Capturing Wildlife - Point of View

When photographing wildlife, your position relative to the subject's can make a huge difference in the appearance of the image. To illustrate this, I use several photos of a green iguana taken recently. Not a dramatic scenario, but the images can reveal subtle, yet obvious affects when you move around a subject. Fortunately, this subject stayed still mostly and allowed me to come close (within 15 feet).

Take a look at the two images above, both shot from the same point of view. Both are unedited so you can see the initial results out of the camera. You can see that the sunlight is coming from the left over my shoulder. This is most evident in the second photo where the iguana turned it head and his profile became shadowed. I wanted to get some good shots of this big guy, but was not happy with that vantage point for several reasons. First, side light can be tricky, so I wanted to move into a position that would place the sun more directly behind me and give me more leverage when the animal moved its head in different directions. Second, I wanted a frontal view of the iguana and isolate its head and neck region. And third, I did not like the background. Moving myself to the left several feet would address each of those issues.

After quietly and slowly moving into position, I took the image above (unedited). You can see the lighting is better, catching the iguana's profile nicely. But I still have a messy background and blades of grass in the foreground interfered with the profile. Getting closer was one possible solution to isolate the profile; here's the next result (also unedited) after I moved in a couple feet (BTW, I was sitting on the ground at eye level).

You can still see the out-of-focus grasses in the top right corner, but at least now, more of the frame is filled with the iguana profile, thus, minimizing the background. But I was still not happy with the results. The photo above is one of a million shots of an iguana. Cool to look at, but I wanted something more compelling. I moved to the left some more. The iguana started making gestures that indicated he was feeling threatened. Male green iguanas are territorial and will bob their head up and down to flaunt their dewlap (what you see in the first photo).To capture this, I needed a vertical angle. In addition, going vertical would help isolate the iguana from its surroundings. Here's the next result (edited, without cropping).

I liked this one much better, the background is cleaner and you can barely tell there are out-of-focus grasses in the top right area of the shot. The animal is giving me its classic stare, you can see its dewlap folded in front and those large bulbous jowls with the subtempanic shields are amazing! I really like how the high angle of the sun casts shadows within the folds of its chin. Soon after, the iguana lost its patience and slowly turned away to move on. He walked in a direction that kept him in full sunlight and I was able to capture one last display of dominance (edited with no cropping).

He then gave me one more classic iguana side glance before moving on into the shadows of the brush (also edited, with no cropping).

The bottom line is that sometimes, you have to negotiate your position in order to achieve the best angle. Look around you, pay attention to the sunlight direction and the surroundings near the animal. Background should always be considered. The way you approach a wild animal will also determine the success. It goes without saying, always approach animals with care and caution, not just for your own safety but to not scare the animal away. Animals will flee in fear, but they sometimes react aggressively, so you just have to stay aware. The more you understand animal behavior, the better. 

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