Wildlife Elements

Once again I’ve been hit with the Peoria Plague. I am really getting tired of this, seeing as how it puts all my well laid plans into chaos – especially my running cycles which I cannot afford to be impacted at the moment.  The silver lining is I have to take it a little easier than usual which means … more time for posts!  Warning, this post is under the influence of cold drugs.

Today’s topic is more of a creative adventure than my typical wildlife shots. I’ve been seeing a lot of photographers going down the “Elements” path (add Peter Lik into that category). My take on elements is a breaking down of a shot to the bare essentials. An example may be just a leaf pedal, a single snowflake or some isolated pattern that is representative of the whole. This seems intriguing to me, but I do not shoot leaf pedals, snowflakes and just started exploring patterns – couple weeks back shots some ice plates that did not come out the way I’d envisioned. What I do shoot a lot of is wildlife. Although the overall composition does play into the overall picture, there is one “element” I focus on more than anything else. This would be the one point my focus point is always sitting on.

Yep, the eye.  The shots at the Indianapolis Zoo provided ample opportunity to try out what I refer to as Wildlife Elements.  The goal was to make the eye the focus point of the shot, but show enough overall pattern of the animal that it is instantly recognizable.  Full disclosure, in some cases I did manipulate the eye in the digital darkroom but kept to some basic rules.  I did not change the overall color of the eye staying true to the basic coloring native to the animal.  What I did do was apply some amplification to any color that was already there to.  I still wanted the eye to be focus of the picture and this allowed me to force more attention to it.  The zebra picture below is a good example of it – the sunlight was hitting the animal from the side giving a nice yellow highlight to the black and white striping.

At first I had the white balance adjusted to make the stripes more white than they are, but decided to dial it back to the “as shot” tone so it didn’t overwhelm the eye.  Those first two shots are probably my favorite of the set.  I find it interesting how different the “feel” is between the two elements.  The zebra almost has a calming effect to the point where you almost want to pet it.  Likely due to the non-aggressive nature of the composition – head down, submissive.  This is not the feeling I get from the first photo.  The wide open forward positioned eye immediately signifies predator.  Add to that the tight framing and the urge of flight starts coming to mind.

Hit the jump to view a few more Wildlife Elements!

In that same vein, I tried another approach on the grizzly bear.   By backing the crop off a tad, both eyes could play into the composition.

My first opinion is I didn’t give enough attention to the eyes.  They almost get lost into the frame being close to the same hue as the brown fur.  If those were brightened up a bit more they would command a little more attention.  The second opinion now that I can see them side by side is the shot with two eyes doesn’t seem to affect me as much as the single tiger eye.  Don’t get me wrong, it still produces an element of danger, but this one almost implies I have a little wiggle room to run my ass off (or kneecap whoever I’m with and then run my ass off), where as the first one screams out lunch.

On to the next experiment.  I doubt anyone had any difficulty imagining what animal the above shots were taken of.  What if I forced more abstraction in the composition so it would delay the recognition.  Maybe to a point that some people may not figure it out at all (as long as it wasn’t next to the other shots which kind of gives it away).  This was more difficult than expected since I was intimately familiar with the shot, I struggled with a crop that didn’t scream out the animal.  But here goes..

Soooo, what do you think?  did it take a few seconds to identify it.  My hopes were the shadowed area in the bottom right would cause a little bit of confusion until you realized it was the space between the trunk and the face.  Here is another example of some eye modification – specifically brightened it a tad and added a few levels of vibrancy.  Not sure about you, but it keeps drawing my attention to it, making me force myself to look at the rest of the shapes and textures.  The eye at first has a menacing look to it, but once you realize it is an elephant it lessens dramatically – who could be scared of elephants… wait a minute.. elephants.. circus .. holy crap clowns … save yourselves!

Curious, the next step was to see what happens when you remove the easily recognizable eye.  What if it was just an interesting mix of patterns and textures.  Would it still be just as interesting as the other shots.  Now this really isn’t a fair comparison since the cat is out of the bag.

or rather the animal is out of the trunk.  Personally, it seems a little less compelling but lends itself to more speculation.  Unless you recognize the eyelashes you might consider other options like a close up of a granite mountain or if you did pull out the fact it was animal, the crop can lead you down the walrus path.  Or, I could just be all wet.

What I did find out in the little experiment is the elements concept doesn’t work with all animals.  Thinking that the interesting textures of the next animal would work even better, I took a stab at some deception.

The thought was having looked at the previous shots would trick your eye into thinking the image was oriented differently.  The other shots used the eye as the focus point and then the diagonal direction of the eye to the corner oriented the rest of the head.  If you did that in this case, you would likely see the eye staring down to a nostril and then to the horn lined mouth.  Imagine a large yellow dragon.  In reality, this is not a large dragon, but a small lizard.  The center whole is actually an ear cavity so the face is looking the exact opposite way.  It just doesn’t seem to work as well as the other shots do, but would be interested in your opinion – I may just be too familiar with it.  To its credit, my brain keeps flipping back and forth between the dragon image and the lizard view.

As I said, this was an experiment – trying out new things, expanding my portfolio.  Let me know what you think.   Since a certain person is beginning to encroach on my domain I might have to take up waterfalls next!   Oh, and I believe this officially puts a wrap on the animals from the Indy Zoo trip.  I can finally cross that off my list, although, there are some flower/statue shots I might add in at a later date.  In the meantime I have our shoot from the International Crane to start processing.

3 thoughts on “Wildlife Elements”

  1. Worried??? I can hardly wait for your crane post 🙂 I will gladly donate some of my awesome shots to that post as it seems I have peeps reading your blog.


  2. This was a great post! That’s at least three or four top-shelf ones in a row. The first two pictures are tremendous, and you should consider entering them into competition this summer. I did indeed see a dragon in the last photo, and I don’t think I would have realized that was an ear hole rather than a nostril unless you had told me. As you say, the grizzly shot somehow doesn’t live up to what I thought it would be, but I think that’s just because bears, even grizzlies, don’t look that mean if they’re not standing up showing their fangs. I had the first elephant shot right away, but I have always been excellent at pattern recognition tests.

    My personal expertise in photographic “Elements” is my outstanding collection of the insides of lens caps. T’was a specialty I kind of stumbled into when I was using print film. The best part is the film stores never charge me for the prints.




  3. Thanks – not sure those first two are print worthy yet due to the required zoom factor…might just go ahead and have those printed and see how they come out. In the future I plan on taking a few shots fully zoomed in to that perspective which will negate any zoom issues! I need to test that last shot on some people – now I am so familiar with it I can’t get the other perspective to lock in. Definitely saw it when writing the post but now the cat is out of the bag. You actually knew that was an elephant? impressive – but then again you are to find clowns in an amazing number of different settings – as annoying that talent happens to be.

    Hey, a lens cap series would be quite artsy. You could label all the shots where it was taken and visually describe how joyous the scene would have looked like without the socialist oppression represented by the cap. Then take a progressive set of shots with the lens part way off representing the lifting of oppression (say maybe a new administrated being voted in) I think it’s a winner! .. but stay out of my photo contests – I don’t need any more competition.

    .. yes, WATERFALLS!


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