The tendency when shooting wildlife and travel photography is to go too heavy on the zoom. 400mm and up can certainly be great for photographing things like birds, taking portrait shots of leopards and lions and maybe capturing images of shy animals you need to keep your distance from. I find though – and I know I’m not alone in this – that larger lenses can be extremely limiting.
Whilst a fixed 500mm f4 lens can produce exceptional quality images, in terms of framing you might struggle to make it work for you. You do not have a zoom range as you do with say a 70-200mm or a 100-400mm, so what you see through your viewfinder is what you get.
Something important to remember in wildlife photography is that you need to tell the story. A leopard up a tree with a kill is an amazing scene to take in, yet being close to it with a 600mm lens isn’t exactly going to let you get everything into the frame. A wide-angle lens is what you need in this situation, to take in the tree, the leopard, it’s kill, and maybe even a skulking hyena at the base of the trunk.
I’m waffling a bit here, as what I really wanted to get onto was the value of a wide-angle lens in the bush. In many private reserves like Londolozi where animals have become habituated to game drive vehicles moving around in their environment, the creatures great and small can be wonderfully relaxed, going about their daily routines as if the Land Rovers were not even there. What I find (I shoot with a 70-200mm lens) is that I need less zoom far more often than I need more. Zooming out a bit lets one take in the environment in which the animal is living, not just the animal itself.
I am sure that many visitors to the bush have found themselves confronted by a beautiful view, whether there is an animal in it or not, and wished to capture the whole scene in one go. Even with really high-quality wide-angle lenses it can be difficult to encapsulate everything one is seeing in a breathtaking panorama.
Luckily, post-processing software these days is so advanced, if you know a few tricks and which doors to open and when, it is relatively easy to get past certain limitations you may find with your camera/lens.
I will briefly explain here how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a wonderful panoramic image.
The first thing you need to realise is that serious zoom lenses will not work. The effect of a panorama can be greatly increased by using less zoom. I can just manage at a 70mm focal length, but less is probably better. What Photoshop can do is digitally stitch photos together leaving virtually no trace of any merging, creating a narrow panorama that can encapsulate a whole scene.
– Open Photoshop.
– Under “File” in the top menu bar, scroll down to the option “Automate”.
– Another sub-menu will appear, simply select the option “Photomerge”.
– The Photomerge screen will open, asking for the source files you wish to merge.
– Click on “Browse” to go to the source folder where your files are stored.
– Select the photos you wish to merge, making sure they are in the right order.
– Once all are selected, simply click “Ok”
– The Merging process will begin. It may take a few seconds for the final product to appear.
– If you were shooting handheld instead of with a tripod (you may even have this happen with a tripod), you will see that the borders aren’t straight, so you will need to crop it to get out all the jagged borders.
This is one of the original photos used for the panorama. 9 of these stitched together can end up with a result like the scene below.
Elephants drink from the Sand River next to a pod of Hippos.
If all has gone well, you should hopefully be left with something like the above image. Bear in mind that this was shot with a 70mm zoom, so one shot would basically only fit in the elephants. As you can see in the 3rd image above, 9 photos were all merged together.
I shot these pictures in a Portrait format (ie. holding the camera on its side) to fit in a bit more of the river and sky. Landscape can also work, and will require less images to cover the scene from left to right, but won’t be as good with more zoom.
The top photo is a panoramic image taken in the Sand River, just upstream from where the elephants were drinking (although not on the same day) This illustrates the difference between using a higher zoom (elephants and hippos) and a wider angle lens (Land Rover photo). Image by Ryan Hilton.
We hope that this has been informative and useful. Photomerge is a very basic tool in Adobe Photoshop, but a fun one to play around with.
Written by James Tyrrell and photographed by James Tyrrell and Ryan Hilton