Winning Photography Formula by Ian Lombard

Oct 19 2015

Ian Lombard, winner of the Safari Guide of the Year 2015 Award (an African Direct initiative) shares his knowledge on photography, one of the important categories comprising this contest:

It was an early morning and the lion tracks were fresh. We had been tracking the male for most of the morning and every so often we could faintly hear his roars in the distance. I was surprised at the distance that the lion had covered, and the fact that he was still roaring very late into the morning gave me a very strong sense of anticipation. 'He must be searching for the two younger males', I thought to myself.

After another half an hour we had not heard him for some time. The tracks were also harder to see and we eventually lost them completely on the hard Ecca shale. Believing that was it, we had lost him! Just then an almighty roar disturbed the peaceful Eastern Cape morning. I spun around in my seat and was met with the most amazing sight. The male was bearing down on the vehicle with the two rival males in hot pursuit. I immediately grabbed my little 1100D with 15 year old 70-300 mm stock lens and thought: 'BBC Photographer of the Year 2011 here I come.'

I must have taken a few hundred photos in the seconds that the male lions rushed passed the vehicle. Or so it felt. I could have sworn that there was steam coming from the body of that little entry level Canon. As the lions ran off I could not resist the temptation to glance at the images that I was hoping were going to change the wildlife photography world forever. My own personal Mona Lisa. After pressing the image display button, I stared at the completely white screen in disbelief. The combination of an extremely slow shutter speed and ridiculously high ISO from the previous night’s experimenting were apparently not the right settings. This was the day photography changed for me.

Capturing that exact moment in nature is an art. It takes immense patience and a lot of time honing your skills. I have the utmost respect for professional wildlife photographers. Aperture, shutter speed, light, exposure and composition are just some of the settings and features that go through a photographers head while taking a photo. All of this while some amazing sighting is playing itself out on the other side of the lens. This is where my biggest challenge lies. Becoming so enthralled in the equipment in your hands that you become detached from the spectacle in front of you. It probably is a reflection on my own skill as a photographer but I have far too often had incredible sightings and when I looked at the images afterwards, I felt a tinge of disappointment. I just could not create a sharp, technically correct image that still captures the sighting. I have therefor decided to take photos for my own enjoyment. As long as I can look at a picture and relive a bit of that sighting.

Enjoying a sighting in that moment, taking it all in and trying to capture that moment with a camera is a balancing act. If you have mastered the art and can still enjoy the sighting without being distracted I am very envious. Knowing your equipment and how to use it to create the image in your head that captures the essence of the scene is key to this. Changing settings according to light and movement should become second nature. If however, taking photos purely for self-enjoyment is what you are hoping for, look and listen first and when you have taken every single detail of that moment in; pick up that camera.

My wish is for all photographers to find the balance between getting that shot that tells the story and being able to recount the experience regardless of whether it was through the glass of your camera lens or binoculars.

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