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General Stuff, Theory n Technique, What Makes a Photograph

What Makes a Photograph #6

pixelogist.me has gone through a few upgrades and improvements lately, and hopefully has been opened to new audiences, so if you’re one of my new subscribers or this post just happened to be the first one you saw on my blog, well…this is part of an on-going series that I’ve been doing, a series of posts where I choose a particular photo and try to break it down to the basic elements, in an attempt to figure out what makes it a good photograph. Have a look at the past posts in this series to get a better idea. All the previous posts have been based on photographs of my own, but today I’ve chosen, for the first time, a picture from someone else’s work…and here it is:

Leopard Silhouette by Andrew Schoeman

Please click on the image to view it in full size in another tab so you can really get the essence of the image, and get a better idea of what I’m talking about

Yeah, that’s a beautiful photograph. It really is. He’s taken wildlife photography and given it a sharp twist. It’s definitely not your typical daylight wildlife shot of a big cat, is it? It’s got a lot more color and mystery than the usual ‘browny’ sort of image that is typical of most wildlife shots (taking nothing away from that sort of picture, of course) – it’s something different – and that’s what I love

So what’s he done here? Well, what is immediately noticed is his use of a silhouette to capture his subject, the leopard. This serves two purposes: one, it gives this mysterious sort of look to the image, a dramatic look…and two, it allows him to keep the beautiful colors of the sky in the background perfect exposed. If he shot bright enough to get the leopard perfectly exposed, naturally the sky would’ve been completely blown out, and the result would’ve been a leopard in a tree against a strong, blown out, harsh white background. If you wanted to get both the subject and the sky exposed nicely, the only option would be to use a fill-in flash to light up the subject, and yeah, you guessed it…you’re not usually close enough to a subject like a leopard to use a flash! Even if you were, you wouldn’t dare! So, yeah…he really made the best of it with this option

Ok, the main technique I’m talking about here is the use of the silhouette – that is, drastically underexposing the subject and instead exposing the background perfectly, so that the subject’s outline to shows clearly against it. Alright. First of all, in a silhouette, getting the right angle is key. In this case, timing is also key. Why? Well, there are many positions the leopard would’ve been in where its silhouette would’ve looked like a shapeless lump on a tree. You have to wait for the right moment, from the right angle, to get it to look just like you want it to look. Remember that your viewer does not see what you can see now…so make sure you convey every detail you can, to make sure the they know what your subject is. In some cases, you might be able to move around, to get the right angle and the right view – in some cases, you might be able to simply tell the subject to move (not the leopard!) – so depending on these variables, you might have the flexibility to get the right silhouette faster, but if not…patience! If you have to wait half an hour to get a 5-second moment where the silhouette looks perfect, that’s what you have to work with. The purpose: to get the right silhouette to tell your story…and also to make sure it looks like your subject is supposed to look!  This picture is the perfect example of getting it right. The leopard’s pose looks strong, almost menacing…and the detail! You can even see the animal’s whiskers!

NOTE: Getting the right exposure for a silhouette will be trial-and-error. There’s no single ‘silhouetting-exposure’ setting. For each type of scene, and in different lighting conditions, it will vary. This photograph on 500px doesn’t include any EXIF data, so I can’t say what settings were used here, but know that it doesn’t matter to know this – it’ll always vary, and you need to experiment before you get the perfect one

Alright, then look at the composition. No rule of thirds…his subject is right in the middle of the frame…and it works beautifully. Also, notice that he’s kept the portion of the tree in the right side of the frame, while maintaining balance on the left side with a few other branches. You might not realize it, but it does complete the frame very nicely…leaving not much empty space…and the colorful sky shining through the gaps…it really works well. Did he think of all this composition stuff before he shot? Probably not. It probably came naturally, being familiar with all these ideas…like I mentioned countless times in my post on composition…but once he saw this picture afterwards, he knew it was a winner…because of all these elements that just came together. Along with the perfect silhouette

To summarize: solid composition. And great use of the technique of silhouetting a subject…to benefit the overall look of the image, and to use the beautiful natural conditions. And that’s all I have. Click on that link and if you’re a 500px member (you really should be, it’s the best photo sharing website there is!), go ahead and like/comment/favorite that picture, he really deserves it!

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By Heshan Jayakody
Image by Andrew Schoeman. Text content is my own

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3 Responses to “What Makes a Photograph #6”

  1. This photograph is awesome.. Whenever I click a photograph, I think of symmetry what you talked about; maybe use some software’s effects as well.. Ill try to keep other things in mind next time.. I am no professional though..

    Posted by A. Kashyap | September 3, 2012, 21:50
    • indeed, this is a fantastic shot that this guy took. really great. u can have a look at my Composition post that i wrote some weeks back.. u might find it a bit helpful maybe.. and u never need to be a professional to take good pics…good luck!

      Posted by pixelogist | September 3, 2012, 22:08


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