Variations on a Background Theme

Text and photos by Jon Hill, July 2005
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There are many people who would dispute the idea that photography is an art form. I think they feel that it is just a recording, that it doesn't involve enough brain creativity. Millions of point-and-shoot examples are readily at hand to prove their point.

But taking a picture and making a photograph are two different things. I am writing this during an extended trip to Tanzania, where I am trying to make photographs. I've been here before, in fact Ilived here for three years, so I am not really interested in simply recording what I see like many people on their first safari. I have pictures of the usual subjects already. I'm now trying to push the creative level of my picture making to something most people would consider "art".

On my last visit to Tanzania I made the lion photograph below. It has become my favorite lion image to date for a few reasons. First, I like the sense of depth in the photo, achieved by out-of-focus elements. Second, I like how the black parts of the lioness stand out amidst the distracting elements around them. This is how you look for lions in the bush, by these black markings. Third, I like the pallette. It is simple, almost monochrome, showing the connection of the animal to the environment, but with some green for accent. Finally, I really love the second lioness in the background. Many people don't see her at first and this makes them have a second look at the photo.

Just as painters and musical composers will experiment repeatedly with themes, I am also exploring a theme when the opportunities present themselves. My theme is putting another out-of focus animal in the background of my photos and trying to compose my shots with simple pallettes. Overall, I'm happy with the results of my purposeful theme exploration. The last photo, depicting a male impala, I regard as one of the finest, most artistic, photographs I have ever made.

As you look through your own images, do you have favorites? Have you taken the time to analyze them, to decide why you like them? Maybe you can find a photographic theme to explore yourself, and push your picture taking into the art realm.

"2 Lions", Ruaha National Park, 2003, Nikon D1H

"Lovebird Triangle", Ngorongoro Conservation Area, 2005, Nikon D70

"Butterfly", Mikumi National Park, 2005, Nikon D2X

"Elephants in Line", Serengeti National Park, 2005, Nikon D2X

"Waterbuck Mother and Fawn", Ruaha National Park, 2005 Nikon D2X

"Warthogs in the Burn", Mikumi National Park, 2005, Nikon D2X

"Impala Parts", Mikumi National Park, 2005, Nikon D2X

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