Tag Archives: Guest post

The Explosion! – by Ashley Vincent

As some of you may be aware, my photo “The Explosion!” recently won first place in the nature category and was also chosen as the Grand Prize winner of the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. I am at a loss to find one single adjective that most accurately sums up the amount of joy that I felt upon receiving this news, but I can say that underlying all those wonderful emotions lay a feeling of complete surprise; certainly I dreamed a few times of my picture being awarded some sort of recognition and even toyed with the thought of what it might feel like to actually win, but I never seriously considered anything more than the possibility of perhaps an honorary mention.

As it happens, I don’t generally look to enter my photos into contests, but not long before National Geographic opened the doors to their last one, I was looking through an old issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine (actually from February 2008; my name is Ashley, I like to hold onto things!) and was drawn once again to an article titled “How To Win: An Insider’s Guide” written by the Chairman of The Judges, Mark Carwardine. The article was promoting the opening of the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and made for a very interesting read. For all that the author wrote though, one particular point he made struck more of a chord than everything else put together: “There is one key ingredient – originality. The judges are looking for something that stops them in their tracks.”


Whether coming across that old magazine may be considered kismet, serendipity, or perhaps even providence, in retrospect I feel this was no mere chance, as Mr. Carwardine’s words sprung to mind upon seeing the announcement of National Geographic’s 2012 contest, and a mental picture of “The Explosion!” immediately followed that. I like to think I have more than a few striking images in my portfolio, but if there is one with stand out potential for “stopping people in their tracks” more than any other then this would have to be it, which is what spurred me on to taking a chance and entering it into the contest!




Sadly, a very small minority of people were not exactly thrilled with National Geographic’s choice of “The Explosion!” as the winner of the nature category and, thereby, the overall winner of the contest, for the simple reason that they feel a captive animal should not be considered part of nature. Of course it has been suggested by more than a few that those indigent parties are motivated primarily by feelings of jealousy and I have been told not to pay attention to any such thoughts that have been publicly aired, yet I have to admit it is a little irritating to think that already now, and perhaps for years to come, whenever anyone searches something like “Nat Geo photo contest controversies”, pages debating my picture will come up; even though no one has accused me of deception, by simple virtue of the fact that a few people have, to my mind, needlessly thrown up a question mark over the validity of “The Explosion!” winning a nature photo contest, the win will always be mildly tainted.

In at least one regard I am like anyone else that is not employed by National Geographic and has never been invited to sit in on board or director’s meetings where matters such as what National Geographic is really all about and the directions they choose to head in, so I cannot lay claim to understanding their motivations behind anything they do. As a hopeful entrant, the only logical step I could make to understand the parameters of this contest was to read and digest their terms and conditions, and I did. Which is why to begin with I couldn’t comprehend how anyone would have anything negative to say about “The Explosion!” being chosen as the winner, as most anyone that read the terms and conditions, with an unbiased mind, would surely have to agree “The Explosion!” adheres to all the rules laid out.

Then it dawned on me: This great disappointment some people experienced is based upon their misconception of what National Geographic is all about; they love reading articles and seeing documentaries featuring explorers who brave the elements and only after extreme hardships and many years come up with something no one has ever seen or heard of before. As it happens, having been an avid fan of National Geographic for many years myself, I love this sort of coverage too … but I also greatly appreciate National Geographic’s diversity when it comes to featuring the work of Joel Sartore, for example, who for me has always been an enormous source of inspiration and evidently is just as content to capture compelling photos of animals in captivity as those he may come across in the wild.

In fact, Mr. Sartore is one of my heroes, and when I grow up I want to be just like him! Seriously folks, those that have gotten to know me at least a little will readily tell you how passionate I am not just about capturing images that make you go “Wow!” but in my hope to make a difference; to have the viewer feel a connection with the subject that will hopefully compel at least a few to want to help in whatever way they can to protect our natural heritage; this is my greatest dream, this is my principal aim. While I may be way behind Mr. Sartore when it comes to experience and achievements toward this end, he is one my most influential sources of inspiration, and in much the same way I was not afraid to pursue my dreams of becoming a professional wildlife photographer, despite pretty much everyone I knew at the very least offering doubtful looks when I told them, I continue to dream and actively work toward making a difference to some degree the way that Mr. Sartore does.

