Why and How: Creating Wildlife Photographs in Black and White – Part 1

Have you ever wanted to create wildlife photographs that have impact and that convey real emotions? Have you ever wanted to go beyond the simple descriptive photo of an animal in the wild?

In this article I propose some tips, recipes for creating meaningful black and white photos.

If you are already using this creative technique, the ideas developed in this article will give you supplements.

If you are not a fan of black and white, you will discover an extraordinary universe without limit of creativity.

Young walia ibex photographed in black and white in Ethiopia. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
Young walia ibex photographed in black and white in Ethiopia.

The Little Story of This Article

My passion for the technique of black and white photography started with landscape photography. As I live in the United States, I often travel the mineral landscapes of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada.

Showing in black and white the details, the shapes, the structures were quite easy and natural. This is how I developed my expertise in black and white.

In the fall of 2013, I decided to spend, like every year, three weeks to photograph the rut of the deer in France.

During this fall, summer had to play extra time. It was installed a little more permanently than in previous years. At the end of September, the foliage, the ferns were still a beautiful bright color. I had exceptional permission to take my photos on the Hennessy domain in Charente-Maritime.

As hunting was organized on specific dates, I could move freely and without fear of being mistaken for a wild animal.

I had spotted a very large clearing surrounded by hardwoods, which is quite rare in the region. The decor was perfect.

After several waiting sessions, I had the chance to photograph a big lonely re deer stag that came to bugle. Well hidden in my blind I made a magnificent series. He stayed more than three hours to bugle, graze and sleep. It was unexpected .

When I decided to develop the photos, I naturally chose the color.

The developed photos were very interesting, well-constructed, with magnificent decor and a beautiful light. But they were all classic. I had already seen them hundreds of times.

The series of six photos was spread out in front of me. I was satisfied but I could not feel the emotions generated by the power and the beauty of the animal. I returned to illustrative photography which I had abandoned three years ago.

It was then that I decided to convert them to black and white. I realized that I could darken the green color of the leaves in the background to enhance the shape of the animal.

I could easily highlight the dark orange coat of the deer stag by overexposing it a little more and create a better contrast.

The dodge and burn that I applied to the eyes allowed me to accentuate a fierce, wild and determined glance.

By applying a dark and gradual vignetting around the deer stag, I accentuated the contrasts even more. The red deer was really highlighted.

I applied the same development to the collection of six photos.  I had in front of me a set of coherent and consistent pictures. The photos were creative, different and unique. I had finally been able to photograph the bugle of the deer as I wanted. I finally felt the emotions I had had in the field. The wild beauty and the natural power of the animal were highlighted.

The technique of black and white had allowed me to create interesting pictures, different which had sense. It was my real beginnings in black and white wildlife photography. The years that followed proved to me that I had made the right choice and that I had found a way to express myself in wildlife photography. These are the elements that I will explain in the rest of the article.

The Qualities to Develop to Be a Wildlife Photographer

Before giving you tips for creating animal photos in black and white, it seems very important to me to list some qualities necessary to make good photos of wild animals in the field.

  • First of all, you must have a real passion for wildlife and its diversity. Never forget that you are taking good pictures of what you know well. Be curious: read books on the species that inspire you. Watch all the animal reports concerning the fields which interest you. The more you know about behaviors and animal habits, the better your photographic creations will be.
  • Never forget that a wild animal is unpredictable. Even if you are well prepared; you have learned as much as you can about a species, you will always have surprises. Nothing will ever be like you would have expected. A wild animal always reacts according to its primary instincts which are surviving, reproducing and eating. Try to anticipate the more you can.
  • Be a good observer. We live in cities, villages in which our collective life is organized according to our needs as human beings. Our senses have been developed in this urban and city environment.

    In nature everything is different. You must relearn to observe the signs of wildlife. The smells, the direction of the wind, the morning dew, the shape of the clouds, a bird's cry are some signs that can provide precious indications of what is going to happen.
  • Know how to improvise. You must be ready to face the unpredictable once on the ground, but you must also know how to improvise.

    For example, knowing how to create a blind in the field with leaves, a few branches, is an elementary act to realize photos of red deer or bear in Europe. Improvisation management can be learned. You should always train even if you find yourself in a situation you are mastering.
  • Always ask about the weather. Knowledge of the weather is a real asset for you. If it is raining you must have the clothes and the blind accordingly. The knowledge of the wind direction is essential. Wild animals always walk facing the wind to detect predators or a danger. Poor knowledge of weather conditions can lead to a disastrous photo session once in the field.
  • Respect nature and wild animals. In my opinion these are the two essential qualities of a good wildlife photographer. The more you respect nature and the animals you photograph, the more likely you are to blend in with the surroundings and become part of the environment around you.

    The more you show respect, the more you will get to know nature and blend in with the landscapes. The better your animal photos will be. Never disturb an animal to take a photo. Indeed, the frightened or constrained look of a wild animal never produces a good photo. More the attitude is natural more the picture is beautiful.
  • Be patient. With underwater photography, wildlife photography is one of the most difficult photographic fields to master. To create interesting pictures time is not measured in days, weeks or months. It is measured in years.
  • Knowing how to take sharp, well-composed and well-framed photos takes just a few days. But creating meaningful animal photos requires a great deal of self-knowledge, a lot of humility and patience.

Some Pictures of Wild Animals in Black and White

Why Creating Animal Photographs in Black and White ?

Click Here to Read the Next Part of the Article.

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Article published on Friday, March 20, 2020 . Written by
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