I’ve often been asked “with thousands of images from a safari trip, how do you pick which one’s to print?”.  There are a few ways one can answer this,  There are obvious shoots during the trip where the action, lighting, etc. make the choice obvious versus a slow game drive.  Answering this way may get one past the question, but really there is more that comes into the decision.  For today’s article, we have chosen to make an example from a series of images taken literally within minutes of each other by Justin Eleazer.  Within this tighter group, we hope to explain how we pick the winners from a good day’s shoot.  On this day, we were shooting from a boat, slowly passing around some of the low lying islands of grass on the Chobe River.

Our first example is a shot we titled “Two Elephants Grazing”.  Here are the reasons we deem this one a ‘keeper’.

  • the elephants are in a position such that the sun nicely illuminates details on the elephants.
  • even though the side of the smaller elephant is in shadow, the ear shows clear separation from the body.
  • Also of importance is the shadows on the top of the larger elephants back allows some separation from the similarly colored background shoreline.
  • we also liked that the trunk of the larger elephant is in an interesting posture as it plucks grass.

This combination makes the shot a nice addition to Justin’s photo collection.

"Two Elephants Grazing", 1/1600 @ f/6.3, ISO 400, 320mm - © Justin Eleazer

For our second example, we have picked an example of a photo that we consider a ‘reject’ from the shoot.  Overall lighting and exposure are good and the background is free of distractions, but here are the reasons this image was rejected.

  • one side of the elephant’s head is in near total darkness, giving little to no detail. (NOTE: if a larger lens had allowed a composition of just the eye/eyelashes on the ‘dark side’ against the shadows of the ear, one might have a really nice detail study, but from this image, that would be way too much of a crop.)
  • On the sunlit side of the elephant, there is not enough contrast between the ear and the sand on the Chobe beach.  This lack of separation does not allow this key part of the animal to ‘pop’.
  • A more minor concern is the overall angle of the animal.  In general, animals will often have higher interest when at an oblique angle.  The ‘frontal view’ does not allow seeing all of the animals legs nor any of the side or tail.

Grazing Elephant - photo © Justin Eleazer

For our third example, we present a photo by Justin we titled ‘My Turf’.  This photo is a winner.  Here are the things we like about this image:

  • Elephant Angle – we have a nice oblique angle that allows us to peak at the animal’s body
  • Elephant Posture – this shot has the classic ‘flared ears’ that can make elephants appear even more dominating.  Elephants  flare the ears as a warning gesture to intruders and also flap the ears to increase cooling.
  • Shadows -a classic photo phrase is that ‘light illuminates and shadows define’.  In this shot the shadows near the ears really allow them to ‘pop’ and separate from the rest of the body.
  • Background separation.  In this shot, the full, late afternoon sun allows the elephant to have contrast with the sand of the beach.  By the way, the limited depth of field also accentuates this effect.

One final note on this image, we’ve often commented how the western eye flows left to right. We wanted the message of this image to be ‘I’m a tough elephant, so stay away from me.”   If we flipped this image, we would possibly lose impact as the right to left position of the animal adds to the feeling of conflict.  A strong comparison is this image and posein comparison to the one in our last photo of this article.

'My turf' - 1/1250 sec @ f/9 ISO 400, 320mm - photo © Justin Eleazer

The follow photo titled ‘Peaceful Grazing’ is another reject from the shoot.  The composition is okay and the exposure is nice, including good separation from the background, but these benefits are not enough.  Here are the reasons this image was rejected:

  • light is on the wrong side of the animal.  Basically, the forehead and trunk are nicely illuminated, gut the rest of the shot is in darkness.
  • animal posture.  While the prior image projects power with the flared ears, this image with the flat ears gives the impression of a submissive animal
  • distracting man-made elements: The background beach clearly shows a set of truck tire prints.  These photos are from the wild and we need to preserve the feeling of the wild. These could cloned out. the tire tracks, but left them in our image so we can make the point that this type little detail can ruin a great shot.

Peaceful Grazing - photo © Justin Eleazer

As one can see, on this particular day, Justin was able to capture quite a number of ‘keepers’, yet, even within the set, some images become rejects due to the ‘little things’ that significantly impact the overall result.