on to. The next time you’re faced with the challenge of shooting multiple subjects try some of these tips. It’s a lot of fun, just do the numbers… ❂

| 49 | APRIL 2017 | AUSTRALIANPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

Wildlife by Numbers  

How to photograph groups of wild animals and birds.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you