10 Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography - Digital Photography School

10 Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography

A Guest Post by Wildlife Photographer – Morkel Erasmus

wildlife

Ever since digital SLR technology has become more readily available, more and more people have become photography enthusiasts, and more and more photography enthusiasts have started venturing into a genre previously reserved for only a select few…Wildlife Photography. It seems that this field, in conjunction with Landscape Photography, has really seen a huge growth spurt in these last few years…at least as it pertains to the amount of people practicing them as serious hobbyists or budding professionals. This is especially true in my native country of South Africa, where it’s long been many a family’s tradition to visit legendary self-drive safari locations such as the Kruger National Park. Having neighbouring countries like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe also doesn’t affect this trend negatively!

Yet, spend some time on your favourite online photography forum (at least those that allow the posting of photos) or on other sites like Facebook, Google+ or Flickr where photo-sharing is common…and you might notice that not every photo taken of a wild animal really speaks to you. I’m not sure whether many folks just snap away and hope the image comes out half-decent, or whether many just think that they’re doing their subjects justice when the truth cannot be further from it. Let me say outright that no offence is intended and I also take photos that fall into these categories – in fact I do it on every photographic trip that I undertake. Yet, it’s stepping beyond that and getting that rare image that ticks all the right boxes that we all need to strive for, and to be prepared when the opportunity comes along to capture it.

Zebra_Fight.jpg

In today’s article, I will attempt to provide you with some easy-to-apply tips or advice for improving your Wildlife Photography. Some of them might seem like common sense, and you’ve probably read a similar list of “how-to’s” elsewhere, but remember that common sense is not so common at all these days and that everyone has their own take on things, however similar they may be. I do think I will cover a few points that are not just based on pure technical skill – photography is after all an art-form, and sometimes we need to be freed up to put down the vision we have in our mind’s eye rather than stick to conventions and norms.

Here is a quick overview of the points I will cover in this post:

  1. Know your gear
  2. Know your subject
  3. Know the “rules” | Break the “rules”
  4. Work the light
  5. Shoot wider | Shoot Closer
  6. The More, the Merrier
  7. How low can you go???
  8. The Content-Technicals Dichotomy
  9. Patience isn’t a virtue…it’s a necessity
  10. BE THERE & ENJOY IT!

These are the points I try to cover when leading a photographic safari or presenting a workshop as well. Take note that I include the genre of Bird Photography in my definition of Wildlife Photography.

Let’s get cracking, shall we?

Lion_Dune.jpg

1. KNOW YOUR GEAR

This sounds like the biggest cliche?…but you know it’s true. The really great action-packed moments in wildlife photography last on average (based on my experience) between 5 and 20 seconds. If you are not intrinsically familiar with the settings of your camera or the abilities of your chosen lens, you WILL either miss it or blow the images you do manage to capture.

  • Know what the minimum shutter speed is at which you can obtain a sharp image with your camera/lens combo;
  • Know the added margins that the in-camera or in-lens stabilisation gives you;
  • Know how to quickly toggle between focus points or focus modes;
  • Know how high you can push your camera’s ISO setting and still achieve acceptable results…

In general, I like to say you need to be able to make most, if not all, of the necessary adjustments to your exposure/focus settings without lifting your eye from the viewfinder. The action you see between the cheetahs in the following image lasted all of 10 seconds, even though we sat with them for more than an hour.

Cheetahs_Playing.jpg

2. KNOW YOUR SUBJECT

Goes without saying, right? Since much of wildlife photography is based upon capturing fleeting moments of natural history (read: interesting poses or behaviour), it pays to be able to somewhat predict your subject’s behaviour beforehand. Given, not every species is as predictable as the next, but there are patterns of behaviour ingrained into every animal species. Knowing your subject can make the difference between being ready and prepared for capturing that “golden moment” and watching it fly by you in agony. There is only one way to get to know wildlife…spend time with them. Don’t just hang around for a few minutes and seek out the next subject if the one you are observing or photographing isn’t delivering the goods. Sit with them. Watch them. Wait. This also ties into patience, which I will discuss in more detail later. The image below was captured by knowing what the Lilac-Breasted Roller was going to do to its grasshopper-lunch, and being ready for it.