For those of you who are perhaps unfamiliar with Joel Sartore, his marvelous work, and his ongoing endeavors to make a difference, I think you will find this 15-minute video interesting and highly enlightening.

Explaining in part why he regards pets, domestic, and captive animals as all being “wildlife” and the importance photography of such subjects plays in his work, he asks this question, “How do we talk to people in an ever-distracted world with no time for anything except for what they see on their cell phone at a stop light? That’s the news they’re gonna’ get today on the way into work.”

I guess the point I am trying to make is, contrary to the so-called “purist” mentality that pictures of captive subjects have little or no value, or at least are in some way inferior to photographs of animals captured in their natural habits, with the benefit of a broader perspective this is not the case at all, and I feel those that attempt to discount photographs of captive animals are doing a great disservice, not only inasmuch as discouraging budding photographers who may not have the time or resources to travel to exotic locations, but in potentially snuffing out hopes and aspirations of people that, with more encouragement and inspiration, could possibly go onto follow in the steps of someone like just like Joel Sartore.


It’s possible I may never succeed in my endeavors the way that Mr. Sartore has, but I’m not attempting to outdo his work; my aim is to pick up his lead and, in my own way, contribute as much as I can. Not much more than two years ago all I really had was a dream, a burning desire to achieve that dream, a plan of action, and bundles of enthusiasm, oh and a camera as well! What I’m trying to say is, if anyone out there is still reading all this and thinking, “Yeah, it’s OK for you, you’ve just won that Nat Geo thingy … ” for me this isn’t about winning a photo contest, but what I may be able to do now with the recognition I’ve gained to help me accomplish more of my primary goals, which are to help bring about an even greater awareness of Mother Nature’s wonderful gifts, raise levels of empathy to the point that at least a few are inspired to make a difference that will help protect and conserve our planet’s animal populations, and to further inspire anyone who shares my passion for wildlife photography and sees a value in doing likewise.

In summary, dare to dream, pay no attention to discouraging words, be inspired by those that are showing you a way, and take steps on the path toward making your dreams a reality.


Thank you for your time and wishing you all the positive things you could wish for!

Ashley Vincent


You can find more of Ashley’s work on 500px, his webiste and FaceBook page.



As photographers we are meant to be storytellers. Or so we’re told – by Stephen Earle

I have always felt that the best nature photographs are those that capture the viewers’ attention and hold it because they are interested in the subject and the story behind the frame. When the photographer manages to show such a scene in an artistic way, the photo comes alive.

Regardless of artistic merit though, I take great pleasure from those photographs of mine were someone asks: “So what happened next?” This happens quite often and even more so when you display your work on the internet in forums where viewers participate by way of comments.

Guy asked me to do a guest post for this blog after a photograph of mine recently caused us both to smile at the reaction it generated on a particular photography forum. It illustrates, I think, the importance of context when telling a photographic story.

The picture below was made in the Kruger national park and shows what seems to be a rather angry and aggressive male lion with its teeth barred and an icy stare at the camera. The image was viewed almost nine thousand times on this particular site and more than 200 people commented on it.

Here are some of the comments:

OMG Stephen. Are you still alive? 🙂 What a fantastic picture! I do like it!”

“Excellent capture..I cannot imagine what the damage would be if he caught you..Scary stuff! Looks damn mean..”

“WOW!! I can imagine that other people/creatures who got this look, didn’t have the chance to tell afterwards. Amazing!”

“Stephen, this is crazy, hope you weren’t to close and this look wasn’t directed towards you. :)”

“Yeah, that’s an attention-getter, all right. If it were me, I’d be thinking that 700mm might not be quite enough!”

“This is how you define Anger !!”

