Over the years of guiding there is one common thing that I have come to notice. This is both on a personal and purely an observational point of view. We all fall victim to this and it’s simply that our excitement affects our photography. And.. usually in a negative way if you do not know how to control it.
And no, I cannot even claim this as a planned panned image;
Now this excitement may come in various different forms. It could be a result of seeing your first ever elephant. Visiting a bucket list destination for the first time. Witnessing a crazy, adrenaline filled sighting and/or seeing a very rare species.
In our day to day life, the human body is always seeking a state of homeostasis, a condition of stability. Any form of excitement will disrupt the body’s homeostasis but only temporarily. Our body is constantly returning to homeostasis because a condition of true excitement can go on for only so long. How long you may be wondering? It all depends on the level of excitement. An article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that it takes 20 minutes for the power of excitement to pass.
Now looking at this time frame with photography in mind; particularly wildlife photography, 20 minutes is a LONG time! Most action packed, exciting or rare moments usually only last mere seconds. You need to be ready! Always remind yourself to expect the unexpected.
Now in these fleeing moments, it is vital to try and remain as calm and level headed as possible to ensure that our excitement effects of photography in the best possible way. I know this is a tough task when caught up in a crazy moment. You could be in awe due to the beautiful surroundings of your bucket list destination? These what I like to call, “excitement management skill”, will take time to develop and is something to get used to.
I think back to my early photographic days, when I messed up most of, if not all the action shots due to getting caught up in the exciting moments. See, when a person is excited, their emotions over power everything else and this can affect their decision-making abilities.
Like not ensuring your camera settings are where they need to be… You’ve all been there right? I know I have…
From now on, consciously repeat these words in your head; what are my settings? Even if you have to write the word settings on your hand as a reminder, do it!
As mentioned, emotions as a result of excitement will over power your thought process and here is a classic example of how your emotions can cloud your judgment;
Remember, excitement can cause you to overestimate your chances of success. There's a reason why casinos use bright lights and loud noises, they want you to get excited. The more excited you feel, the more likely you'll be to spend large amounts of money.
When you feel really excited about something, you are more likely to underestimate the risks involved.
i.e. No need to double check my camera settings before the cheetah chases after the impala because the crazy exciting scene will do anything justice.
Sadly this is not the case. ALWAYS be sure to know what your settings are, what your focal length will be, where your focal points are, what drive mode you are using and so on. No jokes, this should be know before, during and after you photograph.
I am fortunate to be in a position to put these “photographic excitement management skill” to practise on a regular basis. It definitely helps but in saying this, I still find myself falling victim to this. Regardless as to where or what you are shooting, excitement stays excitement. May it be me shooting a lion hunting or a bird taking flight, there is always a level of excitement involved.
I would like to encourage you to try and photograph a scene with a planned outcome every week. May it be a pigeon taking a bath, or a squirrel jumping from one branch to another. This will amplify the excitement because you have a “goal” to achieve and in doing this you will put your “excitement management skills” to great practise. As they say, good practise makes perfect… So best you practise on the not so overly exciting pigeons and squirrels, master the art, and in turn pave your way to success on your next safari.
This time out photographing back home will also help you to start predicting your subjects next move, this is also of great help. Over the years of guiding, I noticed my photography improve the more I understood animal behaviour. I say this because when you get to that point, you can kind of pre-empt the excitement and brace yourself for it. This will ensure that you set up your gear properly and bank the money shot.
You may be thinking, “Mike, you have years of experience on your side, I don’t…” This is true but do yourself a favour, spend time photographing a domestic cat for example, their hunting traits are quiet similar to those of lion, leopard and cheetah. A bird is pretty much a bird, pre-flight behaviour is common amongst most species. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will realise the similarities and then in due time you will see the change in your photography, just keep pushing!
