Let me ask you something. Do you keep it real? Or do you edit your images to make them look “perfect”? You can think about that question for a moment while I tell you a short story for a bit of context, we’ll come back to the question later.
Picture this: A sunny, mild late afternoon in one of Africa’s most scenic places. You are on a game drive. The past hour you have been following a pride of lions towards a waterhole. Lot’s of interaction amongst them. Cubs are playing with each other. Some grooming going on every now and then. You are able to get some amazing images. And if all of that wasn’t special enough, you witness the territorial male getting up, quenching his thirst and delivering even more memorable shots with incredible light conditions.
A wildlife photographer’s dream come true.
Being able to capture nature’s beauty and document the romantic side of things seems like a good reason to pick up a hobby like wildlife photography in the first place. Let alone all the nice comments you receive about your photographs.
However, let’s jump back into our safari vehicle. Meanwhile, the sun is starting to go down. Apart from the lion sighting it still seems like a quiet day. Earlier today you saw a few zebras and impalas roaming through the area and that’s it. These quiet days are part of being on safari. Luckily (Yes, I mean it). But then, all of a sudden everything changes. You can’t see anything but something has alerted the lions. They all seem to look towards that thicket behind the waterhole. Now you hear the noise as well. It’s a single wildebeest that got lost. Everyone in the vehicle knows what’s about to happen next. The pride moves unnoticed by the wildebeest towards him. While your guide moves the vehicle closer to the scene, nature has taken its course. Food is on the table.
Now, let’s stop here and let me ask you a question. Do you put your camera down now? Or do you look at it as part of the game and go ahead shooting? As a result, you may have some very graphic and for some people disturbing images now. Bloody lion faces, intestines and other body parts of the wildebeest can be clearly seen. For me, it’s definitely the latter. As a wildlife photographer, I want to document nature and everything that’s happening. Whether it’s cute and romantic or cruel and nasty. In my opinion, leaving parts out is missing the point completely.
HIDING OR DELETING FACTS IS FAKING IT
I chose the above example for a reason. Documenting wildlife can reveal some very very nasty scenes. It doesn’t always have to be the sight of a kill. But as soon as you hide or delete parts of reality, you are faking it as a photographer. Lots of people don’t agree with that. Those people were also the reason for me to write this post.
A year ago, I found an online forum for photography. From tips on which camera might be a good fit for your photographic style to threads about Lightroom hacks. Lots of really good information. I thought this might also be a good way to connect with people that share the same interests. Nothing wrong with that right? So, to make my debut, I decided to post an image of an Impala (on the left) which I had taken just a few months prior to that. Maybe it is just an Impala and maybe the Image is nothing special in most people’s opinion, but for me it works. I just like the way he is positioned and also his facial expression. The whole point is to share a passion and to give each other some tips and ideas for improvement.
You are also allowed to give a compliment if you like a photograph. Yes, that’s sarcasm because the latter seems rather uncommon amongst the users. But what staggered me, was the number of people commenting on me leaving parts of the Impalas privates in the Image. I was supposed to photograph from a different angle or use Photoshop to simply edit it. I did not see that coming. Don’t get me wrong. I am always happy to get tips and suggestions on how to improve so I can absolutely take criticism, but why should I hide the fact that Impalas have genitals?
PHOTOGRAPHERS TEND TO GET STUCK AND WEIRD ABOUT THE “PERFECT IMAGE”
After looking through the thread and what had been posted before I joined, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had dared to keep it real. A bit of grass in front of a leopards face or a piece of a branch that got stuck on a rhino’s horn. Just to name a few “mistakes” of wildlife photographers trying to document nature without hiding facts. Make sure your Image is well composed and leave out everything that might ruin it. But don’t overthink it too much. Show what you see, because what you see in the field is nothing but reality. Being too critical can easily result in an obsession with the “perfect Image” which in my opinion doesn’t exist.
It all comes down to enjoying what you are doing. Photography is a way of documenting what happens around us. It isn’t limited to wildlife, there are plenty of other areas. No matter which field you focus on, it’s all about having fun in the process of photographing. As long as you enjoy what you are doing the rest will fall into place.
Remember, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
Until next time,