5 Critical Elements of Wildlife Photography You Should Never Miss, Part 3

"Why nature photography?"

Many would answer, "to capture the beauty of nature."

3. Beauty

Five years ago (when I was not as obsessed in wildlife photography as now), I took a one-day portrait photography class by a rather successful Hollywood photographer in downtown Los Angeles.

He said he once had an assignment to photograph Janet Jackson. Starting from the morning, he spent hours at the studio photographing her at all sorts of angles but was not happy with any of the shots. He talked to her, joked with her, trying to ease her up, yet he just couldn't get the shot he wanted. As the day went by, he thought it's going to be the biggest failure for him, because an opportunity to photograph Janet Jackson was so rare to come by.

But just in between this and the last set, when no one was paying attention, he looked at Janet Jackson and suddenly saw a moment. He clicked the shutter, and it was his favorite shot of the whole day. 

When I photograph someone in a studio for several hours and took thousands of photos, one of those thousands always stood out, as if the real personality came out from that person. It's usually a subtle eye contact, certain angle, perspective, light and shadow. I don't know. It's so similar to any other shots yet so different. Something very hard to be explained by science. Even if you know which angle and what kind of lighting is the best for that person, you just have to keep waiting and waiting, and let that moment reveal itself.

The other day I was talking to my good friend. She said there was one particular photo of her that her dad always held dearly of for many years, and she didn't understood why.

Now it gets more interesting.

If you close your eyes and think of the face of your loved ones, the image in your mind is usually the most beautiful smile of that person. Our brain seems to have picked out the best angle of our loved ones without us knowing.

In my experience, it's the same in wildlife photography. I would take thousands of images of an animal from a trip, but at the end, there is, if I am lucky, one that looks very different than any others even if it's in the same day, same habitat, doing similar pose. It's always in a split second. I really don't know how to describe it, it's as if the animals let you have a glimpse into their soul. Maybe I will call it the "spirit" moment. And that moment of spirit is what I've been trying to chase in wildlife photography.  I'm probably crazy to say that.

Well, I never lose my patience with the animals. When they do present themselves for their portraits, as it were, I am sort of being graced by that.
 - Nick Brandt

How do we capture the moment of beauty? The "spirit" moment? I have no idea. ​

Michael 'Nick' Nichols said "The real art and authorship is in the choice of the shot that transcend."

He continued, "You have to have a complete mastery of the technique so you can move beyond automatic mediocrity. Take chances. ​Take pictures all the time, rain or shine. You have your bag of tools. So try them. You want to keep trying different combinations because then you will find that surprise. The pictures I care about most are the real moments, not cropped, not set up, the ones with a kind of surreal energy."

So, what is beauty? Some said beauty is happiness. Some said beauty is universal. Some said beauty is truth.

But what is truth?

Truth and fact are different, according to Robert Mckee's book "Story". Truth is what we choose to believe in. A photograph is the truth in the world of the photographer.

At the end I think it all comes down to taste. ​I have written a blog post about taste

David Ward explained Beauty by quoting American photographer Robert Adams. Adams suggested that we judge art:

"... by whether it reveals to us important Form that we ourselves have experienced but to which we have not paid adequate attention. Successful art rediscovers Beauty for us."

"... ​the Beauty that concerns me is that of Form. Beauty is, in my view, a synonym for the coherence and structure underlying life... Why is Form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning."

We all want to have a feeling that we are not living in this world in vain. We always want to have a meaning to go on. But what is the meaning of meaning. Maybe we are all living in the "truth" of how we see it to make ourselves feel better about our existence. Or is it all just a dream?

Polar bear at sunset, Alaskan Arctic. 1DX, 600mm, 1.4x, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600.

Bobcat looking up. Yellowstone. 1DX, 600mm, 2x, f/11, 1/1600s, ISO 1600.

Snowy owl, Washington State (not baited, wild) 1D Mark IV, 600mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 800.

Wood duck, 1DX, 600mm, 1.4x, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600.

Bear cub, Alaska, 1DX, 600mm, 2x, f/11, 1/800s, ISO 1600.

Common tern, 1DX, 600mm, f/7.1, 1/3200s, ISO 1600.

Bear cub, 1DX, 600mm, 1.4x, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600.

Grey fox (wild), 1DX, 600mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 8000.

Big horn sheep, Yellowstone, 1DX, 600mm, 2x, f/11, 1/1600s, ISO 1600.

Bear cub running, 1DX, 600mm, 1.4x, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600.

I had to sprint 800 feet along a cliff to align the rainbow behind the Dall Sheep. Denali National Park, Alaska.

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