The Importance Of The Environment In Wildlife Photography

Displaying The Environment In Your Photography

There are many important elements to creating exciting wildlife photography. In this post, I will discuss my use of the environment in wildlife photography to emphasize the ‘story’ aspect of a particular species.

Capturing this stunning visual exploration of a polar bear while on assignment in Svalbard, Norway. The use of the environment has created a beautiful art piece, while also telling a compelling nature story about the life of a polar bear: polar bears live in icy isolation.

Polar bear standing in front of a glacier in Svalbard

Polar bears spend most of their time on or near the ice. By placing the gigantic glacial ice pack behind the polar bear, and also minimizing the polar bear within the frame, with this I accomplish several important photographic tasks that you will learn below.

When confronted with the majestic beauty of a polar bear in the wild, it can be tempting to do the following…

Red block shows polar bear in the arctic environment, behind a huge glacier

The red box indicates a close up capture of the polar bear. This would eliminate the environment! Which would be absolutely not wrong. Why not? But don’t we want to show the viewers as well the environment?

You mount your longest telephoto, and eliminate the environment in an effort to grab a close-up photograph of this magnificent bear. While capturing a photograph like this is not wrong, consider this. Perhaps your telephoto lens produces a photograph similar to what is in the red box above. This photograph could be taken anywhere. It could be in a zoo. Sure, go ahead and take that photo. However work fast, and then explore the surrounding environment as well. The environmental photographs are often the money photographs!

Polar bear standing on pack ice in the arctic. behind sunset and the ocean

Polar bear standing on pack ice in the Arctic.

Including environmental background areas can give clues to your viewers about the photograph. For example, what time of day was the photograph created? It is critical to take in the environment, and then decide how best to portray it within your photograph. Don’t take this step lightly. A key consideration would be… Is the best capture a vertical or a horizontal orientation for the photograph? How can I implement the environment in wildlife photography?

These are just a handful of the many training considerations that I share with my clients in my workshops and private tours.

Black rhino grassing in wide grassland, displaying the environment in wildlife photography

This black rhino, located in Etosha National Park, in Namibia, Africa, I have created this picture from a moderate distance away.

Cheetah walking pan a slat pan, black and white photograph showing the environment of the salt pan

A cheetah lumbers across the saltpan within Etosha National Park: in Namibia, Africa.

When using the environment creatively, you can take a more literal approach- such as my photograph of the black rhino, or you may take a more creative approach- such as my semi-abstract portrait of the cheetah on the saltpan. This is the fun of wildlife photography! Learn by experimenting and discovering what works best.

Giraffe walking across the rough environment of the skeleton coast in Namibia. Environment in wildlife photography

A lone giraffe treks across the red rock field along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, Africa. This is a great example showing the environment in wildlife photography.

At times, your use of the environment may be enforced by necessity. This giraffe was very far from my location.

Sometimes the environment becomes the photograph, such as this capture of the giraffe on the Skeleton Coast. My longest telephoto lens could just pull in the giraffe close enough to be a part of the photograph. However, it was really the layers of texture and color of the surrounding landscape that caught my attention. The giraffe was bonus in the composition that brought it all together. Neither piece of the total photographcould work as well alone: the landscape without the giraffe, or the giraffe without the layering, colors, and textures of the surrounding landscape environment. Together, they make a lovely compelling photograph that well represents Africa: distance, isolation, color, and camouflage!

Oryx walking across the muddy salt pan of Etosha National Park in Namibia

An oryx crossing the muddy salt pan in Etosha National Park.

An experienced wildlife photographer takes in the entire frame within their camera. New wildlife photographers tend to become excited, and focus their eyes only on the animal. In some instances, this will work. A close-up is always a welcomed photograph.

However, an environmentally rich photograph will often produce the best photograph whether for publication or for a fine art print.

Red crowned cranes standing on islands in a river bed during at sunrise. Displaying environment in wildlife photography

Red crowned cranes hover together on small islands to protect themselves from their harshest predator the fox. Hokkaido Island, Japan.

