The perfect shot

Camera chronicles

The perfect shot

A photograph may or may not tell a story, but it has the unique ability to freeze time. It takes you back to the exact hour when you took the picture, the precise minute when the light and shadows were perfect, the split second when the composition was impeccable, and the special time you captured a spectacular moment in history.

And for award-winning photographers like Jill Sneesby, every photograph also reminds her of all the hours that went into taking that faultless shot. It could have been several hours crouched in a watering hole in a game reserve, or kneeling in a hidden bunker, or following an elephant track through the dusty plains of a national park for several days. No task is too long or too arduous for a photographer who is besotted with her subject.

On the wild side

Loving wildlife as much as she does, Jill is always in the quest of the flawless photo. It could be an elephant in majestic stride across the Kalahari, or a golden giraffe raising its statuesque neck to the sun, or a white rhino breaking into a run across the long grass. She manages to capture these magnificent animals on her camera after many hours of patient waiting, but even after so many years, the chase has never lost its magic.

Jill’s love for photography goes back to her days as a child when she would wander through the parks in South Africa, which is her home, and take as many photographs as she could. “My first picture was one that I took of a cheetah with its baby. The cheetah happened to come onto the road where I was standing and I was able to capture it on my camera. It was accepted by a salon and that was a very happy moment for me. Later I joined a photographic society to learn more about the subject.”

Her mentor was Barrie Wilkins, a world famous photographer who taught her all the ropes of the profession. There is so much to love about photography, but for Jill, the best thing about her chosen profession is the fact that you can capture a beautiful shot in the flash of a second, and years later when you look at it, you will be transported once again to the place you visited and how you felt at that moment.

Today, Jill is an internationally-renowned award-winning, professional wildlife photographer. She travels extensively to take photographs, judges various competitions and give lectures at various places like The Photographic Society of South Africa, the International Wildlife Convention in Kruger National Park, South Africa and the Photographic Society of America Conference in Albuquerque, USA.  

Jill has also held many photography exhibitions and has won many international awards and medals. She was the winner of the inaugural Africa Photographic Awards. Her repertoire of photographs is vast, but when she is asked which of her photographs she considers her favourite, she says, “One of my best photos is one that I took in Etosha National park in Namibia. There was a mare that was chasing a baby zebra and we were not sure if it was going to survive. As a photographer, I know that each zebra is different and that no two zebras have the same stripes. Later I got a picture of a zebra family and I saw that it had the same stripes as the zebra that had been injured. It is one my favourite pictures till date.”

Keeping up with time

Jill loves digital photography because she is now able to shoot and re-shoot pictures, unlike in the past. “Getting a good photograph is a split second thing because it is only at one moment that everything turns out just right,” she explains. “In the old days, you could achieve the perfect shot only with a lot of practice and trial and error, but today you can do so easily with a digital camera.” Even today, Jill loves taking photos of people on the street because she loves the way people react to a camera. “But it need not be a face that you need to photograph to get an award-winning picture. For instance, you could take the picture of the back of a girl and without seeing her face you can make out whether the girl is happy or not because of the movements in the photograph that you can see. The girl in the picture can portray happiness because her skirt is flying or her arms are swinging. So, you see, with skill, you can capture the entire mood of a moment and the emotions that are running through that moment,” she says.

But, taking interesting photographs is not as easy as it looks. There are many difficulties too. “In a video, an animal can go behind a tree or be in motion and the footage is still telling a story. But in still photography — you only have that one minute to get the perfect shot,” she says.

Jill has judged ­many international competitions and is active in the administration of photography and serves three different international societies. When she is not working, she loves to cook Italian or Indian food for her friends and family, but her work keeps her busy most of the time. She is the president of the Photographic Society of South Africa, the first ever lady president of the Society and the chair of the honours division. Her achievements and assignments don’t end there. She also has a place on the Board of the Photographic Society of America, is the vice-president of International Relationships, and is the FIAP liaison officer for both South Africa and the Photographic Society of America.

Ask her if she prefers black and white photographs to colour and she explains that though she loves capturing colour, she likes the way black and white pictures are so creative that they can look like art. And though the usage of Photoshop has changed photography to a large extent, it is a necessary tool. “It helps you create a certain dimension to some photographs,” she says, adding, “But you must use this tool carefully.”

According to this highly-talented photographer, it is important to be taught photography because, like in any profession, it is mandatory to know the basics of your subject. Her advice to young photographers is to study the craft well. She says, “You can, in fact, learn photography on the Internet as it can be easily self-taught. Learn the basics first, like exposure, camera speed and how much your camera can do. Try and go to as many photographic workshops as you can or join a camera club. Keep learning all the time. Above all, be camera ready at all times, and always listen to the experts.”

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