Behind the lens: African Elephant Dusting
If you enjoy photographing wildlife, there aren't too many more amazing locations on earth than Africa. The continent has an incredible array of wildlife, in huge numbers, and you are often able to get very close to them with your camera.
While presenting a Photographic Safari in Tanzania with my participants, we came across a herd of elephants enjoying themselves in a local waterhole. This particular individual left the group and started walking straight towards us, sucking up dust along the way. I prepped my participants beforehand to make sure they had the correct settings on their cameras and then we waited.
The scenery behind the elephant was stunning, the light conditions were perfect and being such a large animal, focusing was very easy. I was using my Nikon D700 with a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens and 2x convertor, giving me a focal range of 400mm. I heard a brief 'snort' and was primed and ready - seconds later the elephant expelled dust via its trunk, through its legs.
Using continuous focus, back-button focusing and burst mode, I followed the elephant with the camera’s single focal point as it walked. By observing the elephant picking up dust and waiting patiently, I was able to capture a full sequence of shots when the action happened.
An important tip to remember when trying to capture great shots of wildlife is to shift that focus point to the eyes. Also watch your background for distractions so that the animal stands out in your image and observe the subject's behaviour, especially any subtle changes that may be occurring. This way you can often predict any behavioural changes that may happen, before they actually happen, and you can be ready to take your shots.
Before planning to join a Photographic Safari or Expedition, especially to photograph wildlife, I wholeheartedly recommend you practise your techniques on moving subjects. This could be birds at a free-flight bird show in a zoo or wildlife park or pelicans coming in the land at a beach or river.
Try also photographing at events and races which incorporate running, bicycles, motorbikes or cars in their program. You could even contact a local model plane flying club or kite flying session and ask if they don't mind you taking some shots. The more you practise, the easier it will be to 'nail' those amazing action shots!
I do my post-processing in Adobe Lightroom. All that was needed for this image was a slight crop, a reduction to the shadows a tad, a reduction to highlights, adding a bit of contrast and a selective sharpen to the elephant. Finally I turned the image into black and white as I saw the stark grey skin of the elephant, which was quite sharp, contrasted against the puff of dust, which was light. I looked at both versions and preferred the look of the black and white.
Michael Snedic is a Brisbane-based professional photographer and tutor. He is the owner and operator of WildNature Photo Expeditions, specialising in taking photography participants to the most stunning wildlife and wilderness locations across the globe! Locations include Australia, Africa, Antarctica, South Georgia, the Arctic, India, the Russian Far East and more. For full details, visit his website.