Learning Outcomes: Wildlife Photography

1. Compare (note similarities and differences) and contrast (show unlikeness or differences; note the opposite natures, purposes, etc) the past and the contemporary ways of doing this?

How it was done in the past

‘Shortly after the invention of the wet-plate process in 1851, dedicated field photographers transported not only cumbersome cameras, but also portable darkrooms in wagons or tents out on location. Almost a decade later, the elephant hunter James Chapman used two unwieldy cameras in his attempt to photograph living African wildlife. One camera was wrecked when it blew down in the wind; the other disintegrated in the heat. Resourcefully, Chapman rebuilt a new camera from the parts he salvaged, but luck was against him when chemical containers ruptured and his porters inadvertently scared the game. In the end, therefore, he had to resort to photographing animals he had shot.’

‘The introduction of the dry plate and smaller-format cameras aided field photographers, but for the first half of the 20th century the weight of equipment still remained problematical.’


How it is done now

The brisk evolution of cameras and film transformed the techniques of wildlife photography in the latter part of the 20th century. The reduction in size and weight of cameras and lenses was a boon to the wildlife photographer and, with the advent of the 35mm or medium-format single-lens reflex camera, plates were discarded for film. Long-focus lenses increased the working distance between photographer and subject, giving greater freedom to capture the natural behaviour of birds and mammals.

Without a hide, the wildlife photographer had to learn how to stalk subjects with acute vision out in the open. Wearing appropriately coloured clothing became essential and learning how to keep a low profile by zigzagging forward using rocks or trees as cover, or even belly crawling, became second nature.


2. How are wildlife photography images thought about now and in the past?

  • Done for art and pleasure
  • As a profession.
  • To raise awareness of animals and environments. Educate people why our wildlife is so special. (Conservation Photography)
  • The ideas behind it have not seemed to change much over its lifetime.

Photography has developed as a powerful medium to empower conservation. Photography has served this role since the 1860s, although not widely acknowledged as such. A notable example are the powerful images of Carleton Watkins which were successfully used to stimulate the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1864 and William Henry Jackson and Ansel Adams who advocated for expansion and continued funding of the park.


‘In the history of nature photography, there has always been a debate on the ethics involved in taking photos of nature. In the early days, ethical standards are more concerned about doing no harm to either animals or the environment photographer worked in.’


3. Explain how technical developments have made a difference to the way the images look.

“When the action is fast, long-focus zoom lenses are a boon to wildlife photographers, since they allow precise cropping of a subject, in a horizontal or vertical format. But longer zooms (up to 400 mm) are slow lenses, which means faster films will have to be used at dawn and dusk when many mammals are active. This is the reason why a fast prime lens in the 400 mm-600 mm range is an essential tool for the serious wildlife photographer. Shorter zooms are useful for depicting animals in their habitat. Macro zoom lenses allow speedy and tight framing of smaller wary animals in the field; whether they be insects, amphibians, reptiles, or life in rock pools accessible only for a limited time between tides.”

“Photographing nocturnal animals is a real challenge, since their senses at night are infinitely sharper than those of any human moving around in the dark. Since mammals have an acute sense of smell, they need to be approached from downwind, to avoid human scent reaching them. Nocturnal mammals are often creatures of habit that utilize favourite tracks, on which a camera can be set up to be triggered by an animal breaking an infrared trip beam. Flash units need to be moved off the camera axis to avoid the problem of red-eye, whereby the flash reflects back off the retina.”

The ever-improving facility of digital enhancement now adds an extra dimension to the question of ethics. Digital manipulation can be a highly creative tool, but it can result in the production of misleading—or even biologically untruthful—pictures. Images of wall-to-wall zebras, achieved by the replication of individuals animals to fill grassy spaces, may be impressive but are unrealistic and misleading. However, the removal of an out-of-focus leaf or branch can help to produce a more arresting picture which can convey the conservation message in a more convincing way.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s