BY ANN AND ROB SIMPSON
Perhaps you recall exchanges with Looney Tune characters Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig in which the delineation between human and cartoon was blurred or even nonexistent. Who can forget the image of the tin man, cowardly lion and scarecrow skipping arm-in-arm with Dorothy down the yellow brick road toward Oz? Lewis Carroll’s pen has led many people through the looking glass into a dream world of a tardy white rabbit, smoking blue caterpillar and crafty Cheshire cat. Modern audiences have grown up with Big Bird, Roger Rabbit and other talking animals that teach and entertain their sponge-like minds.
These anthropomorphized characters walked, danced and stumbled their way into our lives, solidifying forever the notion that animals indeed could have humanlike qualities.
For a cartoon animator or a writer, the ability to create human-like characters from nonhuman animals and objects takes a playful imagination and the ability to convince the intended audience through words or drawings that the character has all of the emotions, feelings and reactions of a person.
Capturing a photo of an animal in the wild that portrays anthropomorphic characteristics is perhaps one of the most challenging of all photo assignments. No matter when, where or how you photograph animals, it is almost always just plain luck when you capture that one image that seems to say “I am human just like you.”
Photographs that convey anthropomorphism in animals can be some of the most captivating images created. Human emotions such as fear, happiness, surprise or anger appeal to audiences.
Studying animal behavior and anticipating movements and actions can be a key factor in stacking the odds in your favor for getting that perfect shot. If the deer walks away from you, keep your camera aimed, as it will often turn around for a quick, quizzical glance back. Also, watch for animals interacting with each other, especially the “greeting” nose touch, which looks quite similar to a “honey I’m home” kiss. Modern cameras and lenses have revolutionized photography with speed and image stabilization capabilities that allow you to get pictures that were next to impossible just 15 years ago.
Just as in writing, attention to detail is important with photography. Eyes are the single most important feature of any animal (or human). A tack-sharp eye, or lack thereof, can make or break the quality and effectiveness of your image. Place the camera’s focusing square on one eye of your subject. If the eyes are not in the same plane, make sure to choose the closer eye on which to place the focusing square.
All cameras have different methods to control the focus. Besides the common (but often boring and confusing) task of “reading your camera manual,” you can also go to YouTube and search the model of your camera and the words “auto focus.” Continuous focus or AI Servo auto focus mode on your camera is useful for moving subjects, while the focus mode called “one shot” is best for recomposing portraits. Position yourself carefully so that highlights of the reflection of the sun catch the light in the animal’s eye.
Sometimes it all comes together at the right time and right place but you have to be prepared. With nature photography, patience is not only a virtue, it is a necessity.
No reward is greater than capturing that perfect shot that says it all. Just as famous lines such as “Call me Mr. Ed”, “What’s up doc?” or “That’s all folks!” will forever have nostalgic meaning for those of us who grew up with these humanized characters, you can create wildlife photos that imaginatively pluck loudly with recognition at the heartstrings of your audience. ♦
— Ann and Rob Simpson are nature photographers and authors of numerous books mostly about national parks. They have traveled extensively to photograph some of the earth’s rarest animals, plants and habitats. Their photos have a sense of place and show how we as humans fit into the environment.
BY ANN AND ROB SIMPSON