Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Try composite panoramas to get a wider view of wildlife while keeping the animals prominent in the frame
A row of anything shouts "panorama" to me, but when presented with an opportunity to photograph a panoramic array of zebras, for example, many photographers will rely on a wide-angle lens and a fast shutter speed to stop action and capture the entire scene at once. The wide-angle approach is limiting in several ways. The subjects are small, perspective can be distorted, and extraneous and unwelcome details above and below the line of subjects must be cropped away to attain good composition. Some of the animals in the scene may be optimally positioned, while others may be in awkward positions that work against the story. The reduced file lacks sufficient resolution to be printed at significant size. Solutions to all of these problems are found in a composited panorama.
Too Close, Or Too Far?
It really is possible to be too close to a gathering of wildlife subjects—too close for their comfort, too close for your safety or too close to capture them all in one shot. An example of this is when you're confined to a vehicle on a road in a reserve, and you encounter a small array of animals. You aren't allowed to leave your vehicle, and even if you could, you shouldn't. The group would dissolve in a heartbeat. So rather than snap a wide-angle photograph, attach a medium telephoto lens to your DSLR (a focal length that accommodates the individuals in the group vertically) and, using your car window frame for stability, take a quick series of handheld overlapping shots. Try to maintain a consistent horizon, and repeat the process for as long as your subjects are willing to pose. When the individual captures are composited, the resulting high-quality panorama will encompass the entire group. The same general concept applies to any situation where the photographer is relatively close to the line of subjects and unable to move back: at a zoo, for instance, or when photographing from a kayak on a bay or lake.
Likewise, if you're photographing a group of animals from a great distance, capturing them in segments with a long lens gets you up close to them without really getting close and gives you the detail and quality you need for a significant image. In this case, you can use a tripod to minimize camera movement and facilitate a smooth and consistent transition between segments.
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