Final thoughts

Take a careful look at the photograph of the red crowned cranes. Imagine yourself as the photo editor of a wildlife, birding, or travel magazine. Can you picture how important it is for you, as the editor, to be able to let your viewers place the location within their minds? It is in fact critical. Yes, close-ups are great and necessary. However, just as necessary as environment in wildlife photography. In any situation where I’m photographing wildlife, I look for the wide photo, the medium photo, the semi-telephoto photo, and ultimately the extreme close-up photograph.

You won’t get all of these photographs every time.

However, it should be your goal!”

Discover The Rarest And Most Elusive Animals In Africa

The Rarest And Most Elusive Animals


Do you dream of heading to Africa? Then you are almost certainly eager to see and perhaps even photograph some of the many beautiful creatures that inhabit this content. Many people have their own favourites they would love to spot from the majestic lion to the gigantic elephant. But which animals are the rarest and most difficult to find or see when you visit Africa? Here are a few of the continents most elusive creatures that you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of on your safari.


The Aardvark is an odd, native African animal. It looks like an oversized hairless rodent crossed with some sort of pig. With its unique look, you would think it would be quite easy to spot one of these in the wild, but they are quite elusive for a number of reasons.

First, as any safari guide will tell you, these animals are nocturnal. While you might spot one moving around through the day, this is quite rare. As such, when the sun is high in the sky, it is likely they will remain hidden, out of sight in the undergrowth. Despite their nocturnal nature Aardvarks are quite common in sub-Saharan Africa so you may well spot one in the late evening. However, the creatures are also quite shy. They will run as soon as they spot you and are surprisingly fast. So, if you do see one, you’ll need to be as quiet as possible and resist making sudden movements to get that photo.


Aardvark searching for food, one of the elusive animals in Africa. The Aardvark walks between grass

This funny animal, Aardvark has so far not crossed my path in bush! Photographs courtesy goes to @David


Panther – Black Leopard

By far one of the rarest animals to see in Africa your chances of seeing one in the wild are sadly quite close to zero. Many people are not aware that panthers are actually born due to a recessive gene referred to as Melanism. This gives the beautiful feline its black coat. A common misconception is that a panther is a type of cat species, but they aren’t. A panther can be a jaguar, a leopard or a cougar that has this recessive gene. Even safari guides will be lucky to spot one of these creatures.

If you want your best chance of spotting one in the wild, you need to head to the beautiful hills of Mount Kenya. Here, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of one of these cats roaming the jungle terrain.

Actually a picture of the one most Elusive Animals In Africa should be placed here – The panther, or better said a black leopard. Sadly to see this animal would be for me the lotto win. No picture available from my photo galleries. Also I have never seen a photograph so far of a black leopard in Africa, but in India.


Black Rhino

While not as rare as the last two female remaining Northern white rhinos, there are only five thousand black rhinos in the wild today. As such, they are considered to be critically endangered making them an unlikely guest appearance on your African safari. However, sightings do occur, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the rhino run. Despite their notable size, a black rhino can run at 55 km per hour and is quite aggressive. You certainly don’t want one to hit your jeep, that’s for sure! The difference between a white rhino and a black rhino is; a black rhino has a hooked upper lip and a white rhino has more a square lip.


Black Rhino standing in grassland in a Savannah, behind the animal grass. This is one of the Elusive African Animals

Black Rhinoceros, to find them is not an easy task, but when you know what to look for!


The Honey Badgers

Known to be fast and fearless, these creatures may also be camera shy as very few people actually spot one. This is perhaps due to their size. While the cute skunk-like creature takes on massive predators in the wild, it’s actually only small and burrows deep under the ground. As fearless the honey badgers are, they even attack snakes. Interestingly, if you’re looking to spot one of these little critters, you may want to head to the Kalahari. According to game rangers, this is the place where most sightings do occur.


