All of Creation
What happens when beauty combines with wildlife and creativity? Ambarin Afsar explores an aesthetic that might just be the answer to this question.
Wildlife has been explored in a number of ways, most of which include a somewhat conventional, documentary approach. But what do you do when a particular species has turned into an oft-recorded, extensively documented creature? Besides, how do you portray your interaction and association with the animals in front of you? There is a widespread and strangely limiting assumption that good wildlife images are formulaic. There is nothing wrong with being conventional, or following a tried and tested set of compositional rules, but it is also healthy to challenge an aesthetic that has turned into a trend.
Creativity is as much about the things you do not say,
as it is about being obvious.
Should You Always Tell it Like it is?
Documentary photography is perceived as a genre that shows things as they are. examples of conventionally good shots that have turned into clichés.Birds hunting their prey, predators lurking in tall grasses, animals settling in for the night, or just about waking up. We believe that a fairly straightforward aesthetic is enough to show these activities.
While this is true, what we also need to understand is that documentary photography is also about knowing a particular subject, its various facets. This understanding can help us translate these same activities in a manner worthy of the majesty of the wild. Just as there is certain kind of grace in exploring unusual portraiture, and moving away from tried and tested poses and sittings, there is undeniable beauty trying to capture the ephemeral spirit of the wild.
Be creative, but don’t be disruptive. The same rules of respecting nesting creatures and young ones, apply here.
How Do You Start?
There are no formulae to creativity. You need to ask yourself how can you potray this particular subject or species in a different manner. Look up the most popular images of the creature, and see how it has been portrayed by a majority of people. When reading up, identify specific habits, quirks and characteristics that offer you possibilities to be creative. For instance, a kingfisher frozen mid-leap or just when it hits the water are examples of conventionally good shots that have turned into clichés.
Ask yourself how else can you explore the personality of the bird—what does it look like under water, what if you rendered the bird into an iridescent blur of blue wings?
What Feelings Does Your Subject Evoke?
When we associate human emotions with animals, we’re being anthropomorphic, especially considering the fact that animals have a completely different response system. However, there are certain situations when we, as human beings, cannot help but relate to the manner in which animals may act in their social stuctures. For instance, when an animal is walking with its young, or cavorting with a herd or a couple of young companions, the feelings of warmth, joy, exhilaration and companionship are quite evident. Do they feel these exact same emotions? No, what they feel is hard to put into words, and so, the least we can do is appropriate our emotions to theirs.
Similarly, solitude and loneliness are the predominant things one senses when one sees a lone creature foraging for food, or simply taking a breather on a branch. You can try emphasising these feelings by controlling your frame and by planning the sort of postprocessing you wish to do, well in advance. A relatively slow shutterspeed can help you turn tall, moving grasses into soft blurs, lending the overall frame with a certain kind of tenderness. Throwing a certain part of the frame out of focus intelligently can also evoke a similar mood.
How Do You Relate to Your Subject?
Researching or trailing a certain creature also creates an affinity between you and the animal, which, while incommunicable, is very strong. It is almost as if a link has been established between the both of you. Enough knowledge also hones what most people call intuition or a gut feeling. This makes you feel as if you are in sync with the creature, and can identify with it, or can predict what it is going to do.
The elation a bird feels when it soars, or the effortless ease with which langurs leap from tree to tree, or the grace of the mating dance—all of these become contact points between you and your subject. These are not physical contact points, but mental or emotional ones, and ones that you can tap into for poignant images.
What are the Real Moods of Nature?
We often talk about the moods of nature, but we simply end up relegating these to either the times of the day or the changing seasons. Nature can be many mothers to its creatures—it can be kind, warm and protective, or cold, harsh, cruel and relentless. Each of these are evident in the lifecycle of all the creatures that share an environment. It is evident in birth and death, in dewy elephant calves and bleached skeletons, in the gossamer of the spiderweb and the dragonfly, and the brittle elegance of barks and frost. Understanding these moods and the cycle of life will help you observe the quieter workings of nature.
Try not to be literal. If you want to show the fragility of something, don’t do it in the most obvious manner. Poetry lies in showing the beholder a hundred different forms in one swift stroke.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Better Photography.Tags: Wildlife, Tiger, mood, creative, Research, deer, blurs, chase, Emotions, elephant, monkey, fragility, leopard, ants, anticipate