Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
If you try to scrape out a living doing wildlife photography, pretty soon you are faced with the challenge of finding your "voice". By voice I mean the way you express the subjects you photograph, the way you are unique, reporting your private vision back to those who are in less fortunate professions.
There are a number of keys to finding your voice. It is true you will have habits of expression, it is probably also true you will become a better photographer if you learn your tendencies, and try to make them conscious. I just don't buy the idea that a great artist is not deliberate. If you understand the working practices of painters, for instance, you will find they do many practice "vignettes" before constructing a final work. DiVinci did many such vignettes before painting his great works.
You are probably thinking now, what the hell has that possibly to do with photography. I think it has everything to do with it. While it is true we cannot do vignettes, we can prepare carefully, and we can pre-visualize the shot we are going for. I call this creating your pose wildlife "pose book". If you raise the bar still higher, you will also think carefully about the context or backdrop of the picture. I discuss this in my entry on "wildlife landscapes" that deals with this backdrop issue in some depth.
But what about the poses, what is that about. Posing is about finding the interesting ways that the geometry of the animal is expressed in different ways. I see animals as being composed of shapes. Lines, triangles, curves, ovals, etc. Generally my first compositional thought is on the interplay of these shapes when I go for an expressive pose. I don't want taxedermy.
The black and white photo below is of a favorite bull I called Medusa. He is an old timer, you see the characteristic palmate structure of an older bull at the top of his antlers. Anyway this picture again features dramatic light, and by edge lighting his antlers, and facing him into the sunrise, I have a totally different expression of the life of a big bull elk. He seems to be on alert. This pose places strong emphasis on this fine rack, and avoids being ordinary. The cutting light on the grass is a nice touch. I think black and white emphasizes the power of this unusual capture.
Pose Your Animal Pictures
Dynamic poses present another challenge, you not only have to visualize the composition, you have to anticipate when it might arise. Bull fights are just about as dynamic as anything you would ever compose, and the poses you seek are very hard to get. If you are to be successful, you need to be extremely observant to learn how to anticipate the poses.
It is useful to put the camera down and spend some time observing fast action before you shoot it. This is very hard when you are so excited, but a couple of minutes of careful observation and planning could really improve your shot making. You need to identify the movement that precedes the one you wish to photograph. Shoot when you see that preceding movement, and you will get the picture you want (that follows it). If you have a higher end camera, fire a burst at the beginning of the sequence.
Let me simplify a bit here. I get clear on the poses I want from fighting bulls, and second, I get clear on what leads up to those poses. And then, I shoot my tail off, often 500 pictures in morning of fights. Some of the most interesting poses are when fighting bulls release, and reset. You need to know when that is going to happen. You need to observe carefully, then shoot.
The photo bottom right is one of these anticipated, pre-visualized poses. I am pretty sure I saw this in a sculpture somewhere, but I may be wrong. I had hoped for some time to get this counter-pointing of two bulls, side by side, and head tipping to emphasize the antlers. I admit this photo is not as sharp as it could be, I have not really stomped on it in Photoshop, but there is little I would change in terms of the posing of the two animals. This was part of a spectacular shooting morning in October of 2007.
Think about poses, think about your voice. Use the tools of light, angle, context, story, and your animal subject's "shapes" to find interesting compositions. As you think more carefully about what you are going for, you will shoot stronger compositions. This is one huge difference between just blasting away, and getting some real keepers. It is one of the key differences between working pros and amateurs.