Whether you’re a keen photographer, or a lover of wildlife, combining the two can become a challenging hobby. It involves not only knowing about cameras and photography techniques but also learning about your subject matter.
Enjoying a huge rise in popularity, wildlife photography can be immensely rewarding, and although it can take you on epic worldwide journeys to shoot the big five in Africa, unique species in the Brazillian rainforests, or exotic creatures in India, you can capture the wonders of nature much closer to home, and with a little skill, turn your images into something really special.
Unfortunately, wild animals rarely cooperate, and you can spend a whole day waiting and dreaming of that perfect photo, only to find the longed-for animal is a no-show, or you caught the tip of its disappearing tail.
So, how do the experts manage to get their awe-inspiring Wildlife Photography?
Know your Subject
If you’re trying to photograph a particular species, it makes sense to learn all about it. Capturing those fleeting magical moments rarely happen by chance, and while the natural world isn’t predictable, waiting to shoot badger cubs playing at dusk is not going to work if you’re sitting and observing a rabbit warren at dawn.
Learn your target’s habits – where they live, what they eat, whether they live in groups. Obviously, it helps if, at least for your early attempts, the animal lives fairly close to your base so you don’t have to travel too far. Study their behavior patterns, and observe their characters closely. Does big old father Brock exit the set first to test the air, or do the cubs tumble forth? What time do the foxes start using their well-worn trail? Which parts of the river hold the most interest, and food, for the swans? It pays to stay one step ahead if you can and means you and your camera will be ready the instant the picture presents itself.
However, it is important only to observe and not to interfere. If you are unsure how to be a responsible wildlife photographer, the North American Nature Photography Association have plenty of advice on their website.
Know Your Camera
The general consensus seems to be that SLRs or mirrorless cameras are the best choices for wildlife photography. It’s worth considering a weather-sealed model as you may well be out in all conditions and for long periods of time, in order to capture that award-winning shot. Find your favorite trail cameras at The Gadget Nerds
But, what else should your camera kit contain?
- Telephoto lenses are great for capturing shy wildlife and nervous birds. Zoom lenses allow greater photographic flexibility
- A tripod is a useful addition to balance long lenses; however, rocks, branches or your camera bag can work well if conveniently positioned. Remember, the longer the lens, the more support is needed to eliminate any potential blurring
- The use of a wide-angle lens can help to ‘frame’ your shot, by allowing the inclusion of the animal’s habitat
- If your target species is tiny, such as a beetle or small animal, a macro lens is a good idea
- A remote shutter release allows you to remain out of the way, minimizing any disturbance to the target. It is also great for long exposures when any camera movement will result in blurring
- Birds will often ignore a camouflaged shelter and carry on their normal behavior, unaware of the spy in their midst
Once you have your kit sorted, it’s crucial to become completely familiar with your particular camera. If you’re fiddling around with lenses or shutter speeds when your target is ready for its starring role, you’ve wasted a lot of time, and possibly taught the animal that it needs to hide from that dodgy character hanging around with a camera.
Learn about your model’s minimum shutter speeds and the margins for any in-built stabilization, play around with toggling between focus points or modes, and know just how far you can push your camera to achieve the perfect shot.
Know When to Break the Rules
Some of the best wildlife photos break all the rules of image composition.
The so-called Rule of Thirds states that, in order to take well balanced, interesting photos, your images should be mentally divided into 3 equal columns and 3 equal rows with the highlights of your composition placed on the intersections. Well, when you’re eye to the lens with a red squirrel, or something more exotic, does it really matter? And talking of eyes, classic photography rule #2 – use eye contact to bring the subject matter to life.
The idea is that you are attempting to capture the spirit and character of your animal, so why not have a wary and ready-to-flee animal, glancing away from the camera, signaling its desire to run, or a distant lone stag on a barren moorland with nothing else in the shot? Surely capturing this spirit and preserving it is more important than following rules?
Animals in their natural habitat, going about their daily lives are not going to wait around for you to take the perfect shot, and nor should they. A wildlife photographer generally wants to capture just that – life being wild.
Know the Light
Every day, every minute the natural light can change and it helps to be ready – as much as possible. Photography is painting with light, so why not use it to your advantage.
Know what time the sun rises and sets, when it is overhead, casting minimal shadows, and how it affects your images. The light at the rising and setting of the sun can create stunningly atmospheric shots, with longer shadows connecting one focal point to another, leading the eye. At noon, the light can appear harsh and direct, and with no shadows, animals, even if gathered together, can seem more individualized and independent from the group.
Know Your Point of View
Eye-level photos can create some really unusual perspectives. That’s the animal’s eye level, naturally. This may involve some pretty awkward positions from you, and obviously, there is a limit to what you can do. Tree dwelling birds, for example, are fairly hard to capture from their own eye level, but a wild pony is easier. Eye-level photography brings the sheer beauty of the animal into focus, you can truly see how it moves, how it thinks and how alive it is.
Experiment and Enjoy
Wildlife photography is a challenge, so experiment with all the options available and find what works for you.
Whether it be a close focus shot into the amber and green eye of a fox, capturing a single raindrop on a magpie’s flight feather, or into the mouth of a squawking blue tit chick, or a wide-angle image of a far distant Welsh stallion against the setting sun, and a barn owl hunting across moonlit fields, enjoy your photography!