Tag Archives: Animals

Get down to eye level with animals

Work at the eye level of the animal - get into their world

Work at the eye level of the animal – get into their world.

The world at eye level…

Photography can be wonderful because of the alternative views we can get. Often the best photographs are the ones that show us new views, or ones we don’t see from our normal standing position. The world of animals is a particular case in point. Use the eyes as a guide. Work at eye level.

Photographing animals

There is a whole range of animals involved in our lives. Domestic animals and others make great photo-subjects and there is a huge number of different ways to photograph them. Inexperienced photogs often make the mistake of taking the shot from the normal upright standing position. This does two things. It renders the subject “normal” in the eyes of the viewer – because this is the angle they see it normally. This upright position also tends to make the animal seem small and subservient. Both these viewpoints can make your shot look mundane or worse, flat. It will probably be uninteresting to the viewer.

Get down to the eye level of the animal. All of a sudden you are in the animals own world. By engaging directly with the animal at its eye level you create a correspondence with it. Eye-to-eye communication is an excellent way to get to the story of the animal. You see it at its own height. You can also see its world the way the animal does.

The point about this is that you are telling the viewer a new story. It is one they normally stand above. The viewer will have a much better insight from the animal you have pictured. More to the point you will be developing the eye level contact between the pictured animal and the viewer themselves. That contact brings the viewer into the picture. Eye to eye pictures are very powerful.

Eye level contact

Getting eye level contact with an animal is very powerful. The line of sight view the animal has, and the impact of the stare, can all be used to good advantage. If your animal has particularly amazing eyes you are also going to gain from the directness of the shot.

Eye level contact with animals and birds is a very powerful way to draw viewers into your picture.

Eye level contact with animals and birds is a very powerful way to draw viewers into your picture.
(Click image to view large)

Of course you can do the same for animals, in many situations. I enjoy doing photography in zoos. When you try to picture animals there, try to get them at eye level too. To do that you may need to get up a little higher. For example monkeys may be above your head height. I have often found a light ladder or folding step useful when photographing this way. It gets you up to their level.

Getting down low is important too. So be ready to lie down or at least bend for some shots. Try to get your shot right into the eyes of the animal subject you are imaging.

Bring the eyes alive

Eyes tend to look dead if they don’t reflect light. So when possible arrange the light or take the shot to see these reflections. They are called catchlights. If the eyes look alive the dynamic feel of the catchlights will add to the drama of the shot. Catchlights are more easily captured at eye level. So taking a picture on a direct line of sight will help to capture the feel of a penetrating eye.

Eye to eye level

All living subjects have eyes. You will always find that they are most important in the power of your shot. If you get your shot with an eye to eye level correspondence you will connect with that power. Animal or human subject, that power will be there. Your photography will benefit from emphasising it when ever you can.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Have fun, take great shots – photography at the zoo

Elephants - at the zoo all sorts of images are there for you to capture.

• Elephants •
At the zoo all sorts of images are there for you to capture. Keep an eye open for the natural shots as well as the well timed ones.

Click image to view large.
• Elephants • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The zoo is a rich playground for photographers.

All sorts of opportunities pop up for you. First off, concentrate on getting your pictures sharp and well composed. We will be looking at a few other ideas to help you on your zoo trip.

Sharpness and composition:

A zoo is a great place to practice your five S’s… check these out: Five S’s for super shots. We have also covered a lot of the subject matter in these pages on how to keep your shots sharp and well composed. So here are two links to look back on:

If you want to work through the issues of composition also check out the most important one to get started with: Rule of Thirds. However, composition is a wide study. So here’s the link to the composition articles on Photokonnexion: Composition resources. You can also find these listed under ‘Articles’ on the navigation bar above.

Any special tips?

Yes, fences! They are a pain. But also not as much as a problem as you think. Ring-tail lemurs are hugely cute animals, but great climbers. They need to kept inside a high and secure chain-link fence – you know the diamond linked fencing…

Ring-tail lemur - inside a diamond-shaped link fence.

• Ring-tail lemur •
inside a diamond-shaped link fence. By focusing correctly you can focus the fence out.

Click image to view large.
• Ring-tail lemur • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

In this picture you cannot see the fence at all! I assure you it was taken through the fence. If you focus correctly you won’t see the fence. Just leave enough room between you and the fence and the fence and the animals. In this shot I was about 2 meters from the fence and the animals were about the same distance inside it. Equal distance either side of the fence and you will be OK. A sharp focus on the animal will put the fence in its most out of focus point. A great tip!

Unfortunately it does not work with thick bars. It is slightly less successful with some finer mesh fences too. It works reasonably well with glass. It does not work from a long way back from the fence because the individual strands in the fence appear to come together and look like a sheen over the shot. So this tip takes a little practice but you should be able to do it if you keep ‘chimping’. Yes, chimping! In a zoo that’s just the thing to do… keep looking at your screen on the camera to see how it came out.

Approach to your shots

Sometimes plain old photos of an animal in a cage are fine. Especially if you are doing a science project or something similar. You do not want to mislead people about where you get the shots. So, if you are doing any sort of a record shot then capture the animal in its enclosure. If you are reporting, taking a journalistic shot, then you must not mislead the public in any way. So, make sure that you take a fair picture of caging as well as the animal itself.

