On a recent trip to Kenya’s Maasai Mara I was excited to get out on the game drives and take lots of lovely photos of the animals. On the first drive we took, I have to say it didn’t go too well for me. I saw lots of beautiful animals but I didn’t take any interesting photos and I was struggling to get into any kind of rhythm.
With wildlife, of course, you have no control over the subject at all and in the excitement of the moment it can be easy to just shoot, shoot, shoot for fear of missing the moment. This is a natural reaction when you’re excited to be in front of a great subject. The problem is that you end up with so many photos which takes forever to sift through looking for the best one. That’s the situation I found myself in after that first drive so that night I had to sit down and have a good chat with myself about what I was trying to achieve and how I was going about it. I did what any of us would do in this situation – I went back to what I know. One word came to mind – “Gesture”.
Gesture is such an important idea in photography. Gesture can be the difference between a flat, blank, lifeless photo and one which is engaging, full of intrigue and excitement. I learned about the power of Gesture as a portrait photographer and in my work with dancers.
In a portrait a tip of the head, a raising of an eyebrow, a folding of the arms or legs or a glance to or away from the camera can be the difference between what is simply an exposure of a person, a record of them having been there and capturing an insight into someone’s personality.
You might not think that dance photography has anything at all to do with wildlife but it’s amazing how closely they are related. Working with dancers I learned that if you don’t have gesture you just have a photo of a person in a leotard. With Gesture you have life, movement, emotion, power, speed and energy. Dancers naturally understand this and you can direct a dancer to repeat a certain movement a few times until you capture the Gesture in just the right way.
Well, you can’t ask a Zebra to raise his eyebrow and they can’t dance either! But when I’m photographing wildlife the world “gesture” is at the forefront of my mind and my days in the Mara became much more fruitful after that first evening drive.
Well, what does this mean in a practical sense? It means that a lion waking up towards you has much more intent with one of its front paws raised off the ground than it does if both front paws are down. It means that an elephant who’s trunk is curling up towards its mouth has more energy for than one who’s trunk goes straight to the ground. It means that two zebras who nudge their heads together have more emotion and connection than two who are just standing next to one another.
If you want your photography, whatever the subject, to have more life, more emotion, more character, more depth and, more connectability (is that even a word?) then be on the lookout for Gesture. Please leave any questions or comments below.
I’m returning to the Maasai Mara in April 2018 to lead a small group of photographers on a week-long photo safari. You can find out more at http://22.214.171.124/~grahamdargie/portofolio/kenya-photo-safari-2018/