Edition 37: Winter 2006/7
On safari, antelopes are everywhere. Perhaps that’s why so many photographers treat them as part of the scenery rather than the stars of the shot. But they deserve a closer look, say Andy Rouse and Tracey Rich.
Africa teems with beautiful and elegant animals, but some species receive far more attention than others. As herds of antelope jump, leap and pronk their way away from our 4x4s with long-legged, spirited grace, we often take them for granted.
From the diminutive dik-dik to the enormous eland and from the sporty springbok to the ingenious impala, there seems to be an antelope for every environment and eventuality. These omnipresent herbivores are surprisingly difficult to photograph well, but it’s worth persisting, as the situations in which they’re found can yield photographic gems. You can experiment with the subtleties of coat pattern and colour, capture moments of high action, take portraits of groups or individuals and convey relationships and characteristic behaviour. Accessible from dawn to dusk, antelopes will rarely let you down – although many have the uncanny habit of turning their backsides towards the camera or deciding to take a pee at that critical moment!
Remember, too, that wherever you find prey animals, predators are never far behind. With time and an element of luck, you could end up with a double photographic whammy.
Taken with Canon EOS 1D MKII, 300mm F2.8L lens, 1/125th at f6.3
This portrait captures the theatrical facial markings and propeller-like ears of this female waterbuck. Females can be just as good photographic subjects as the flamboyant males with their impressive horns. Focus on the centre of the face between the eyes, and try to select an f-stop that will give you a shallow depth of field, with the whole head in focus from the tip of the nose. Leave the background diffuse and non-confusing and emphasise the animal’s expression. Take your time and you’ll be sure to be rewarded with a quizzical look
2. Thomson’s gazelles running
Taken with Canon EOS 1DS, 70-200mm F2.8L lens, 1/15th at f16
These guys are born to run: they can out-manoueuvre a pursuing cheetah. They’re also good at out-running you and your vehicle as they instinctively try to prevent any pursuer getting close by dodging and tripping. To emphasise this behaviour and the gazelles’ great speed, use a slow shutter speed, keeping up with the animals (not an easy feat) and panning with their movement. With a shutter speed of at least 1/15th, you should be able to achieve a coherent image but you can expect to create many unusably abstract images in the process. Practice makes perfect.
3. Klipspringers on the rocks
Taken with Canon EOS 1DS MKII, 500mm F4L lens, 1/500th at f5.6
Capturing great antelope images is all about setting the scene and using the light. This image was designed to show the klipspringer’s natural habitat of rocky outcrops and kopjes. The upwards-looking aspect creates the right feel to the image: you’ll often be looking skywards to spot klipspringers. The composition guides you diagonally up to the focus of the picture, whilst giving you a sense that the animal is small in its environment. Don’t forget that at this distance you’ll need a high depth of field to get it all sharp.
4. Browsing gerenuk
Taken with Canon EOS 1DS MKII, 100-400mm F5.6L lens, 1/250th at f5.6
What a weird antelope! The gerenuk, with its large doey eyes and distinctly refined features, totters about on stilt-like legs and has a bizarrely elongated neck. Photographing them is not easy as they look so odd. They also have a special trick: they can stand on their hind legs to feed from the rather prickly acacias, delicately placing their lips between the thorns to pick off small lush leaves. This image uses the foliage of the acacia bush to frame a stunning face while showing what the animal is doing – its trademark behaviour. Take care to get the focus point exactly on the head of the animal and not wandering off onto the tree or bush. The exposure needs to take account of the dark and shady background: try taking a reading from a neutral subject such as a nearby rock or tree beforehand.