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!”

This Photograph Will Make You Cry and This One Smile

Animals Feel Emotions


When selecting a photograph to decorate your home or office, you should consider this carefully. What message do you want the viewer to receive? Today, I am going to discuss emotion, specifically animal emotion, and how the animal emotion transposes to the viewer of your art décor photography. It’s a fascinating subject!

Brown fur seal caught in a fisher net, sitting on a rock. Animals feel emotions

It is an unfair, but true, fact that most wildlife is at the mercy of human behavior. I am particularly drawn to photograph that reflect our impact on the natural world. I believe that my photography can help facilitate change. • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


Do animals feel emotions?

I think there is no denying that the fur seal cub above is distressed, and its face reflects that feeling.

He was poised on this rock among thousands of sea lions. He was the one poor fella trapped in the remnants of a fishing net. Unfortunately, there was nothing that I could physically do for this fur seal pub. But it is my hope that spreading this photograph around the world will raise awareness. If you wish, you can also spread the word. Click here for a photo print.

There is much press about fishing nets and the sea turtle. Fur seals are also quite affected, as their natural food source is fish: the same fish that is caught up in the net.

In my private photo workshops, I spend time discussing how to capture the emotions of animals. The ability to capture emotion is what separates a rather bland wildlife photograph from one that will reach out and touch many viewers’ hearts.

Lioness and her cub are bonding together, the paws touch each other and both look into the sky

Is it love? Is it an emotional connection? When you observe wildlife caressing each other, and showing a sense of attachment, and you capture that within your photograph; you have something special! • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


I like to study the wildlife that I photograph. I believe that the more I understand them- the better my wildlife photography will be. One resource that I really like is called: This resource is filled with interesting animal facts. While reading an article on their website- I learned a few interesting facts about animal emotion…

Fact #1

Joy, grief, anger, jealousy… Scientists increasingly believe that animals feel emotions just as humans do. Plus, emotions play a critical role within their lives.

snow monkey portrait, monkey is sitting in the water with mist around it looking into the camera

I couldn’t say for sure what emotion this snow monkey in Japan was feeling. Yet, the eyes are emotive. If I were to guess, I would say loneliness, as he was alone in this pool of water. • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


Fact #2

An emotional reaction differs from a sensation. Whereas a sensation may cause an animal to turn and run in the other direction when it feels the heat of fire. An emotional reaction would likely occur if a male lion approached one of the female lions in another male’s pride. Yes! That could be quite emotional. A fight most likely will happen!

lioness is smelling something, side view of the head of animal with animals open mouth showing her teeth

Is this lioness experiencing an emotion, or the reaction to a sensation? The more that I study the animals that I photograph… the better I get at identifying and anticipating their emotions. • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


Fact #3 (and a most interesting one)

Emotions, in animals, was first described by Charles Darwin in 1872. He described emotions as stereotyped facial expressions and bodily postures within specific contexts. He also explored the expression of emotions not only by humans, but also by cats, dogs, horses and other animals. He observed similarities between human and non-human animal expressions in line with his theory of continuity between species. It goes without saying that his conclusions were quite controversial.

two zebras fighting in the rain, both animals feel emotions, stand on their back legs trying to bite each other

These two zebras were fighting in the rain. It was indeed my opinion that it seemed personal! • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


I am of the view that most assuredly animals can and do experience emotions. I have witnessed it too many times to doubt this. Plus, animals have a very high social order. Social order is a system of structure, inter-relationships, values, and practices, which maintain patterns of behavior. Human examples of social order include government, marriage, customs, sports, and entertainment. Wildlife forms groups with a social order.

There is always a lead goose in the V flying formation. Some wildlife mates for life, and will mourn the loss of their partner. Animals play together! See the similarity? As a wildlife photographer, it is important to you to learn how to capture the emotion of your animal subjects. When you are successful… the emotional energy is transferred to the viewers of your wildlife photography. This makes them want to buy your photographs and hang them on the walls of their offices or homes. It gives them feeling, which they enjoy, or perhaps they want to influence the emotional context of someone else? A dentist or doctor may wish to hang a series of playful or calm wildlife photographs in their offices, because it puts the patients at ease!

The quiet and soothing emotion displayed by this male lion is almost relaxing enough to put you to sleep right on the spot! • Photograph by Anette Mossbacher


How do you learn to anticipate and capture emotion in wildlife?

First of all you must study their species. Learn their habits. Taking a workshop with someone such as myself is a fantastic way to speed up that process. However, you must know that this learning is a lifelong activity. That’s a huge part of what makes it so fun and interesting! There is always something to learn.

The second key factors to capturing emotion in wildlife photography are developing your sense of anticipation and timing. You learn the behaviors. Then, you must be patient and observant. If you know your subject, and you have developed your ability to “see” (a.k.a. anticipation and timing), you will capture amazing emotional photography out there in the wild. I’d like to personally invite you to take a virtual walk through my gallery. Perhaps, you will be touched by emotion. I hope so. If you would like to learn more about wildlife photography- please reach out to me here.