This is another post showing some of the preparation for the Serengeti trip in March. The previous two posts focused on technique and the behavioural aspects of wildlife photography to capture the right moment and get the right mix of focus and motion in the image. This post is about some experimentation using the editing programme, Lightroom to push the use of colour and its saturation, hue and luminosity, in order to emphasize the subject and change the visual mood of the image. Often the lighting conditions in the bush are not ideal but that is the only opportunity you have so you must make the best of it. This is where the preparation comes in with some advance testing of the editing variables to see what is possible. CNP safari guide and good friend Johan Greyling taught me Lightroom eight months ago and I am still getting to grips with the software which is incredibly powerful. Here are a few examples of my playing with Lightroom. I hope you like them.
“The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”
This is of a group of Topi silhouetted, but instead of a simple silhouette the addition of a little colour gives it an added dimension.
The light in the Mara at the time we were shooting was not good. The colour of grass looked very saturated so I reduced the saturation in the green grass to emphasis this magnificent male lion.
The contrast of the red facial skin against the black feathers of the Southern Ground Hornbill is dramatic. By desaturating the background the subject stands out more.
Hyaena snack! This was a curious young Topi. The calves have a gorgeous tan colouring which I wanted to show against a muted green grass background.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
~ Elliott Erwitt
Art in nature! This Grey Crowned Crane turned around to preen itself and I loved the shape of its neck, the golden crown and striking neck feathers.
That long neck provides the photographer with many opportunities to get some interesting poses.
A very ordinary image with the subjects emphasised by desaturation of the colour in the foreground and background. There is no particular style here, I was just playing.
It has been a revelation to me that altering the hue and saturation of the background can have a surprisingly positive effect on the image. This was a family of Elephants walking down in the marsh area of the Masai Mara. There was still quite a lot of low lying mist at that time of the morning so some contrast was needed.
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”
~ Ernest Haas
In colour, this male was majestic but I thought I would try to emphasise the character in his face – and that stare.
The evenings in the Mara can be sublimely beautiful. Those “Desert Dates” provide the unique character.
Southern Ground Hornbill in black and white. Interesting but the stunning red of the facial skin is lost. In black and white it is more about texture and form. It comes back to the same idea over and over, what are you trying to show in the image, colour or texture or shape or behaviour or just an interesting composition or a combination of those. You need it be conscious of what you are trying to say with your image.
This Bat-eared Fox climbed out of its burrow only to find there was pride of lions hunting warthog piglets close by. Needless to say it to not stay above ground long. Altering the saturation in the green grass improved the feel of the image significantly.
Two Yellow-billed Oxpeckers sitting on the boss of a large Buffalo bull. The colour of the eyes and beaks of this “grooming service squad” stood out perfectly against a desaturated background.
“The pictures are there, and you just take them.”
~ Robert Capa
A Mara evening in black and white. This treatment shows off the trees which is interesting but the emotional element provided by the colour of the sunset altered the mood of the image.
The Secretary Bird is ideally suited to a little black and white treatment with its facial skin colours emphasised.
This was that large Buffalo bull which the Yellow-billed Oxpeckers (in the earlier photo) were sitting on. He looked positively well fed and probably the fattest Buffalo I have ever seen. The darkish colour and texture of his hide stood out better in black and white.
Giraffes on the horizon make a perfect silhouette.
Southern Ground Hornbill foraging in the grass for small rodents, reptiles and insects.You can see what a difference a high shutter speed makes!!
This was the “mummy’s boy” and his mother that I referred to in the “Lion Family Time” post. They made ideal subjects to emphasis their colour against a muted background.
Another silhouette, this time with Buffalo on the horizon. I thought I would alter the colour to make it look as if it was taken in the evening.
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
~ Ansel Adams
This female Leopard had come down from the tree she was chased up by a pride of Lions. She emerged from the undergrowth and was desperately looking for her cub which had been killed by the Lions. I toned down the background to give it more of an undergrowth feel. It was a very sad but unique sighting. The lions killed the cub but did not eat it.
Southern Ground Hornbill up close and personal, displaying that colourful yellowy-red facial skin, long eyelashes and huge watery eyes.
Particularly with small subjects, it is important to try to de-emphasis the background. This was one of a pair of Temmnick’s Coursers foraging out on the plain in the &Beyond conservancy.
The Grey Crowned Cranes provide photographers with wonderful poses. I am not sure what the character was doing but its partner was close by so maybe it was a ritual.
“Photography is an austere and blazing poetry of the real.”
~ Ansel Adams
This male had just marked his territory on the tree trunk.
The coalition of two male Cheetahs climbed up the side of the Oloololo hills to get away from all the Lion activity on the plain. They found a spot which still gave them a good view of the action on the plain.
This large male lion was walking towards us and I wanted to emphasis him and subdue the background. Desaturation of the background only works in some images but it has its place is the editing tool kit.
A Spur-winged Lapwing digging around for insects in old elephant dug on the dirt road. Again I was surprised, with a little playing with the background colour it is possible to bring forward the subject in the image.
“The important thing is, you have to have something important to say about the world.”
~ Paul Strand
The same Leopardess treed by the pride of lions. She was very upset watching her cub being mauled by a lioness.
A lone Impala ram standing on the horizon – perfect for a silhouette.
This was one of a coalition of two Cheetah males which had been hunting down on the conservancy plain but the two of them decided there were just too many Lions for comfort and moved up onto higher ground where there was much longer grass. That flicking tail indicated how alert he was as there were a few Impala further along.
This was a bedraggled young Hyaena. It was soaking wet, as was the grass. By desaturating the colour of the grass, the browns of the Hyaena were emphasised.
The same Secretary Bird as before, this time striding out looking for snakes, reptiles of insects to eat.
“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
~ William Thackeray
It was an overcast afternoon and the colours were very saturated. To emphasise this female Hyaena, who had just stolen a young hippo calf skull from a jackal and a few vultures, I needed to desaturate the background. This female must have carried this heavy skull and part of the spine in her mouth for about a kilometre without stopping. An incredibly powerful predator.
A silhouette of a few Impala and a Thompson’s Gazelle in the late afternoon.
A Scrub Hare having a good look around to see that no Jackal or Cheetah were close by. Again by just changing the colour of the background slightly, brought out the shape of the hare.
One of a coalition of two male Cheetahs resting in the shade.
These Topi were attentively watching the Lion activity on the conservancy.
This is the first time I have taken the time and effort to prepare for a major wildlife photographic trip. I have found it very useful and hopefully will be able to apply some of my preparation into producing more interesting and higher quality images. I am striving to bring more artistic intent into my images while still trying to capture that interesting behaviour in wildlife. The more photographers can show the fascinating and beautiful aspects of wildlife perhaps the more we will appreciate our wild friends and all try harder to protect them rather than abuse or consume them.
“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere …”
~ John Szarkowski
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.