The next time you are out photographing wildlife, I encourage you to look for behaviors and poses that imply human emotion. We are naturally drawn to imagery that mirrors our own emotions. Sadness. Happiness. Shyness. Joy. Anger. If your photograph implies any of these, then viewers will respond very positively to your pictures.
In the example above, we arrived on scene to find a giraffe resting in the shade of an acacia tree. My first instinct was to position our vehicle to photograph the giraffe from the front so we could have a better view of its body. After thinking about the image for a minute, I realized that the giraffe was rubbing its head against the tree. This behavior made it appear as if it was shy or timid. Rather than snapping a standard full-length grab-shot of the giraffe, I worked a bit harder to find a way to show emotion.
Maybe the image of the giraffe’s head poking out from behind a tree implies a game of peek-a-boo with a young child. Or, perhaps it implies an adult looking around the corner to see who might be there before coming out into the open. Either way, it is a much stronger image.
Sometimes, the most important parts of a photo story are the images showing details that might otherwise be forgotten. This photo of a buffalo skull and rib cage help fill in the larger story of a safari without showing the obvious fight between predator and prey. It graphically demonstrates the harsh reality of life on the African Plains in a very graphic way.
This buffalo was killed by a pride of lions, then hyenas and vultures came in to finish off the job. Days later, all that remained were the rib cage and the skull. They serve as a stark reminder of the dangers to wildlife in the wilds of Tanzania.
The next time you are on a photo trip, work hard to find additional elements of the scene that fill in details of the grand story.
One of the best ways to create better images is to work harder at finding connections. In this image, the connection between the mother zebra and her baby is real. This image goes much beyond a shot that records the existence of the zebra and shows a mother’s bond with her newborn baby.
When taking images on your next adventure, try to find ways that connect the main subjects in a meaningful way. Show a bird in context with its nest. Show a boat in context with the harbor. Show a can in context with the curvy road.
A few weeks ago I was shooting a how-to video at a local park and came across this young squirrel on a branch. As quickly as I could, I pulled out my D750 and 70-200mm f/2.8 to try and grab a shot of the cute guy, but it took off behind a tree. Mildly disappointed, I lowered my camera and started to hike back to the trailhead. Before I made it five feet, a little voice in my head chided me that a “real” photographer would stick around and try harder. Since the light was soft and the squirrel was super cute, I decided to stick around and at least attempt to get a nice image of the critter.
While scoping out the scene to find a spot to wait, I spotted a large pile of pinecone scales at the base of a tree. These scales were a tell-tale that this tree served as one of the squirrel’s favorite spots for feeding. In fact, upon closer inspection, I noticed a small branch above the pile of scales must be where the squirrel perched when feeding. So, I set up my camera gear at that location and waited.
After a couple of minutes, the young squirrel poked its head around the side of the tree to see if the area was safe. I stood motionless with my camera at the ready and the squirrel slowly made his way over the the branch. It picked up right where it left off, munching away on seeds while allowing me to photograph it to my heart’s content. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, scampered about, but always returned to the spot to check on me before consuming more seeds. What fun! I’m very happy I stuck around and committed to making the image.
Photography is like that. Whether you photograph wildlife or children or buildings, you have to operate with equal amounts patience and diligence. Patience to be able to wait for the right moment. Diligence to not give up when the situation doesn’t initially go your way
Each week we post a new theme to our Instagram account. Here’s the summary of Leopard week.
Its leopard week here at Visual Adventures. Our safari photography group came upon this young leopard right at dusk in the central Serengeti region called Seronera. He was waiting for his mother to come over from another tree and wasn’t quite sure if he should stay put, or risk heading down to the ground. #leopard #cat #serengeti #Tanzania
Searing Stare. I think leopards have the most intense eyes in the animal kingdom. Their eyes seem to burn right through you to let you know who’s boss. This young male was resting in an acacia tree after a night of hunting with his brother and mother. #leopardweek #cats #Tanzania #safari A photo posted by Mike Hagen (@mikejhagen) on
What Goes Up. Its leopard week here at Visual Adventures. This large male leopard is descending from a very big baobab tree in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Leopards are excellent climbers and spend most of their days in trees. #leopard #Tanzania #wildlife #cats A photo posted by Mike Hagen (@mikejhagen) on
We’ve just posted the last of our six videos on gear designed for getting your camera low to the ground. Check out all the videos over at our YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/MikeHagenPhoto
Our videos from this series covered a wide gamut of gear ranging from high-end to low budget. Here’s the list:
In case you want to watch all the videos on this site, here they are:
Here are the first three videos in our six-video series showing off gear for getting low to the ground with your camera gear. Our most recent video is for the Joby Gorillapod Focus while the previous two covered the Kirk LowPod PO-2 and the Kirk Mighty Low Boy. Be sure to watch the videos to see what I like or don’t like about each product. Also, check out our YouTube channel for more videos on photography and software.
