Saturday, 7 September 2013

Day 5.5: A Dazzle of Zebra

Zebras are fun, zebras are cute, zebras are mad, vicious and completely untamable. Above all, zebras make great photographs. But, a really good zebra shot is a bit harder to get.  There are so many factors that can make or break a good zebra shot.  Like human portraiture, I think the background is as important as the zebra subject.  So a shallow depth of field and zooming close in on the animal usually works well.
We found this small harem around a small lake/waterhole in Manyaleti reserve.  Zebras typically live in herds (other collective nouns for a group include: a dazzle, or a cohort) of up to 30. Their eyesight is excellent, as is their night vision and hearing. They whinny or bark if danger approaches.
They are also notoriously cranky animals (one good reason why they have never been successfully domesticated) so you often see them scrapping with other zebra in the harem - and they are rough with each other.

A typical zebra behaviour we noticed was that they love resting their heads in the dip of their neighbour's back - so it looks as though they are snuggling but I suspect it's because doing it gives them a better visual advantage in case danger approaches.  The birds are oxpeckers which crawl over the animal and  remove ticks and other bugs from the hide. Zebras (and giraffe and elephant and lion) put up with this invasion of personal space for good reason. The oxpeckers serve a very healthy cleansing role in the animal kingdom.
(I needed an oxpecker the other night when we discovered a tick buried in my shoulder - a gentle tug with some tweezers did the job - but an oxpecker went hungry...).


Panning is a technique where you choose a slow shutter speed and move with the subject shooting as you go to get a sense of motion. It is a bit hit and miss because the optimum shutter speed is dictated by the subject speed. In this example I used 1/5s @ f45 to get the right amount of movement. Any slower and the picture looks a mess. Faster and it is too sharp and you get no sense of motion.
Almost perfect symmetry. Natalie's clean shot of two female zebras.
(Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 + 2x Extender at 400mm.)
Another typically symmetrical shot
Wider shot of the dazzle showing typical stances resting heads on backs. It was almost as if they have been specifically posed for the shot.
I talk a lot about close-ups but even then, if the compositional elements do not come together the result might look a bit messy. One way to get a better shot is simply to keep shooting. Doesn't really matter if you end up with 200 shots is one of them is perfectly arranged. This shot is OK but not as tight nor as balanced an the others on this page...

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