Roller_Lunch.jpg

3. KNOW THE “RULES” | BREAK THE “RULES”

There are certain unwritten rules that form the foundation of good photography – regardless of genre. And of course then there are certain “rules” that find their application mostly in the genre of Wildlife Photography. Understanding proper exposure and the use of the histogram, for example…and proper composition using a guideline like the “rule of thirds” are all important aspects to ingrain in your subconscious and to incorporate in your ability to instantly capture that fleeting moment properly.

In this genre, much is made about eye contact with the subject, as this gives “life” to the image. In the case of Avian Photography (Birds), this gets taken a step further in the sense that the “head angle” in relation to the camera’s imaging sensor needs to be at least perpendicular to it, but ideally turned a few degrees towards the sensor (and obviously thus turned towards the viewer who ultimately gets to view the image captured by the sensor).

The image below, for example, follows strong “rule-of-thirds” compositional guidelines.

Wildebeest_Dune.jpg

Once you know the “rules” and the guidelines, and once you know when and how to apply them, it’s time to start breaking out from them. Test the boundaries a bit, you know? You don’t want your photos to always look like stock-standard images that every second photographer is getting. Take a look at the image below. I mentioned the “need” for eye contact. Yet sometimes it can work to shoot an image in which the subject is not giving the photographer eye contact, as this often means the animal is busy with something else, too busy to turn its attention to you.

Thirsty_Foal.jpg

4. WORK THE LIGHT

The first piece of advice I got from a professional wildlife photographer when I started shooting, is to stick to the hours of golden light. This means getting up early in the morning and being in the field before sunrise, and going out in the afternoon to make the most of the last hours of sunlight. The light over midday (mostly between 11h00 and 16h00, at least where I live) is generally harsh and robs images of that spunk that it needs. The exception is an overcast day, when the clouds act like a massive soft-box to filter out the light evenly. On days like that I shoot all day as long as there are willing subjects!

Since photography is all about painting with light, you need to know how to use the light to your best advantage in wildlife photography as well. Often we will find ourselves in a position where the light isn’t ideal, or, heaven forbid, the light is sweet but from the wrong direction…and we also aren’t always in a position to move around to a better spot. The good news is that light from the wrong direction can add lots of mood to an image. Shooting into the light is tricky to pull off, but if you adhere to tip #1 (Know your Gear) you can get some pretty interesting images from a less-than-ideal light position. The image below is one such a photo.

Springbok_Dawn.jpg

5. SHOOT WIDER | SHOOT CLOSER

Too many wildlife photographers get fixated on what I call the “focal-length debacle”, where it becomes an obsession to have the longest/biggest lens possible. Now I know this is location-dependant as you might need more than 600mm just to get any shot at all in certain wide-open spaces, but the issue I want to tackle is more related to our obsession to get as close as possible to the animals and isolate them totally from their environment. The result is often an image that looks like it could be taken of a captive subject in a controlled location, with a perfect smooth background and no idea of the real environment in which it finds itself.

Challenge yourself to shoot at a wider angle to give the viewer a better idea of where you took the image and where your subject has to carve out a living in the wild. This is applicable to any species you photograph – from the squirrel to the deer to the elephant. The elephant below was photographed with a wide-angle lens and a polarising filter to give you a sense of the environment as well as to make the most of the clouds and sky.

Elephant_Scape.jpg

The flip side to shooting wider is – you guessed it – shooting closer…and I mean REALLY CLOSER. Get in-your-face close (by moving your position or by changing effective focal length by using a longer lens with optional teleconverter) to create different and interesting studies of the animals/birds you photograph. This will also help you think in terms of more abstract compositional arrangements. Have a look at this photo of a Cape Buffalo for example.

Buffalo_Abstract.jpg

6. THE MORE, THE MERRIER

No real intricate explanation needed on this one. In wildlife photography – one is company, and two is often a crowd, especially when there’s food or shelter involved. If you have a good view of more than one member of a species – stay a while! Look at the images below. First up – a solitary African Spoonbill, minding its own business on a perch, happy as can be. Throw another Spoonbill into the mix, and you have a recipe for good interaction.

