The Eyes Have It

By Ginger Dunn

Photography is as much about evoking emotion and telling a story as it is about the technical aspects of camera settings. A photograph can be technically perfect in every way; however, if it doesn’t move the viewer it is of very little interest to the audience.

As a photographer I want to connect the relationship between photography, emotion and my favorite subject….animals. I’ve loved animals since my first childhood memories. Photographing them has been a long time interest of mine. In recent years I have become more serious about capturing emotion and revealing stories in my images. We’ve all heard the old saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul”. In photography capturing the eyes of any animal in sharp focus is a key technical aspect; however, it is much more as well. The eyes tell the story of an individual showing us sadness, happiness, fear, and a wide range of emotions. Think of some of the really great photos of wildlife you’ve seen. The story can usually be seen in the eyes. A lioness stalking her prey, a newborn foal with his mother, or a zoo animal seeing its keeper approaching with today’s meal all bring to light part of the life of an individual.

With today’s cameras and photo editing software, some composition corrections can be achieved by cropping. If you want to get into wildlife photography, a good place to learn is a zoo or animal rehab facility. The animals are usually not overly active and will give you ample opportunity to focus on their eyes. When I’m photographing animals I use Aperture Priority mode on my camera (If you have a point and shoot use sports setting or auto). Use the best quality JPEG or RAW setting for your images. With ISO, I usually set my camera on 800 to 1600 for animals. Keep in mind with higher ISO settings you will see more ‘noise’ in your photos. You will want your focal point to be single & centered. This will make it easier to put that blinking red square on the eye of the animal rather than having multiple focal points and getting an out of focus shot. White balance can be left on AWB, however, I usually set mine to Shade or even Cloudy. This gives warmth to the photos. You will want to disable your flash especially around animals. In fact there are some animals that get really upset at flash photography additionally it reflects off the glass enclosures.

When you are shooting through glass or fencing get as close as safely possible to the glass with your camera. This will ensure you will get a clearer photo with minimal reflections. Another helpful hint: when you are visiting a zoo to take photos, wear dark colors as light colored clothing causes reflection.

I like to think of photographers as visual storytellers so think of yourself as such when you are photographing your next subject.