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Photographing Elephants: 10 Ways to be Creative with Elephants

10 Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Elephants are frequently our photo subjects while on safari.  Their size, shape, intelligence, and trunk are just a few things that make them great subjects and very interesting.  There are many opportunities for unique, beautiful, and descriptive images of elephants.

Close details

Elephants are very unique in shape and texture. Images showing the whole elephant(s) are great to show the elephant in its environment, but can not describe the all the unique features and details of an elephant. Taking close up images of the trunk in action, tusks, skin, eyes, and ears gives your audience a chance to focus in on details and discover shapes and colors and learn about elephants in more detail.

         

Photographing Elephants
Elephant eye

Using perspective and symmetry

elephant family walks in a line

Elephants come in all sizes and travel in herds so highlight these different sizes and ages in a way that gives geometric order and symmetry to your image. Contrast of size creating perspective lines vanishing into the horizon is a pleasing effect. Elephants will often line up and if you are patient you can grab moments when trunks, ear, etc are pleasingly arranged symmetrically.

Interaction with other elephants

Elephants are social animals and this gives many interaction moments to photograph. Sometimes the golden moment is a hidden detail in a wider image. Cropping can highlight this “picture in a picture” moment between two elephants. Elephants also have greetings, reassuring gestures, and rank showing moves that you can watch and wait for then highlight through cropping and framing the images

A tender moment between mother and calf is hidden inside the wider image

 

Interaction with other species

An elephant chases zebras out of the watering hole

Showing how elephants interact with other species is capturing their role in their environment. Other species feel safe near elephants and trust their strength, awareness, and intelligence. You can photograph mixed herds, birds that groom elephants, and when they assert their dominance.

Showing scale

Obviously their size is a major feature of elephants. Showing large and small elephants together is not always enough to communicate their size. Try to show other animals such as zebra which are a familiar size to your audience to show how large they are. Manmade objects like vehicles are a good contrast as well.

Movement / Behavior

With their unique body form and parts, photographing how the elephant and its parts moves adds another dimension to your illustration of elephants. Also try to isolate and highlight unique behaviors of the elephants such as mock fighting, and the million ways they use their trunks for different things

Take the usual front view and side views to new levels

Front and 3/4

¾ is a flattering angle that has been drilled into us for portraits, but a straight on frame filling front view is eye catching. A creative crop creates interesting negative space and also increases the impact

Side

Elephants have an interesting shape so a side view shows off this shape. Think about negative space and other elements to contrast the rounded lines of the elephant such as straight trees or grass

Rear

Elephant rears are unique and large with great tails. A nicely framed rear shot shows the elephants in and interacting with their environment. Walking off “into the sunset” communicates that these elephants are wild and free.

Personality / Cute Babies

Elephants appear to have individual personalities and we often can see some of ourselves in their movement, behavior, and interaction. Anytime we can photograph this connect to ourselves it makes a more impactful image. They show happiness, companionship, nervousness, and aggravation through their actions and interactions. Capture moments of joy when they are in the water or doing something crazy.

You can see the joy when elephants get into the water
This elephant is using a very short scratching post – we had a good laugh at this

Elephant babies are very cute and are well looked after by their mothers and other herd members: it is not hard to capture intimate moments between mothers and babies.

Shape Silhouette

Sometimes lighting on a safari is challenging, but taking bad lighting and turning it into a silhouette shot can give you a special image. Elephant’s unique shape works very well against a sunset.

 

When you get out on safari and see elephants, get to know them and capture some images that illustrate everything that is fun, interesting, and unique about them.  There are not many subjects so expressive and charismatic.

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Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

south africa photo safari seeing elephantsWe are on a game drive in the Balule Game Reserve in the mid afternoon. We had just left a very nice leopard sighting and we were now in search of our next wildlife encounter. Our driver took us to a favorite spot for rhino, elephants, and buffalo to have a mudbath. Today a family of elephants was enjoying the baths.

photo safari sightings: elephant in a mud bath

The season has become dry early this year so a good water hole and mud have been a rare find for the animals in the area. Here there is a small area where the water is still at the surface, but elephants can find water by digging.

photo safari game drive elephants

As we arrive, two juvenile elephants are digging in the small pit to enlarge it. Their sides are caked with fresh mud and dried mud covers their faces and trunks. You can see the enjoyment as the two use their front feet to dig deeper and bring up more water which they stir into mud.

Nearby, a mother elephant and her infant calf eat leaves and rest together in the shade.

photo safari photographing elephants South Africa safari elephants elephant in funny position while scratching

Now the juveniles have had enough mud and turn their attention to a tree stump which functions as a favorite scratching post. Each has a go at it displaying crazy poses as they maneuver their bulk to reach the short stump. Each has a try at pulling the stump out in hopes of making it taller and a more excellent tool.

photographing baby elephants

Meanwhile, the baby and mother have a go in the mud followed up by their turn at the scratching post. The little elephant is completely covered in mud and very pleased with her adventure in the mud.

Young male elephants sparing

The juveniles have gone back to eating and two older males, still juveniles practice some mock sparring. These playful fights and twisting of trunks is also a bonding and an exercise is establishing and acknowledging rank in the group.

young elephants mock fighting

The elephants had some good fun, but they never stop eating for long, so soon they return to eating.

 

We continue on to watch the sunset and prepare for the wildlife action after dark. We had several encountering on our way back in the dark including a bushbaby (a type of subprimate) and a chameleon.

 

If you would like to join us on a photo safari visit our safari webpage or check out other posts and links on this blog site.

Our Photo Safari Dates

Know Your Subjects: Elephant Bonding and Greeting with Their Trunks

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Know Your Subject: Elephant Bonding and Greeting with Their Trunks

For a wildlife photographer, the more you know your subject,  the better informed your images will be.  Knowledge helps you anticipate and interpret the natural actions of your subjects.

Elephants are very smart and interesting subjects, especially when you can pick out social behaviors – some you may recognize from our own human experience.

Elephant Male Bonding

In the matriarchal world of elephants, males are known as mostly independent sorts.  Females maintain close, lifelong family ties, while bulls tend to wander off solo; at times bonding with another male or more a loose group of males.

During a six year study in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, , Stanford University behavioral ecologist Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwill observed for the first time intense, long-lasting bonds among a dozen or so bulls; a tight-knit group of teenagers, adults, and seniors . Other males serve as mentors and mediators for younger ones,  enforcing a strict social hierarchy and keeping underlings in line when hormones rage and rowdiness may erupt.In drought-prone  Namibia, rank becomes most rigid when water is scarcest.  “In dry years the strict pecking order they establish benefits all of them.” OConnell-Rodwell says.”Everyone know their place.” That means young bulls supplicate more frequently to their elders and peace is maintained while everyone gets to drink.

Trunk Talk:  Close up communication is done vocally and via smell and touch. These gestures show affection:

elephants greet each other
two junior elephants greet each other with a caress of the head

Elephant communication with trunks
Elephants will test their strength against peers and sometimes against trusted elders. This practice fight ended abruptly when the younger took an accidental tusk to the eye

junior greets and elder
A junior elephant greets a senior with deference with a caress then places the tip of his trunk in the elder’s mouth

elephants greeting eachother
An over the head caress by a dominant elephant is akin to humans tousling another’s hair.

Mock elephant fight
A mock fight between a junior and elder establishes rank among the group.