Years back, once I realised the change and improvement in my skills I started sharing my knowledge. This teaching helped me remember so much of what I learnt. I suppose this is why I now work for Wild Eye. I love sharing my skills and knowledge with all my guests. A part of what I do is to prep you for what is yet to happen. I ensure that your settings are where they need to be, explaining to you what could potentially happen and in turn, ensuring that they capture great images.
Now this is not always possible because out in the field, things can suddenly just happen and in a flash, it’s over. This was that exact case in the image below that I photographed on a wildlife seminar at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve,
This is a very rare species, the Aardvark. The only one I have ever seen in all my years of guiding. As we turned a corner, there it was, in the middle of the road… and BOOM! It was gone!
These are, for the most part, very shy creatures and don’t stick around long once stumbled upon. Words will never accurately describe my excitement that night and I’ll be honest with you, I was making use of the spray and pray method. Rapidly firing frames hoping for the best and fortunately it worked out.
How lucky some would say, and I’d agree... What if I told you that I somewhat prepared myself for this luck.
See, when I am out in the field, bumbling around, there is one think I consistently do. I always ensure that my, as well as my guests settings are ready for a pick up and shoot scenario in any given light conditions. If it was not for that, I would never of banked the aardvark image I did.
This was the long way around but everything I have mentioned in this blog so far leads me into why I actually decided to write it. The Wild Eye have ventured into the unknown… The level at which our excitement effects our photography will be put to the test.
We are currently on an assignment in Tswalu. A vast, magical, Kalahari arid savanna landscape of infinite possibility, with sweeping vistas and a liberating sense of space. We are visiting in their driest season, winter, when the nocturnal species change their daily routines, tempted above ground by afternoon sunshine. This making its a wonderful time to look for the elusive aardvark, aardwolf and pangolin.
Apart from Johan, this is an area home to a few species that none of us are familiar with at all. Some of which we have only but dreamt of spending time with out in the field with; let alone spend time on foot with these special animals.
The excitement is real! Very very real and our "excitement management skills" are definitely being tested.
I can link this experience back to my first ever gorilla trekking safari. The excitement and emotions have been so similar. It’s a feeling that we often take for granted as we travel to many special places often. Don’t get me wrong, our excitement still exists prior to every adventure but not nearly as much as the excitement we get to see flowing out of our guests when they join us on safari.
Must say, I do miss seeing that...
So cool to think that we have now felt the way every single one of our guests feel and have also realised how aggressively ones excitement can overwhelm you. Maybe also write, “pull yourself towards yourself” on your hand next to the word setting.
This has been a great reminder to us all. Being in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar species, something new, something different… It sure is incredible how one gets pulled down the rabbit hole of excitement so quickly! I might just start writing “pull yourself towards yourself” on my own hand from now on.
These few days in Tswalu has put us all in the shoes of our incredible guests, being able to see and experience a safari more from their point of view and has been such a great reminder. Speaking of our awesome guests and exciting times, the world is slowly opening up and I cannot imagine the excitement building up inside all you wildlife enthusiasts. We cannot wait to welcome you back and seeing that its been a short while, here are some tips for you to keep in mind and/or put to practice prior to and during your next safari experience;
- Photograph daily for at least a week before your adventure begins. In doing this you will rid any photographic cobwebs that may have built up.
- Study your subjects and landscape you will be in prior to arriving. (Textbooks, websites, Instagram, Youtube) This will give you a good visual representation as to what you can expect. This will also give you a few ideas on what kind of photographic opportunities to look out for.
- ALWAYS expect the unexpected. In doing this you will always be a step ahead of the unexpected excitement.
- Continuously be aware of and adjust camera settings. Light is forever changing and if you can keep up with it, you will almost always be guaranteed achieving a good pick up and shoot photographic opportunity.
- No matter what happens, look at your hand - read your notes to self - breath, stay focused and have fun!
I hope this blog helps you control your excitement, bank the money shot and keeps you positive on your next adventure.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and please feel free to reach out may you have any questions.
Until next time;