How to photograph a zebra on World Zebra day

Victoria Nuttall-Smith

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The plains zebra is a long-standing guest favourite at MalaMala, but getting the perfect shot can be tricky.

Here are a few tips for enhancing your captures of this dazzling creature:

  1. Be patient. You might have a vision of where you want to be, but if you race into position, you risk startling them. Zebra herds on MalaMala are usually relaxed and unphased by our presence. Still, the best way to ensure you are in the best position and proximity is to slowly reduce the distance between yourself and the zebra in small, respectful increments. And if they move, don’t panic; there will always be another opportunity.

  2. Think about how you want to compose your picture. The composition of a picture tells a visual story, while an un-composed image is only evidence that you saw a zebra. Zebra stripes are marvellous for bringing symmetry and depth to a photograph; zoom right in and make the pattern the focus. Or, apply the rule of thirds, where you position the zebra in a third of the space, preferably not the middle third, as this seldom holds the attention or sparks a viewer’s imagination.

  3. Light is your friend; use it. If you use light well, it adds to the ambience of a picture, creating the mood. On safari early morning and late evenings bathe the animals in a warm hue, while midday light will create harsher shadows and bright highlights (perfect for a black and white hi-key edit).

  4. Focus on their behaviour. Zebras are immensely animated animals, frequently frolicking, biting, grooming, and kicking one another. Capturing one of these behaviours will add to the intrigue of your photograph.

  5. Zebras are often found in beautiful vistas. Capitalise on the unique African landscapes by making the background a subtle feature in your photo. Look for leading lines in the landscape to draw one’s eye towards the subject. After all, a zebra picture without context could just as well have been taken in a zoo.

  6. Have fun, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Many circumstances will dictate the outcome of your photograph. If you don’t nail it this time, you will have learnt valuable lessons for next time.

Travelling to MalaMala