It’s clear that a lot of these people obviously thought that this lion was in an extremely aggressive mood and that somehow that anger was directed at me. Some, it seems, even thought that my life could have been in danger as I’m sure in their minds eye they saw a crazy photographer lying about somewhere in the bush pointing his lens at an enraged cat.

This is an illusion of course. The truth is much less dramatic.

I was on a Sunday drive through the park in my cozy, air-conditioned 4×4 vehicle when we came across two mating lions. In the vehicle with me was my two kids, aged five and six. It was midday when we first saw them so I decided to drive around some more in search of other opportunities and to return later when the light was better.  Mating lions are pretty predictable and usually don’t move far once they’ve found a good spot. They also mate several times at regular intervals over the course of a couple of days. So, it was no surprise when we returned a few hours later to find them sleeping in the same spot. There was another vehicle at the sighting and I found out that they mated about twenty minutes before we arrived. Knowing that another mating was imminent I thought it worthwhile to stick around for some shots.

Anyone who has seen lions mating knows that the process last less than a minute and that the female displays aggressively towards the male right at the end. The male often returns this aggressive display.  This behavior is what I wanted to photograph. The pair was lying in some thick vegetation about fifteen meters from the road and I realized that a wider shot showing the whole scene would probably not work. To me there was only one shot that might work and that was a close-up of the lion’s faces right at the moment of their “aggression” at the end of the mating process.

Unfortunately, once they decided to mate they moved to a position from where a photograph was impossible as it happened behind a small tree and I couldn’t reposition my vehicle in time. I decided to wait for the next mating and found a spot from where the only possible shot through the intruding grass could be made, if they decided to mate in the exact spot I predicted it would happen. I set myself up for a close-up shot of what I hoped would be the heads of the female and the male, in one frame, teeth barred and snarling as the mating ended.

We then waited for an hour and sixteen minutes and during that time the most dangerous part of the events occurred. Anyone who has tried to keep two kids occupied in a vehicle while their father waits for over an hour for a photograph would immediately agree with me. I blocked or defused at least four fights, cleaned at least two cool drink spills and averted four or more attempts by my son to download a new game onto my iPad from the app-store.

Luckily the lions cooperated perfectly and moved into the exact spot I predicted when they finally mated and I managed to get a few frames. Naturally, as things go in wildlife photography you seldom get everything you wish for and in this instance the female decided not to display aggressively at all. This meant that there was no frame where both their heads where close enough together for that tight interaction shot and while I tried to get both lions in the shot, I ended up cutting an ear or part of the head in most.

Somewhat disappointed, I reviewed the images later that night and came upon the frame above. The original full frame version is below.

I liked (and still do) the full frame version but on reflection it became obvious how the story could be altered if I decided to crop the frame a little tighter, which I did. By removing the context all of a sudden the picture took on a whole different meaning and it is no wonder that viewers with little or no experience of these animals made the comments they did. The fact that I never described the circumstances around the pic obviously perpetuated the illusion.

Sure this is a wild lion captured in its natural environment. Yes, I would probably not have approached it on foot without at least some backup. Was I ever in danger or did my kids bat an eye-lid while this scene played itself out? No. Was it angry and in a killing mood? No, it was probably quite irritated however at having a lens in its face during such a passionate moment. Would it have had the same impact if the original context was displayed? Probably not.

If you are new to wildlife photography, there are a couple of things that one can learn from these events that may help you the next time you’re out there.

  1. Patience is crucial. If you’re not prepared to wait for the right scene and the right light, you’re probably going to end up with no shot or a mediocre one.
  2. If you have time, plan your shot in advance. Evaluate the scene and think about the photos you want to make and why you want to make them.
  3. It’s your photograph, you can add or remove context as you wish.
  4. Position in photography is critical. At the end of the day all you can do is point your lens in a direction and trip the shutter. Make sure that you anticipate any action that may ensue and plan your position accordingly. You might just get lucky.
  5. Never ever let your five year old son see your app.-store password!

Stephen Earle

Stephen’s website

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