Is there a secret to better wildlife photography? For those of you following the blog, you will know that Chris just spent a couple of weeks in South Africa with Journeys’ Unforgettable as a photo guide on their “Africa Big 5″ Photo Safari. Followed by a week in Alaska hosting a group to photography the grizzly bears. It’s easy to get great photos when you have an expert beside you offering tips and advice and providing hands-on tuition and guidance! But how about some user-friendly tips for the rest of us who haven’t had the chance to get alongside Chris on one of his Photo Tours?
The first thing you could do is watch Chris’s online tutorial here for some general advice on wildlife photography. Or more simple yet, I’ve listed below some basic tips and tricks to ensure your next wildlife photos are as good as they can be. Read on…
1. PREPARE: It’s no use heading off into the wilderness without some idea of what you might encounter, and how best to react when you do come face to face with the ‘local inhabitants’. Whether it be native bird-life, timid herbivores, or carnivorous predators; you should plan to photograph the animals you encounter in a way that is safe for you, for them, and for their environment. So this means doing a little bit of research before hand about the area, the animals you are likely to see there, and what their natural habits are.
2. EQUIPMENT: There are so many professional (and non-professional) photographers out there capturing amazing imagery on so many different cameras, don’t get sucked into the “I need this camera or that lens to be able to photograph wildlife”. Use the best equipment that you have access to, but more importantly, learn it well. When shooting wildlife you often don’t have time to be fiddling with unfamiliar camera settings. You should know your gear well enough so that you can focus on the creative process and make changes to your camera settings instantly and without thinking too much about it. Check your histogram to make sure your exposures are good, but then concentrate on shooting. You are more likely to capture the action when looking through your camera than you will when looking at the back of it!!
3. CONTENT: If you are shooting something exciting that you haven’t shot before, or an animal that is more likely to generate that “wow” factor simply because of what it is (maybe it is rare, exotic or dangerous), it is important to maintain your concentration and not get lost in the moment. It’s no use putting your camera on motor drive and shooting 100 frames of a pride of lions if the images are badly composed, poorly lit or without a specific focal point.
If you’ve done your preparation above, and are comfortable with your equipment, then you should be in a good position to retain your creative style as a photographer and plan your images more effectively. What angles can you use to emphasize important features about the animal – their size, the texture of their coat, their aggressive or passive nature? How is the lighting, could you improve your image by moving slightly to allow side lighting or back lighting to enhance the mood of your shot? Are there any environmental features you could include in your shot to better frame or compose the image? And artistically, what should you be including – and what should you be leaving out – in order to tell the best story about the animal you are photographing?
If you can allow yourself time to be creative then it is better to capture fewer images of better quality than a whole lot of average “snapshots”.
And lastly, just a few general comments:
- In most cases your focal point should be the animal’s eye. Even better if there is some catch light reflected.
- A longer telephoto or zoom lens will allow you to shoot tighter shots of the wildlife without impacting on the animal or its environment as much. This will also give you a shallower depth of field, often a nicer way to capture wildlife portraits by bringing the subject “out” from the background through selective focus.
- Most animals are more active early in the morning or late afternoon / early evening. This is also the time when you are most likely to get the best light for photography as well – the warm colours of the sun from a low angle, as well as good shadow definition, and maybe even some fog or mist to add drama.
- Look for graphical elements in your shots – groups of animals, or patterns and textures found in a single animal’s fur, coat or feathers.
- Don’t always freeze the action – you could also try slower shutter speeds for movement blur or to pan a running animal.
- Patience!! As they say, “hurry up and wait”. Be prepared to wait for the perfect shot, don’t be tempted to try and startle the animal or force it to behave in a specific way for your image. Not only will the animal’s behavior not look right in the final scene, but it could be dangerous.
Now go out there and practice!! Happy shooting…
All images copyright Chris McLennan.