Photo tip: Stand on the shoulders of giants

I get a lot of compliments from folks looking at my photos.  Many think I have a natural eye.  Maybe, and thank you; however, I know my skills come from three distinct efforts:

  • Training:  I learned the basics on composition during an elective photography course at college back in 1975.  Those rules of thumb and general training sessions on use of the camera still serve me today.
  • Critical feedback: Comments on my work at internet based forums and from competitions entered are sometimes harsh, but always make me better.  I value this input.
  • Studying the works of others.  More specifically, gaining inspiration from the works of giants.  If this were a landscape site, maybe I would cite Ansel Adams, but since this is a safari/wildlife emphasizing site, I want to share with you 5 specific examples of people who’s works excite me with each time I see them:
    • Steve Bloom – You may or may not have heard of Mr. Bloom.  I had not known of him until 2007.  I was on a business
      Elephants in Chobe - Photograph (c) Steve Bloom www.stevebloom.com
      Elephants in Chobe – Photograph (c) Steve Bloom www.stevebloom.com

      trip to Dublin, Ireland and was staying at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, directly across from a famed park, St. Stephen’s Green.  During a break, I strolled into the park.  Steve Bloom had an exhibition called “Spirit of the Wild”  on large printed boards along the park walkways.  I was in awe of the power within those images.  In particular, several low angle shots from Botswana caught my eye. The image titles:

      • Elephant and birds
      • Lion Family
      • Elephant and Cape Turtle Doves
      • Yellow Bill Stork Collecting Nesting materials

There were many others inspirational images from of birds and mammals from around the world that also suggested photo ideas.  For example, I recall a pan shot of macaws. This image was not a tack sharp image, but a blur, yet it conveyed motion and was clearly art.  If you would like to see some of Steve’s work, it can be found at: http://www.stevebloom.com/

  • Art Wolfe – Art is much more than a wildlife photographer.  He is also famed for his landscapes and close-up
    Art Wolfe gains confidence of locals by sharing what he has shot.  Photo Copyright Art Wolfe
    Art Wolfe gains confidence of locals by sharing what he has shot. Photo Copyright Art Wolfe

    shots of nature.  Art has also authored many books, so his name may be familiar to you.  Mr. Wolfe’s use of colors and patterns in his compositions is a motivation to me. I also love his incorporation of motion in images. Perhaps one of his most inspirational efforts for me is his high definition television series “Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge” on public television (http://travelstotheedge.com/ ).  I highly encourage you to watch this.  I record every episode on Tivo® and freeze frame shots showing his camera equipment so I can learn what lens he is using for each setting.  I also highly recommend his book co-authored with Martha Hill entitled “The Art of Photographing Nature”. If you would like to see some of Art’s work, it can be found at: http://www.artwolfe.com/

  • Paul Salvado – Paul does not have an international reputation in photography, but within Camera Club and the general Johannesburg, South Africa photography community, he is a household name.  Paul regularly submits to juried competitions as well as provides audio/visual presentations of his work at Camera Club. I met Paul through his daughter and son-in-law.  Paul was kind enough to introduce me to the Chobe bush and to give me invaluable tips on traveling and photographing the region.  Paul’s photography also inspired me.  First, he made me realize the power of images when printed large … and I mean really large.  Paul routinely prints his work on canvas over 1 meter wide.  Additionally his use of the light and the emphasis on need for tack sharp detail on key parts of the image has challenged me to be my best.  Paul’s photographic body of work and knowledge of the bush will always make him a legend to me.  While Paul doesn’t currently have a dedicated web site, one can see some of his work at: http://www.normajamesartworks.co.za/index.cfm?x=galleries_2&gal=5&rowid=53#mp
  • Michael Poliza – I first saw Michael’s huge coffee table book, “Africa”  as an accessory display in Pottery Barn furniture
    Poliza's "Africa", this book inspired me to exercise my eye when viewing game in the bush.
    Poliza’s “Africa”, this book inspired me to exercise my eye when viewing game in the bush.

    store.  I sat down and flipped a few pages while my girlfriend shopped.  It only took a few pages – I was hooked on this guy’s style.  He had traveled to the same locations as I had traveled in my first trip to Botswana, but he had seen it totally differently.  His images included a mix of extreme close-up detail at unusual crops and aerial images.  He also did an excellent job on the more traditional compositions.  I was so impressed with this work, I immediately bought two copies – one for me and one for Paul Salvado, than man who first introduced me to the bush.  Michael has extensively traveled Africa, but often features images of Botswana. You can learn more about Michael at: http://www.poliza.de/index_old.php .  Mr. Poliza also posts images on Flickr and here is a link to those images: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poliza/

  • Andy Biggs – I am not sure how I first found Andy Biggs.  Perhaps it was Andy when he was named BBC WildlifePhotographer of the Year in the ‘Wild Places’ category in 2008.  Regardless of how, Andy motivated me.  His images are exceptionally clean.  He also does an excellent job in the digital darkroom adding drama through controlled processing, vignetting, etc.  His love of African wildlife jumps from the images.  Additionally, Andy motivates me because of what he has become.  Mr. Biggs was educated as a bean counter (accountant), but developed a passion for wildlife photography after a trip to Africa.  In a short time he has parlayed this into a solid photo business, a safari escort business, a photo lecture business and a photography accessory business.
    Andy Biggs - playing with his settings prior to a shot.  Photo Copyright: Andy Biggs
    Andy Biggs – playing with his settings prior to a shot. Photo Copyright: Andy Biggs

    He also embraces change.  He has swapped from Nikon to Canon (I know because I bought some of his Canon gear), he swapped from PC to Mac, he is always trying new gadgets (power adapters, Camera GPS units, etc.) to enhance the photo experience.  Andy’s ability can do attitude and flexibility put him on my list of giants.  You can see more about Andy at http://www.andybiggs.com and also follow his travels and development as a photographer at http://www.theglobalphotographer.com/

Please don’t be confused and think this article is a list of whom I think are the greatest wildlife photographers (though some of these would definitely be on that list).  This is a list of the giants whose shoulders I have stood on and whose efforts I have learned through on my journey to become proficient at African wildlife photography.  Prior to each trip into the bush, I revisit the works of my giants.  It gets my blood running and helps me plan my photo outline for my trip into the bush.

Who are your giants?  If you haven’t given it a thought, it is probably worthwhile to investigate the concept.

7 comments for “Photo tip: Stand on the shoulders of giants

  1. December 9, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Love this, great blog, thanks.

  2. December 9, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Love this, great blog, thanks.

  3. August 19, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Whether one has a natural eye or have trained to be a phonographer, I still think one has to have some sort of talent, cause anyone can take a photo, but it take raw talent to perfect it and capture that perfect moment, which also boils down to perfect timing, especially in nature, its not like one can say to the wild animals stop hold wait. It just doesn’t happen like that!!!

    I just love this blog, love the stories,

    Kind regards
    Cyndi

  4. August 19, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Whether one has a natural eye or have trained to be a phonographer, I still think one has to have some sort of talent, cause anyone can take a photo, but it take raw talent to perfect it and capture that perfect moment, which also boils down to perfect timing, especially in nature, its not like one can say to the wild animals stop hold wait. It just doesn’t happen like that!!!

    I just love this blog, love the stories,

    Kind regards
    Cyndi

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