Honeybadger walking in the grass, it is black with a white back stipe fur from the head to the end of the tail on top. One of the most elusive animals in Africa

One of the funny animals in my opinion, a Honey badger. It’s not often you see these little chaps, but in Botswana we saw some nearly every day on our Photo Tour.


African Wild Dog

Another endangered animal, there are only 2000 to 5000 African wild dogs living in Africa. The good news is that if you do manage to spot one, it’s likely that you’ll see a lot more. African Wild Dogs are a pack animal and where one goes as many as twenty more may follow. The African Wild Dog is a beautiful creature despite looking rather odd. With a bushy tail and big bat like ears, the unknowing adventurer may not even realise what they’re looking at spotting one in the wild. While known as a dog, the animal is actually close to a wolf and can be seen around sub-Saharan Africa. So, where can you spot these pack pooches?

Well, you may want to head to Savuti Chobe National Park around December and January. It is during this time that zebra migrate through the park. The wild dogs often show, hoping to get a meal out of the fresh food supply. Alternatively, you can head to Zimbabwe where you might see a few in Hwange National Park or Mana Pools.


african wild dog cubs fighting for food, they try to tear apart one piece of meat, behind them big branches. These are some of the elusive animals In Africa

African Wild Dog Cubs fighting over a piece of meat the pack has brought to them. Botswana


African Penguin

We bet you didn’t know there were penguins in Africa, but there are. This is the only type of penguin that lives and breeds in Africa. With a white underbelly and a black top, they do look like the typical penguins you’d find in colder climates. One noticeable difference would be the dark stripe over their chest. Sadly, the population of African penguins is declining due to oil spills and other environmental issues. However, you can still spot them dotted around Africa. The Western area of South Africa homes a significant percentage of their population.


African Penguins coming out of the ocean and walk along the sandy beach, behind them big rock boulders. These are some of the most Elusive Animals in Africa

African penguins coming back late afternoon from fishing in South Africa



Another rare creature to spot that safari guides have a hard time finding is the Pangolin. This creature looks like an anteater with scales. It can also be described as an aardvark with armour. When it’s threatened the creature will roll into a ball, and it looks rather incredible. It’s is most likely the inspiration for the Pokemon Sandshrew. These creatures are nocturnal and after multiple safari trips you probably still won’t have seen one. While they are hunted for meat, these animals are not endangered.


Pangolin searching for ants on the ground, this is one of the Elusive Animals in Africa

So far I have not seen any of the elusive Black-footed cat in Africa. Photograph courtesy “2630ben”


African Black-Footed Cat

Finally, the smallest wild cat living in Africa will hardly ever be seen by humans. The black-footed cat actually looks a lot like your typical domestic animal. However, its stripes and colours make it a rare beauty, and with only ten thousand in the wild, they are very hard to find. As well as this, the little cats are shy, nocturnal and live a life of solitude. Often referred to as the ‘anthill lion’ due to its ferocious nature and tiny if you are lucky enough to see one make sure you snap a photo. You’ll certainly have earned bragging rights if you do!

 Black footed cat stretching in grass, this is one of the elusive animals in Africa

Black-footed cat this is one of the most elusive animals in Africa. Photograph courtesy “wolfavni”


Photograph of Aardvark, Pangolin & Black-footed Cat

The photographs of an Aardvark, Pangolin and the black-footed cat are not from my photo library. I have bought them in nature agency for this blog post. So far none of these 3 elusive animals have crossed my path in Africa, sadly. I do hope they will some day. Every photograph is labelled with the photograph courtesy what I purchased. I am very sorry that never is the full name mentioned who took the photographs. It was just not given!

Did I wake your curiosity for Africa? The African landscape is just as amazing. This continent is a dream and when you get up early enough, you will see it’s upmost beauty it has to offer for you. African landscape pictures taken early morning, enjoy.

In my photograph galleries I also offer stock photographs to buy online. More info about to purchase pictures as photography prints.