Wildlife 101: Portraits are Pretty – But Action Shots are Awesome

December 23, 2009


Here are two of my favorite pictures from one of my Botswana workshops.

I very much like the portrait of the lion; the side lighting adds a nice sense of depth and dimension to the image. Remember: light illuminates; shadows define.

Lion Portrait

I also like the way this guy is looking directly at me. The eyes are well lit and are in focus, which is important in most wildlife – and people – photography.

The action shot, however, is much more interesting. It show the lioness giving a “lovebite” to the lion – after three days of mating, according to my guide.

Lion Action

Because I had my mind set on getting an action shot, I was prepared to get it. In other words, I set the goal of getting the shot. I envisioned the end result.

The info:

  • Canon 1D Mark III was set on rapid frame advance to capture the peak of action.
  • Focus set to Servo (automatic focus tracking).
  • Shutter speed set to 1/500th sec. to freeze the action.
  • Aperture set to f/8 – to ensure that both lions were in sharp focus.

I composed the scene with lots of dead space around the subjects so that a paw or tail was not cut off. (This image is cropped tight for more impact.) I also shot with both eyes open, so that I could keep an eye on what else was going on in the scene.

My lens: Canon 100-400mm IS lens – which is sharpest at f/8, by the way.

When you are photographing animals – and people – portraits are pretty, but action shots are awesome.

Explore the Light,

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This post was written by:

- who has written 171 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon has published 36 books, including Exploring the Light and Digital Photography Secrets.

When asked about his photo specialty, Rick says, “My specialty is not specializing.”

You can follow Rick on twitter at http://twitter.com/RickSammon and visit his website at http://www.ricksammon.com

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One Response to “Wildlife 101: Portraits are Pretty – But Action Shots are Awesome”

  1. Soren Hedberg Says:

    This is definitely true. I do a lot of wildlife shooting, either bald eagles or bears, and after a while all your portrait shots end up looking the same. It’s the action shots that end up being the real eye-catchers, the one of a kind shots.


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