Last year I was viewing member submitted photographs at the South African site: Outdoor Photo. I was impressed with some of the close-up images of elephant tusks. The details in the ivory really told a story about the life and struggles of the animal.
Since Chobe is dense with elephants, I decided I would try to ‘fill the frame’ with shots of elephant parts on my trip. I photographed details of feet, tails, eye/eyelashes and … ivory tusks. Upon reviewing my images after the first day of shooting, I noticed the histograms on many of my elephants and particularly on those shots that included close-ups of tusks were spiked to the right (over-exposed). That’s one of the beauties of digital shooting, one can get immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
Here are two shots that over state the problem. In the first, I wanted to shoot the little elephant with it’s mother in the foreground. I properly exposed the baby, but look at the blown highlights on mom’s tusks:
Okay, problem is obvious, but, look what happens to the dark area if I ‘compromise’ and try and expose for the highlights.
Armed with this learning, I decided to bracket my tusk shots and learn what exposures worked. There was about a 2 F-stop difference between the proper exposure for the tusk and the proper exposure of the elephant. This really takes us back to a basic rule of thumb for landscapes which is ‘expose for highlights and let shadows define’. I hope my learnings will give you a head start when you next photograph an elephant.