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  • Writer's pictureRichard Duerksen

Photo Lessons from a Cheetah

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

I was visiting a friend who lives near Victoria Falls in Zambia when he suggested we drive over to the small Mukumi Lion Park. "I think they have a couple young cheetahs," he said. We went, and were ushered into a large fenced pen where two immature cheetahs were playing. They quickly included us in their play, even taking over a video camera to check out what we were doing.

Here's what I learned about photography from a day with my furry friends.

1. Be inquisitive

Great pictures come when you're genuinely interested in what's going on around you. Watch other photographers and "see" what they're seeing. Wait till the others are free and ask about their equipment. Most photographers are willing to share good ideas with interested listeners.

2. Be patient

Cheetahs are incredibly bad at this. They want to rush in, get the eye on the viewfinder, shoot, and run. That guarantees bad photographs. The alternative is to wait, for what you see right now will likely not be your best photo. The sun will come out, the storm will add a rainbow, the other cheetahs will growl menacingly, or a giraffe will wander through the background. Hang on and wait. The best is yet to come and you will be very sad if you give up early.

3. Take lots of pictures

It's possible that what you're seeing right now will be a winner! If you really like what's before your lens, push the shutter button. You're not using Kodachrome 64 and spending 30¢ or 40¢ per shot anymore. You have invested your life savings in the camera, so all your pictures are now "free!" Push the shutter button whenever the image looks good. Sort 'em out later.

4. Change the composition

Portraits are fine, but sometimes a side shot is better. If the model is sitting still, and your focal point is in the center, move things around. Remember the rule of thirds and place the model's eyes where the lines intersect. An off-center composition is often more pleasant to the viewer's eyes. Don't allow a tree to grow out of the model's head.

5. If the eyes aren't in perfect focus, the photo's no good

You may have 30 images of your cheetah brothers fighting over an impala lunch, but if their eyes are out of focus, you've got 30 poor pictures. Focus on the eyelashes and your photos have a better chance to be winners. No sharpening software can take the place of perfect focus.

6. Use a tripod

Sure, you're 45 and still have perfect balance and believe you can hand-hold a 600mm lens without shaking. But, show me your photos and we'll see where you're wrong. It's nearly impossible to hold a long lens steady and push a DSLR's shutter without fuzzing up the focus, especially on low light photos. The bucks you spend for a quality carbon-fiber tripod will bump your image quality from semi-pro to Pro.

7. Ask before you peer through someone else's viewfinder

This cheetah scared the videographer across the compound, out the gate, and into a waiting Land Rover!

Richard Duerksen

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