The authorities in the world's big-game areas are becoming more interested in preserving wild animal life than in allowing it to be indiscriminately killed by the hunter. This is having a two-fold effect: travelers are being forced to do their shooting with the camera instead of the rifle, and the animals are becoming tamer. In many of the big game preserves of Africa and North America, it is possible to photograph more wild animals in the course of a day's motor ride than a hunter could hope to see in a month.
As in every other branch of photography the man who knows
the most about his subject gets the best pictures. Wild animals vary in
their habits and the technique that works best with one species is
useless with another.
Elephants have very keen scent but relatively poor vision and hearing. So long as there is a breeze, however slight, the photographer can work upwind to within fairly close range. Even so, there is more hope of getting a picture with a telephoto than with a normal angle lens.
Lions, surprisingly, are probably the easiest of all the larger animals to photograph. They pay very little attention to the photographer as long as he is in a car and keeps more than about four yards away. In addition to having light-colored skins, lions frequent open scrub country where the light is in any case good for photography.
Photographers who specialize in big game photography agree that the danger involved in photographing lions is overrated. Lions are actually known to warn off photographers who approach too close. They do this by making a rush at the photographer, but once he retreats make no attempt to take the matter further.
Rhinoceros are both short-sighted and short-tempered. The rhino has very keen hearing and if he is being watched from a hide is apt to shy away at the slightest unusual sound. In common with most other animals in game reserves, the rhinoceros has become accustomed to seeing motor cars and generally takes little notice of them. For this reason it is easier to photograph this animal from a motor car than from a hide, and safer than on foot.
Buffalo are the most dangerous and difficult of all African wild animals to photograph. They are nocturnal in their habits, and tend to stay in the thick bush. The African buffalo is a formidable creature and one of the very few animals that will attack a man on sight, there are places, however, like the Belgian Congo National Park and the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda where buffalo can be approached near enough to give good results with a telephoto lens. These particular beasts are relatively tame because they have been allowed to go unmolested for some generations. Another way to photograph buffalo is to arrange an automatic shutter release device at a water hole that the animal is known to use.
Zebra, antelopes and other swift-footed creatures can be photographed early or late in the day from a hide set up near their water hole. In game parks and reserves where they are unharassed by man. they can be approached by car or lorry close enough to be photographed through a telephoto lens. A number of striking action shots have, however, been taken of them from low-flying aircraft but the practice is frowned on by the game wardens.
Giraffes belong to the relatively tame species that can be photographed from a car and are quite safe to approach on foot. Once they become aware of the presence of the photographer, however, their long legs rapidly carry them out of range of even a telephoto lens.
Hippopotamuses, again, are animals not so much dangerous as shy, and they must be stalked cautiously from the down-wind side. The hippo is usually found in herds and it spends most of the day in the water, coming out mostly at night and only rarely in the daytime. So the most characteristic photographs are those which show the animal partly submerged in its natural element. The hippopotamus has capacious lungs; once scared it dives and can remain submerged long enough to exhaust the patience of the most ardent photographer.
There are three ways of going after big game with a camera: on foot, by car and from a hide. In practice, stalking the game on foot is the least effective method and where the terrain is suitable, photographing from a car is the easiest and safest way of getting pictures. A hide has its own advantages, but it ties the photographer down to one place with no choice of viewpoint and lighting. Photographing from a Car. When working from a car, the photographer generally stands on the front seat and snoots from the open sunshine roof. In this way he can get the driver to take him around the animal to find the best viewpoint and lighting. It is a feet that most animals are less disturbed by a car than by a man on foot. Fortunately, too, the surface of the ground in many game reserves is reasonably level and there is no need for the car to stick to the road.
Most drivers quite naturally prefer to keep the engine of the car running when close to potentially dangerous animals. For this reason it is never wise to rest the camera on the edge of the sunshine roof or vibration is almost certain to spoil the picture.
Photographing from a Hide
Hides are always constructed well above the
ground in the neighborhood of a water hole or salt lick known to be
frequented by the game. Some hides are luxurious affairs equipped with
beds and other amenities intended to make the hours of waiting as
comfortable as possible. The photographer must be prepared to enter the
hide many hours before the game shows itself (that is, during the early
morning and late evening) and generally he will have to stay there until
the following day.
The photographer who works from a hide can always find plenty of places to steady his camera during the exposure and can, if the light is poor, use a tripod and give quite long time exposures. It is always better if the subject can be photographed with a telephoto lens some distance away from the hide. This helps to offset the high viewpoint; if animals are photographed at close range with an ordinary lens the camera looks down and gives an uninteresting plan view.
The most serious disadvantage of a hide is that it imposes a fixed viewpoint and direction of lighting. Once in the hide the photographer has no way of shifting his viewpoint. Lighting. The light in the real bush or jungle is always too weak for instantaneous exposures even at midday. Fortunately, however, most big game roams in the more open scrub country where the light is good. The hours around midday are practically useless for photography because then the sun is more or less vertically overhead, giving hard uninteresting lighting. Early morning and late afternoon in the dry and sunny season are the best times.
The coloring of most animals and their surroundings is of a sort that comes out well on fast panchromatic film. This usually gives excellent rendering of the tones of dark green foliage, red earth and reddish-brown skin and hide. As the sky seldom if ever comes into, the picture, there is rarely any need for a filter, all the tones of the subject being at one end of the spectrum.
As a tripod is generally out of the question and the camera must be held, exposures are never longer than 1/100th second. Even at this speed it is not easy to avoid camera shake when using a telephoto lens. However, using fast panchromatic film in the average morning and late afternoon light it is generally possible to use this shutter speed or even 1/300th second with a lens aperture of f8. This aperture is usually just small enough to give the necessary depth of field for the average big game photograph. Animals in motion can be taken at much higher shutter speeds and bigger lens apertures provided that they are far enough away from the camera.
The lens is the most important item of equipment in big game
photography. Because it is rarely possible or advisable to go closer
than about 40 yards from the subject, a good telephoto lens of 3x to 4x
magnifying power is absolutely essential. This in its turn dictates the
use of either a reflex camera or a miniature with coupled focusing.
In practice both of these types of camera are used. Those who favor the miniature often have it mounted on a gun stock with triggers for firing the shutter and winding on the film. The camera is then aimed as though it were a rifle; this method of mounting helps to overcome the added risk of camera shake with the long focus lens.
The SLR has the advantage of taking a bigger shot that requires less enlargement and consequently gives crisper rendering of hair and other essential fine detail.