3 Golden Nuggets of Wildlife Photography

3 golden nuggets to look out for when shooting on safari. Actually, when shooting anywhere. These are three techniques or clues that you want to be on the lookout for when shooting all styles of photography that will take your pics to a new level. Before I begin I would also like to point out that you seldomly are able to capture all 3 nuggets in one image but it's always good to remind yourself about them as it makes your images pop even if you mange to capture one or 2 of them. And these three nuggets are...

1 - Negative Space

2- Rim/Backlighting

3- Catch Light

I managed to find an image of mine that has all of these elements as an example of what I am talking about and to show you how you can take a simple lioness pose of her standing still looking off into the distance and turn it into a beautiful image.

First a little back story to the image. To begin with the vehicle moved into what most might think was a great vehicle position. Sun over our backs and front on to the lioness but we could quickly see that this was a "meh" photograph. Of course however if it was your first or second time on safari it was a "wow" position to be in but lets for a second imagine that we are seasoned safari goers and that we are looking to lift our photography by trying new things such was the case this day. We quickly instructed the guide to move around the standing lioness so that we were at an angle to the sun. It seems counter intuitive but we could see these 3 nuggets I am about to discuss and we wanted to capture just that.


Also, play my podcast below if you would like to hear my thinking as I talk through these methods and ideas.


Always pay attention to what is behind your subject. Besides the normal, look for horizon and leading lines, objects cutting through a subject and general background distractions, make sure that you haven't missed an opportunity for negative space. What is negative space? Simply put its the lack of clutter or background detail in an image or setting. As per my example above and below it is the distance between my lioness and the grass background. The larger distance in this case has allowed me to use a lower aperture of say f7 and "blur" out the back ground. In our first vehicle position we had she had a lot of bush and sticks directly and close behind her. This would have resulted in a "messy" and "busy" image. We maneuvered the vehicle to create dead/negative space behind her which allowed a lower aperture and much greater subject separation which makes her, the subject, "pop". So, even though the lionesses camouflage is designed to be the same color as her surrounding and a photographers nightmare, we have managed to create a distinct and powerful subject separation through the use of negative space


As we can see, subject seperation in wildlife photography can be a very powerful skill to develop. So another way we can enhance this is to try find an opportunity for rim lighting. This is found more at sunrise and at sunset when we can use the suns low angle and softer warmer light to accentuate the outline of the subject. In this case the sun is gently catching the hairs and whiskers on the outline of her fur and making those areas more golden and highlighted than the rest of her body which is slightly cast in a shadow. This reminds me of school where we were taught the power of outlining your hand drawn cartoons in art class. Same applies her. It draws a stark outline which not only captures the viewers attention very quickly but also tells a beautiful and peaceful story in the warm afternoons light. Start with a 45 degree angles between you, the subject and the sun, but often just by looking carefully with the naked eye the rim lighting will become obvious. Remember that by dropping the exposure compensation you will be making the rim light more obvious. Just be careful of your shadows on the subject.



One of my most favourite nuggets to look out for and often the most overlooked and under rated. Catch light is that small speck of white that you find in the subjects eye. Its basically reflecting the light source out of the eye back to you and the power that little speck has over your image is quite something. It brings personality into your subjects face and again I use the word "pop". It "pops" the eyes which are the absolute most important part of 90 percent of your images. Again catch light can be seen with the naked eye and often a vehicle position change can help you find it. Even in post production, focus on lifting the catch light and you see the difference it makes to your image. In fact, try a side by side comparison of one of your images with a catch light versus without.

I hope these 3 nuggets help you with your upcoming shots and remember, dont be dis heartened if you cant find all 3. Sometimes there are none and such is the nature of the beast with photography. I have no doubt that if you keep pushing for these three techniques that your images will improve drastically.

The Ultimate Elephant Tour

Later this year I will be hosting the Ultimate Elephant Tour and we will be discussing lots of photographic tips and tricks such as what I mentioned above. Follow this link to find out more and get in touch to book your spot today!

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