Go Wild!

An African photo safari is a dream come true for wildlife photographers. Not all wildlife photographers, however, have the time or the funds to make that dream come true. Still following their love for wildlife photography, photographers who can’t make the trek to Africa enjoy photographing at wildlife parks. With some creative composition techniques and digital darkroom skills, these captive-animal photos can look as though they were taken on safari. Let’s take a look at a few creative options.


I created the opening image (above) for this column from the photograph below (basically, a snapshot), which I took at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. You can tell it was taken in a wildlife park because you can see the telephone pole and telephone wires in the background. Also, the green grass doesn’t give the feeling that the photograph was taken in Africa.

My first step was to crop the image. By cropping out the boring parts of the photo, I created an image with more impact, and I like images with impact. Next, I cloned out the telephone pole and wires.

The light isn’t always ideal when shooting in wildlife parks, which usually open well after sunrise and close before sunset. On an African safari, you’re up before dawn and stay out until dark. My photograph has fairly strong backlight, so some of the details on the giraffes were lost in the shadows. To fix that, I used the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Color Efex Pro, a Lightroom/Photoshop plug-in (above). When using Detail Extractor, you can control the amount of detail you want to extract. Don’t overdo it, or the shadow areas of your photograph will look pixelated.

When we remove some of the color from a scene, we remove some of the reality, which can result in a more creative image, an image with a different mood or feeling. To remove the true color of the scene, and to create an image that looks as though it was taken on an African safari in the time of Hemingway, I used a Yellow 2 filter and Image Border Type 7 in Nik Silver Efex Pro (above).


In most wildlife parks, some of the animals are behind wire fences, which was the case when I photographed these cheetahs at Fossil Rim. However, you can’t tell, because I photographed the animals with a telephoto lens (Canon EF 200-400mm IS at the 400mm setting) set at a wide aperture (ƒ/5.6), and held the lens very close to an opening in the fence. At that position, the fence was so out of focus, it disappeared—in the foreground.

Here’s a portion of my original image (right). Although the fence was blurred in the foreground, you can see the lines created by the chain-link fence in the background. To blur the fence in the background, I used Photoshop’s Blur Tool on that part of the image. You can do that in Lightroom, too. Next, to add a soft touch to the entire image, again removing some of the reality, I used the Duplex filter. Finally, I used the Darken/Lighten Center filter in Nik Color Efex Pro to darken the edges of the frame, which draws more interest to the main subjects.

My guess is that if I didn’t tell you, you’d think this photograph (below) was taken on one of my African photo safari workshops. Truth is, I made the image, a composite, on one of my Fossil Rim photo workshops.


Here are the two images (below) from which I made my composite. Basically, I cut and pasted the animal (the same animal, by the way) from one image into another. After a bit of cloning (to remove the wires in the background) and resizing (I used Photoshop’s Edit > Transform > Scale adjustment to shrink the animal that’s looking away from the camera), I had a more interesting photograph, but a photograph with boring color.

To add an African sunset look to the image, I used the Orange Graduated filter in Nik Color Efex Pro and then applied the Darken/Lighten Center filter (below). That filter combination created a natural-looking sunset because, as with a real sunset, the light gradually darkens from where the sun is setting.

Well, my friends, I hope you can make it to Africa someday, but if you can’t, you can still have a ton of fun photographing in wildlife parks and processing your images at home.

Rick Sammon is a longtime friend of this magazine. See more of his work at ricksammon.com.

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