Buy at B&H: Joby Gorillapod Focus/Ballhead X
Buy at Kirk Photo: KirkPhoto.com
Buy at B&H: Kirk Low Pod PO-2
Buy at Nikonians: Photo Pro Shop
In preparation for our upcoming photography trip to Cuba, I’ve been posting news and articles related to the cultural, political and natural aspects of this island nation. Here’s a short article from my colleague, Alethea Paradis regarding the status of the little-known coral reefs off of the Cuban shores.
The upside of minimal economic growth since 1959? Pristine environmental beauty. Cuba’s coral reefs, coastal regions and jungles are home to the most diverse range of species in the Caribbean. Unlike most of the islands in the warm-water region, Cuba’s coastal gems have been spared the ravages of over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction which invariably accompanies economic development. Cuba’s slow-to-act government agencies and cultural commitment to scientific exploration work together – paradoxically – to keep their environment in a state of preservation: natural equilibrium, by inertia. As access to the island increases for Americans, and the potential end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba looms ominously in the future, economic boom could mean environmental bust for the natural habitat. “You always have this feeling that it’s about to change—that you’ll be the last one there before it explodes,” observes travel writer Julian Smith. Read the full article and see the beautiful images from the Nature Conservancy June/July 2014 issue
Written by Alethea Tyner Paradis
Friendship Tours World Travel
We have a full schedule of adventure photo trips planned for 2014/2015 and would love to have you along. Photography adventure trips with Mike Hagen and Visual Adventures are great fun and very educational. We’ve taken care of all the trip details so you can focus solely on getting the best shot in the best light.
Our Iceland and Galapagos trips for August/September 2014 are already sold out, but we have space available for Cuba in October, Tanzania in November, Iceland in February and India next April. Stay tuned for more 2015 trips to be announced soon!
All of our workshops can be found at this link:
Here are our upcoming international trips for the remainder of 2014 and early 2015:
Aug. 12-20, 2014
Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure (SOLD OUT)
Sep. 5-14, 2014
Galapagos Photo Adventure (SOLD OUT)
Oct. 4-12, 2014
Cuba Photography and Cultural Tour
Nov. 4-15, 2014
Tanzania Photo Safari
Feb. 9-15, 2015
Iceland Winter Photo Adventure
Apr. 29 – May 11, 2015
Northern India Tea, Landscape and Wildlife Photo Adventure
The baobab tree is an amazing sight to behold. In Tanzania, these massive trees grow primarily in Tarangire National Park and are known for their funny upside-down shape. According to the legend of Bushmen, the baobab tree offended God, so he plucked it out of the ground and planted it back upside down, leaving the roots exposed to the sky.
Baobabs are succulents and store massive amounts of water in the trunk (sometimes up to 26,000 US gallons) in order to endure harsh drought conditions. Their massive swollen trunks consist of soft spongy wood, saturated with water. They hold so much water in fact, that they’ve been known to survive for ten years with no rain. Interestingly, the diameter of their trunks changes throughout the year in relation to how much rain falls or how long the dry season lasts.
Elephants love the bark of the trees and you’ll often see them tearing off long strips of bark to chew on. This behavior is especially evident during the dry season as elephants work to obtain moisture from the trunk’s water reserves. Most baobab trees in Tarangire National Park bear deep gouge marks and even giant holes through the trunk from the abuse they take from elephants.
One thing you can’t miss is how large these trees are. The photograph here shows a young elephant using its tusks to tear away some bark. This elephant is probably seven or eight feet high, so you can see that the tree trunk is close to 30 feet in diameter.
Baobabs take hundreds of years to reach their large dimensions and some are known to be many thousands of years old. In fact, one of the largest baobabs in Africa has been dated to be more than 6,000 years old. Most baobabs don’t look fully “baobab-ish” until they are at least 600 years old. When they become a thousand years old, many trees begin to hollow inside, providing refuge for animals and people as they travel the African wilds.
Tarangire National Park hosts one of the world’s greatest populations of African elephants, with more than 5,000 roaming the park. It is said to have more elephants per square mile than anywhere else in the world. This park is the perfect place to photograph the world’s largest land animal next to one of the largest tree species on earth.
For this image, I used the Nikon D800 coupled with the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4. For support, I rested the camera on a Gura Gear Anansi bean bag. As always, I used the Peak Design leash system to keep from dropping the rig from the Landcruiser.