Wildebeest Migration, Busanga

Critique Style Requested: In-depth

The photographer has shared comprehensive information about their intent and creative vision for this image. Please examine the details and offer feedback on how they can most effectively realize their vision.

Self Critique

I was entranced by the dreaminess of this scene – the very dense haze that the distant woodlands receded into, and the almost-ghostly line of slowly-plodding wildebeest making their way to water. But when I processed the image, it seemed that the wildebeest are so small that this might not make a good animal scape of the great Busanga Plain. They also seemed to be too indistinct without at least jacking up the clarity on them. I did, but I’m still left wondering whether this is a successful image.

Creative direction

I am attempting to depict the wide-open plains of southern Africa, at the height of the dry season – the smoky haze that covers much of the continent; the oppressive heat; the parched landscape; and the great empty distances that animals must migrate to survive the changing seasons (or even the changing climate).

Specific Feedback

Aesthetic: is this image just too dull, monochromatic, dreary? Are the wildebeest just too small for this image to work as an animal scape?
Conceptual: How well does (or does not) the image convey the creative intent? Wildlife photographers generally want to tell stories with our images, but I’d really like this image to convey the story without needing an accompanying description. I may be asking too much of it.
Emotional: Your reaction, please – does this even grab your attention, or is it a bust?
Technical: I want to convey the huge sky, but perhaps the image would do better with less sky (more of a panoramic crop) instead?

Technical Details

Canon 5D Mark IV, EF 500mm L IS USM Mark I @ 1/2000th, f/4.0, ISO 400. Manual, + 1 2/3 EV.


A herd of Blue Wildebeest trek across the Busanga Plain of Kafue National Park, Zambia. It’s mid-morning, at the height of the dry season, just before the rains begin. The sky here, like much of southern Africa at this time of year, is extremely hazy from a combination of agricultural burns and dust carried on the winds across the parched land. Herd animals such as wildebeest and elephants must travel great distances for water as the flood plains dry up. The land and haze both seem to swallow up everything – it’s a huge, seemingly empty landscape.


Hi Michael! This image grabbed my attention right away! I love the dusty look to the vast landscape. And the wildebeest even though they are far away stand out well. Really, most animals that any of us are privileged to spot in the wild are usually pretty far away. I do think that a pano crop to take out some of the sky would really bring it up a notch and bring the animals closer. But it wouldn’t lose the vastness of the landscape. I could definitely see this really big on a wall. It’s stunning in my opinion.

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Thank you Vanessa. That’s encouraging, because I’ve been thinking about it as a large print. Best regards – Michael

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Hi Michael, :slight_smile:

I really like this!
No, I don’t feel that the image is too dull or dreary, nor do I feel that the Wildebeest are too small in the scene.

Actually, I feel this particular image stands very well on it’s own merits without a backstory, it’s a typical story of Wildebeest migrating for whatever reason, be it food, mating or water.
The strong smoky atmosphere along with the vast expanse seems to be creating a heatwave which makes this appear more like a painting than a photographic image.

It does grab my attention in a positive way and my emotions are quite high because of the vastness which to me shows how vulnerable they are, it conveys the delicate balance between life and death for these animals (be it lack of food, lack of water or being targeted by lions for their food).
It appears that there are three calves in the herd and that adds a certain tension because lions typically target the young ones first.

I completely understand the desire to include that huge sky but for me, I agree with Vanessa that the image might benefit from less sky, I’m thinking maybe losing the top 1/3rd of the image would make this a stronger image overall but as always, that’s just my personal opinion.

The added clarity on the Wildebeest was a good choice in my view!

Personally, I think this is a winner in all regards!
And to me, this is a great wide shot that compliments the other more intimate images of the lioness’ you’ve presented already. This gives the viewer a better idea of where the more intimate shots were taken (its a good supporting representation of the environment for the other images). :slight_smile:

I’m not sure how to convey my thoughts on backstories in a way that makes sense but I’ll try.
Every image you have posted so far needs no backstory, they all tell a story as presented.
For me, I need a story even if I have to make one up, and to be honest, I think we all make up our own stories in some way and to some degree.
Again, to me, if there’s no story, imagined or told by the author, its just a picture with no emotions.
I might be wrong but I think that most of us make up backstories without even realizing it.

And again, for me, I prefer hearing the author’s story, not so much for an accurate representation, but more for the purpose of understanding the experience the author had at the time of capturing the image, and mostly because I want to imagine what it was like to have been there myself in person.
Just consider backstories a “Merv thing only”. No backstories are required.
I don’t know how to say it in a way that makes more sense.

Merv, it makes perfect sense to me. A long-time photography friend makes abstract images, and they’re so abstract that their only stories are the ones that viewers create for themselves. Yet every time I see one of his pieces, my mind immediately and automatically begins imagining a scene and a story to make a personal sense of the image! His work just sucks me right into it. So, yeah, I agree with you: every picture tells a story – even when the photographer has no story to tell.

I guess photographers of other genres may have it a little easier than wildlife photographers – we have so much less ‘control’ over our subject, and such fleeting moments to capture an image, that the backstories become very important. Usually I’m pretty confident that my images will convey the important elements of stories on their own – but I don’t do animal scapes very often, so I wasn’t as sure of this one.

I’ll be cropping this image for the final print. I really enjoy reading your critiques and thoughts on photography, Merv. And thank you for always being so forthcoming and encouraging! This is why I joined the NPN. Best – Michael

Thank you, Michael, I’m just happy to have the opportunity to view and comment on your work.
I find it very compelling and emotional, especially when I can imagine myself in the scene. :slight_smile:

Thanks! :slight_smile:

Hi Michael !
I second the good suggestion from @Vanessa_Hill to go pano !
This looks like a water color painting, you may darken the Wildebeest.
Was this image taken during summer, it seemed to be affected by heat waves emitted from ground?


I think that it’s actually quite an arresting image Michael, it grabbed my attention as soon as I saw it. The trees shrouded in mist and the only just distinct hills in the background add to the etherial feel. I think k that it works well in colour. I do like the crop, but a pano could also be interesting.

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Hi Jagdeep, you’re spot-on! It was hot, hot, hot; and the heat waves were dramatic. They definitely affected the overall visibility, even at close distances (and these wildebeest were far away). I wasn’t even sure if the image would work when I took the shot, but at the time I was thinking that the image might work on stretched canvas. Now I’m wondering whether it might work on a good matte paper – maybe Hahnemuhle 308 or similar. What do you think? And thank you for your advice re: Pano.


Hi Ryan, thank you for your kind thoughts. I’m really glad to hear you use the word, “ethereal.” I think that fits my vision of it in the field quite well! I’ll be making a test print at the full 3:2 aspect ratio, but I’m pretty sure that this will benefit from a pano AR for the final print. Thanks again for sharing your reaction, and best regards – Michael

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Michael: I’m late to the party on this one. As for grabbing my attention, it surely does and deservedly so. My only nit is that the volume of space that the featureless sky takes up diminishes the wildebeest too much for my taste. As such, my preference would be for a pano with about half the sky presently seen. I think that would still show the environmental conditions without losing the impact of the animals in the scene.


Hi Richard, I’ve been away for a bit so I’m only just seeing your kind comment this morning – thank you! And thanks also for the specific suggestion on how much sky to crop/leave. I actually haven’t finished this image yet, in part because of my indecisiveness about the crop. So I do appreciate your still-timely suggestion! Best regards – Michael