In this months column I decided to delve into what it took to get the shots during a thrilling sighting which led to a sequence of images which I really like.
It was a hair raising situation that happened in a flash and one which did not allow time to check light readings and exposure levels before taking the shots. I shoot in full Manual mode but was only able to make minor adjustments in the moment and trust that the settings which were on my camera at the time were correctly chosen for the lighting and other conditions we found ourselves in.
Let’s start by taking a look at what you can do to be ready to shoot those unpredictable moments which happen in a flash and often make for the best shots:
- Update your settings – continuously, according to the lighting conditions you find yourself in. Don’t wait for the critical moment to make the adjustments. Make sure your camera is set to how you want it for your changing environment, ahead of time. When the critical moment arrives you can concentrate on your focus and fire.
- Fast Shutter Speed – In wildlife photography, when you are not sure what to expect, go to the default of setting a fast shutter speed. Adjust ISO and aperture to allow for this at a neutral exposure. If something happens unexpectedly it usually involves action – fast shutter speed. We also have other factors to think of like vehicle shake, unsteady hands while shooting etc. A fast shutter speed will help counter these issues. If you choose to shoot in the Shutter Priority Mode, you can concentrate on setting the shutter speed alone and the camera will set the aperture and ISO automatically to achieve a neutral exposure.
- Post production – If you correct your settings for changing light conditions on an ongoing basis, you will be able to correct any minor exposure issues in post production, so long as you achieve the correct composition and sharp focus of your subject or scene.
- Focus on focus… and composition. There can be nothing more frustrating than the perfect shot…except it is soft or out of focus…or a critical part of the frame is cut out. If the moment happens quickly, trust your instincts about your other settings and and direct your thoughts into getting your focus and composition right. The other factors you can tweak, focus issues or elements that are cut out cannot.
Story Behind the Shot
I was on the Busanga Plains, Zambia in October and we spotted a pride of lions across an open plain and set off to get a closer look. It was at sunrise so I was eager to get shots of the lions as the sun rose with favourable light. As we approached we saw some of the younger lions scurrying out of the bushes on an island of vegetation alongside the open area. Several elephant cows were storming after them in hot pursuit. We spent some time with the lions once the elephants had lost interest and managed to get some shots of them with the rising sun behind. This is not the critical moment I am speaking of but some of the shots can be seen below.
Once we were finished in the lion sighting we set off back past where the elephants were foraging on the island of vegetation. We crept past, doing our best to respect the mood of the elephants and not disturb them. Despite this they did not seem to appreciate our respectful efforts and came bursting out of the bushes in a lateral movement which made me feel like I was standing in front of a line up of monster trucks hell bent on crossing the finish line in first place on the other side of our position. There really is only one tactic that can be adopted in such a scenario and that was to hold our ground and not back down, as it was too late for any quick escape. It occurred to me that if this was my final moment, at least I could get some worthwhile shots of the impending doom. My camera was already set up for the lighting conditions we were in thanks to the shots we had just been taking of the lions. By using the exposure indicator at the bottom of the viewfinder to guide me on my exposure I am able to make minor adjustments to suit the scene as it unfolds and concentrate on focus and composition.
Whatever method of choice you make in your shooting, trust your methods and hone your skills. When the moment strikes you may be surprised with the results. If you stick to your rules about correcting for the conditions you find yourself in ahead of an unexpected moment, you will increase the likelihood of capturing the critical images. In this case it allowed me to get some thrilling shots of the elephant herd storming up to us followed by a surreal moment with the dust from the charge engulfing the herd and a beautiful backlight shining through from behind.
I have guided many photographers and I can unequivocally say that the difference between a professional and an amateur hobbyist is the speed of the pros at the critical moment. Amateurs get ready in the moment… professionals are always ready.
Happy shooting until next time.