Improve your photos with our expert help. Here are 10 quick wildlife photography tips to help you get your animal and bird photography off to a flying start…
Animals are so versatile: you can stroke them, you can eat them, you can take amazing pictures of them. You’ll be doing the latter, if you follow these 10 simple photography tips.
You’ll need to be in the right frame of mind if you’re going to stake it out for the best part of a day to get just one shot
1 Be prepared
Thorough research is a commendable discipline in most avenues of photography, but it’s essential for successful wildlife shots. There’s no point heading out to photograph swallows in January if they’ve all gone to Africa for the winter. The internet is an invaluable resource – you can learn a huge amount about your subject’s habits in a matter of minutes. A Google Images search can turn up lots of examples of the photographic possibilities at specific locations too.
2 Good ﬁeldcraft
Fieldcraft is a term that’s often associated with the military. It essentially adheres to the notion that one should ‘see without being seen’. The benefits of this motto to the wildlife photographer are obvious. When combined with a heightened sensory awareness, an understanding of animal behaviour and an ability to track, many of the skills, such as stealth, camouflage and cunning can make the difference between getting a shot or not. But don’t panic: a few basic skills and some common sense will stand you in good stead.
3 Wildlife photography equipment
For most wildlife photographers, long lenses are essential. With a long focal length such as 500mm you’ll be able to take frame-filling shots without getting too close, disrupting the natural behaviour of your subject or even scaring it off completely. Most 500mm lenses are expensive, so try a tele-converter – a relatively inexpensive device that will increase the focal length of your lens. Although image quality will suffer, a x2 converter will make a 200mm lens perform like a 400mm.
4 Stay local
While going on a wildlife safari in Africa might seem like an attractive option, it will also be expensive. But that doesn’t mean you need to hang up your camera. Local zoos and safari parks offer great opportunities for you to practice your skills. Attitudes to animal welfare have improved over the years, so you’ll often ind the animals in surroundings that are natural and conducive to good photographs. The key here is to decide whether you want the shots to include the zoo environment or just look ‘wild’. If the latter’s your aim, use a long focal length, select a wide aperture and get close to wire fences, in order to blur them out. Always check the background for distractions. Photograph zoo animals before they’re fed, so their faces appear clean. If you’re photographing captive birds that have had one of their wings clipped to prevent them escaping, shoot them from the other side.
5 Maintain eye contact
Photographs of animals should be treated like portraits – images that seek to express something of the subject’s character and personality. If you can get yourself into a position where it’s possible to engage with the animal and establish eye contact you’ll have a much better chance of getting a great shot.
6 Ditch the beep
Being discrete and blending into the surroundings using measured fieldcraft skills, camouflaged clothing and general all-round cunning are all essential when it comes to wildlife photography. But don’t go to all that effort and then blow your chances with a beeping camera alert or mobile ringtone. Make sure everything’s switched off before you start!
As well as keeping warm and dry, think about making yourself less visible. Camouflage clothing will help you to blend into the background, so you’re less likely to scare away unsuspecting wildlife. You can also buy camouflage lens wraps to hide your sparkly gear. A camouflage hide is the ultimate in luxury and especially popular with bird photographers.
8 Shutter speeds
Most wildlife shooting scenarios will benefit from a fast shutter speed, especially if you’re trying to capture an animal in action. As a general rule of thumb, try not to use a shutter speed slower than the focal length of the lens you’re using. For example, if you’re using a 200mm lens, keep above 1/200sec. That said, don’t be afraid to experiment – motion blur or movement might actually add to your shot.
9 Be careful where you crop
Don’t zoom into an animal so tightly that you end up cropping its legs at the knees or ankles – frame the shot above or below the joints. If you’re shooting a portrait, give the animal more space to ‘look’ into in the frame than behind it. The same ‘rule’ is good for action shots – allow more room in the frame for the subject to move into. When composing a bird portrait, consider leaving enough room in the frame to capture the full extent of flapping wings.
10 Be patient – and persistent
Some of the greatest wildlife pictures have taken days and sometimes weeks of enduring patience to capture. Even though most of us don’t have the luxury of this much time, patience is still an essential discipline and you’ll need to be in the right frame of mind if you’re going to stake it out for the best part of a day to get just one shot.