For me, shooting from a low angle gives me a different perspective, and some of my favourite images come about from low shooting positions. Getting low angles is not always possible though. In many national parks and reserves, it is neither permitted nor safe to get out of one’s vehicle.
A bull elephant passing by the Elephant Bunker. Canon 5Dmk3, Canon EF 17-40L f4. Shutter speed 1/500sec at f/8, Iso 800. Plus 1 Exposure compensation
One of the best ways to get to a low angle is to shoot from photographic hides, especially when those hides have been sunk into the ground. This allows the photographer to shoot from just above ground level. There are a number of advantages to shooting from such an angle.
Large animals like elephants appear even larger, and that is really a respectful way for the photographer to show the animal. Images of smaller animals are much more intimate from the low angle.
Baby animals are often right at eye level, which can lead to some good photographic opportunities.
When using short focal lengths, it is possible to include sky in the background.
A young elephant shelters beneath its mothers belly whilst the herd drinks. Cano 5Dmk3, Canon EF 17-40 L f4. Shutter speed 1/250sec at f5.6, Iso 2500. Plus 0.33 exposure compensation.
With longer focal lengths, the low angle usually allows one to blur whatever the background is, especially if it is some distance beyond the subject.
My own gear choices when it comes to photographing from low-level hides really depend upon the subjects that I am expecting to see. When elephants are involved, I typically prefer to use the wide-angle approach, and I usually shoot focal lengths between 16mm and 35mm.
With smaller creatures, I will use telephoto lenses with longer focal lengths. Hides can be great places to use very long lenses, as there is usually space to support the lens on a tripod or mount. My favourite long lens for this kind of photography is the Canon EF 600 L f4 IS ii, especially for birds
Whatever the subject is, I try to always have a zoom lens setup ready to use, by my side, such as the Canon EF 70-300 L f4-5.6 L IS. It is important to remember that whilst in the hide, you cannot change your own distance from the subject, so a zoom lens allows you to easily change your composition quickly and quietly.
A scuffle amongst a family group of javelina, South Texas. Canon 5Dmk3, Canon EF 70-300 L f4-5.6. Shutter speed 1000 sec at f5.6, Iso 1600. Focal length 236mm.
I have recently spent time photographing from ground level hides in the southern part of the US, for songbirds and secretive creatures like the javelina (a type of wild boar).
I have also been able to photograph from the sunken hide known as the Elephant Bunker, which is operated by Pangolin Photo Safaris in northern Botswana. Elephants sometimes come really, really close at the Bunker and it is thrilling to experience when it happens. On one occasion I actually ended up with elephant saliva on the front of my lens from a bull that literally passed right over us! At least I keep telling myself that it was saliva 😉
Bull elephant walking by the Bunker, up close. Canon 5Dmk3, Canon EF 17-40 L f4. Shutter speed 1/500 sec at f8, Iso 500. Plus 0.33 Exposure compensation.
I will be back at the bunker again in September 2014 leading a photosafari in the Chobe area.
No matter the location or subject, photographing from well-designed hides is an exciting experience.
There is a strong sense of anticipation when one is waiting for wild animals to arrive, and that is heightened by the need to remain still and quiet.
And then, when subjects arrive, it can all start happening very suddenly, and silently…the wildlife seldom announce their arrival!
So, whenever you get the opportunity to photograph from ground level locations, take it, you won’t be disappointed.