Skyless Images?

I’m often puzzled by safari images posted online that have a small band of sky across the top such as the image above. The sky doesn’t add any interest and is distracting. So I wonder why it is there. In many cases, it could have  been cropped out easily in post-processing, possibly by just using a different aspect ratio.

At the time of capture, it is important to think about the background and try to avoid such bands of uninteresting sky. This can often be done by getting higher in the safari vehicle by standing up (possibly on the seats) and photographing from the roof rather than lower in the vehicle.

This goes against what many people often consider as a rule of wildlife photography – “shoot as low as possible”. But such “rules” should only be treated as general guidelines and not applied without thought in every situation.

Usually animals are not so close to the vehicle that it will look like a downward angle when photographing from higher up, and it may even be that they are on a slope above the level of the vehicle.

If it’s an interesting sky such as a sunset, sunrise or storm clouds, then you can choose to make it a feature of your image. If the sky doesn’t add interest, then think about whether re-positioning yourself, and possibly zooming in, can eliminate it. You might even be thinking about a future crop.

In many situations, I’m not only trying to avoid such isolated bands of sky at the top of an image, but also having horizons cutting across an animal. This is particularly true in strong sunlight, when you can end up with a harsh line between the bright blue of the sky and the bright yellow or green of the grass. In my opinion, this really detracts from the animal and I much prefer to see a more uniform background given by omitting the sky altogether.

However, in the earlier and later hours of the day, the bands of dark or muted colours that you get from the sky, vegetation and ground can make an interesting background that enhances the portrait of an animal. Again there are no rules. It depends partly on the situation and partly on your preference. The important thing is that you are aware of it and think of the different possibilities.

If you haven’t already done so, I would suggest studying images of various wildlife photographers in books or online to see if and how they include the sky in their images. Is it a feature of an image? Is the animal above or below the horizon, or does the horizon cut through the animal? If the horizon cuts across the animal, do you think the image works? If so, why? If not, why?  Hopefully by doing this, you can become more aware of your preferences and act on them in your future photography.