It is great fun, for your own interest, to take shots that make it look like you caught the animal in the wild. This does take a bit of creativity. You need to find ways that show the animal in an environment where it might be seen naturally. Avoid fences, people, artificial surfaces and toys/climbing equipment. Put in plants, other animals, trees, natural nests and so on. Most caged-off areas are quite well suited to this in modern zoos. In the UK, and most other aware countries, zoos must cater for the animal so it has five needs satisfied. They must have…

  1. somewhere suitable to live;
  2. a proper diet, including fresh water;
  3. the ability to express normal behaviour;
  4. any need satisfied relating to being housed with, or apart from, other animals;
  5. protection from, and treatment of, illness and injury.

These five needs also give you a clue as to what to look out for when photographing the animals. Look around their enclosures and find them doing things that fit these five essentials of their lives. That way you will catch them doing things they might be seen doing in the wild. Eating, playing, chasing, sleeping, running… all these things are good photographic material. Capture the animal in movement and stationary… whatever gets your artistic juices flowing! It’s all about enjoying yourself as well as extending your photography.

Portrait of a Rhino - capturing an animal in its noblest pose...

• Portrait of a Rhino •
Capturing an animal in its noblest pose is fun and shows the essential character.

Click image to view large.
• Portrait of a Rhino • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page


It is not always easy to capture animals in action, doing exciting things. Another great pass-time is portraiture. Capture the animal looking at its best. There are lots of things you can do for this, and it helps to use a fresh perspective. So, try high shots, low shots, ground shots. Oblique angles and upside down shots are fun! Sometimes just get a beautiful picture. With your portraiture, as with humans, try to capture the animal looking at its best, and especially, when it is stationary. The idea is to make the essential character of the animal come out in your shot.

Where possible, and it is difficult sometimes, try to get catchlights in the eyes of the animal. The eyes of all animals, including humans are a strong focal point. Catchlights are great for helping to make the animal look alive and dynamic.

A day at the zoo

If you spend a whole day at the zoo you can also have fun people watching. Animals are great, but watch out for stupid humans. Grown ups are especially funny if you catch them with kids. They imitate the animals, and jump around in an attempt to get the kids into the mood. Boy does that make for some fun photography. So keep an eye out for good ol’ Homo sapiens External link - opens new tab/page doing what comes naturally when around kids and animals.


Finally, remember that you should take a lot of shots. Animals, especially on the move, make difficult targets sometimes. So, work hard to get each shot right. Also, concentrate on your experimentation, your sharpness and your composition.

Back at the ranch you have a chance to do some great post-processing. Some of the zoo shoots I have done over the years have seen over a thousand shots in a day. Wow! Weeks of post processing fun! Remember, while the shots may be worth developing in your favourite editor straight from the camera, animals make great subjects for morphing, general ‘PhotoShopping’ and cutting and pasting into other pictures. So don’t think your day is over when you get home. The fun is just beginning.

Have fun on your zoo trip!

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Connect your viewer to your photograph – the cuteness factor

Successfully connecting with our viewer can happen many ways

Successfully connecting with our viewer can happen many ways. One of the ways to capture a big audience is the ‘cuteness’ factor.

It you want a big audience look for subjects with universal appeal.

Images attract a wider audience by pulling our primeval heart-strings. There are some subjects we cannot ignore. They are timeless and deeply ingrained. One of those is undoubtedly the ‘cuteness’ factor.

In “A tip for connecting your viewer with your photo” I discussed targeting your photograph. The idea was to focus where you show your pictures to capture an audience. Finding subject matter with a strong pull makes your targeting easier. A subject with universal appeal needs little or no targeting.

Some basic needs motivate strong reactions in us. Need for air, water, food, clothing and shelter are strongest. Then safety needs – personal security, health and a safe environment. Next we consider love, group membership, family, friends and intimacy to be important. These lead, naturally, to procreation. All species have a strong need to survive and breed. We share strong nurturing behaviours with mammals. We support and protect our young and are deeply connected to them for that purpose. Those features of the young that prompt our protective behaviour are common to most species. We easily recognise them. These features motivate protective behaviours. One label we use for this recognition is ‘cute’.

The cuteness factor

The features we find ‘cute’ that set off our protective response are pretty clear…

  • Big round eyes
  • tears
  • little features
  • baby characteristics
  • fluffiness (not hairiness)
  • Small feet/hands/paws
  • Lack of co-ordination/inexperience
  • Youthful frailty/unreserved trust
  • Enlarged head relative to the body
  • Softness/roundness/bounciness/friendliness
  • Vulnerability/juvenile incompetence/minor hurt/learning
  • Snuggled down/nesting/helplessness
  • Feeding naturally with mother
  • Strong emotions of enjoyment, joy, hurt, love, etc

There are also some features not listed which are important to us. Smell and sound are examples, but perhaps not strong photographically. Although, you might mimic them in images, for example a baby obviously crying.

The cuteness features listed are found in most mammals and in some other creatures. They are mainly the endearing characteristics of our own young. So when we see them in pictures of babies and children, or even ‘cute’ adults, we project our natural protectiveness on them – “Awww, cute!”

Our biological response to our own young shows we have a strong reaction to certain characteristics. As humans we can also project that protective response onto our babies, children, pets, livestock, animals; even toys, clothes ideas and well… all sorts of things. This projection, in photographic terms, I call the ‘cuteness factor’. If you capture these features appealingly in photographs you have a ready made audience. One that is biologically programmed to like your shots.

The cuteness factors above are not exclusive. Why not comment below and extend the list. I am sure that you can think of other things that motivate strong protective behaviours through cuteness.