Natural history photographer and National Geographic Expeditions expert Jason Edwards shares his time in Botswana finding creative ways to challenge his photography.
Regardless of your photographic ability, it’s easy to forget the basics. I was recently on assignment in Papua New Guinea for National Geographic Expeditions. I spent considerable time instructing people on how varying the shutter speed can alter the impact of an image and potentially the story you wish to tell.
I forgot my own advice while photographing a rare ceremony and captured most of my images at roughly the same shutter speed. The images are nice, but lack variation. More importantly, I missed an opportunity to tell a different version of that story.
Throughout my career I’ve actively sought to create movement in my images by using a slow shutter speed. This image of the red lechwe hurtling across the floodplains of Botswana is a good example of the result I’m trying to achieve. Lechwe are perfectly adapted to their wet, unstable, and flood-prone habitats in southern Africa. Their hooves splay and distribute their weight across a wider area, preventing them from sinking. They are truly magnificent when running and leaping, with streams of water trailing behind their powerful hindquarters.
My goal was to illustrate the red lechwe’s ability to move across the flooded landscape at high speed while highlighting their beautiful russet color against the rich greens. The afternoon was hot and steamy, and it wasn’t until the light was fading from the sky that the lechwe became active. There were lions in the area and the herd was agitated and ready for flight. I made the decision to blur the action and selected a smaller aperture and a lower ISO setting than the failing light required; this combination gave me a slower shutter speed. I followed individual animals through my lens as the lechwe charged across the floodplain, turning my body so that I was panning at the same speed they were running.
Keep in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the fewer frames you will be able to capture, especially if the action is short-lived. You need to make a decision: Do you want to freeze the action and capture an entire sequence, or do you want to create an image that has the potential to be more artistic rather than documentary? Images captured using a slow shutter speed can be unpredictable, but when they do work, the results are beautiful, illustrative, and different from what others are creating.
Photo Tip: Don’t be afraid to experiment with shutter speeds, but keep in mind that if you create too much movement in the image and the viewer cannot interpret what is happening in the scene, the image hasn’t worked. There is a fine line between showing life in motion and an abstract interpretation of a scene.
Photographed with a Nikon D3s and a Nikkor 800mm lens. Exposure: 1/13 sec, f/9, ISO 800.
Follow Jason Edwards on Instagram at @jasonedwardsng.