Spoonbills.jpg

7. HOW LOW CAN YOU GO???

This is not a trick question, nor is it a call to be “Jack-be-nimble-Jack-be-quick” and do the limbo. The point-of-view of a wildlife photograph is just about everything. How you portray your subject can make all the difference in the world. In short – try to get an eye-level perspective (even lower if you can). This brings the viewer of your image right into the scene and confronts them with the view of the world from your subject’s perspective. Obviously “eye level” is relative (you will pretty much always be at a lower perspective than for example a giraffe), but you get the idea. Always bear in mind the constraints of your environment. In most reserves in South Africa you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in the field. This restricts you to a certain perspective.

Look at these images for illustration. The first African Painted Dog was photographed from an open game viewer. The result is a somewhat bland shot – nothing special in my eyes. The second one, however, was taken lying flat on my stomach in a sandy riverbed not 20 meters from the pack of canines, and the Alpha Male was checking me out…this perspective makes the image come alive.

Wild_Dogs.jpg

8. THE CONTENT-TECHNICALS DICHOTOMY

This is an interesting one. Does great content trump a technically great image with average content every time? It may be different where you live, but I am relating this one particularly to the African safari experience. Every tourist wants to see the “Big 5” or at least a lion. If you’ve ever spent time around wild lions in the daytime, you will know they are actually shoddy models for photography. They sleep up to 20 hours per day. Conversely I have had great photo opportunities from Impala, who are the most common ungulate you come across down here in the bush. My advice to the discerning photographer would be to look for great opportunities regardless of species when the light is good!

Have a look at the contrast between these 2 images – an impala jumping gracefully, and a “standard” portrait of a male lion, both in good light. Which do you prefer?

Lion_Impala.jpg

Let’s use a second example, lest it look like I am becoming blase? about the subjects I am fortunate to be able to photograph in our wonderful part of the world…squirrels. Everyone photographs squirrels, right? The one on top – munching something, nice soft light, nice low angle…while at the bottom a mommy is carrying her youngster at a precarious height over a large branch at speed by biting down on his stomach flap with him grasping for dear life. The light in the canopy of the tree wasn’t the best – but clearly a case of content trumping a technically good image.

Squirrels.jpg

The jury is still out on this one. The awesome sightings like lions won’t always provide the awesome images. Learn to see the potential in the mundane to create amazing photographic moments, and go out and make good images. The obvious ideal is for an image with great content in great light shot with just the right settings – the Utopia shot that most of us will never get right.

9. PATIENCE ISN’T A VIRTUE…IT’S A NECESSITY

As a wildlife photographer, your images are predicated on the fact that things in nature are unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time…but most things happen only rarely, or at the very least, they rarely coincide with the exact time that you are in that specific spot. It is therefore imperative that you become patient…very patient. Now, I catch myself out frequently enough being very impatient out in the field. It’s something you constantly have to graft at. Essentially it’s almost a culmination of many of the things we’ve discussed so far. Observing your subjects, getting to know their behavioural patterns, requires a great deal of patience. Often the implications are that you need to return to the same spot for days before things start to happen…and even then you run the risk of nothing happening and having wasted your time. The image below was captured after staking out the tree with the impala kill for more than 5 hours. I had also driven past this tree many times earlier that day to see if there was any action. I knew the leopard would return…but I had no guarantee that it would return before nightfall.

Leopard_Ascent.jpg

10. BE THERE & ENJOY IT

I will conclude this lengthy article with the following advice (I do hope you haven’t been bored to tears reading this!)…”be there” and enjoy it!!

By this I don’t just mean you need to physically show up and you need to be at the right place at the right time – of course that applies – but I actually mean you need to be in the moment and don’t get caught up so much with the technical issues and your settings that you don’t take in the moments you are witnessing while out photographing birds and wildlife. We need to be mindful of the privilege of spending time in nature and being in places where the hand of man hasn’t quite exerted its full force yet. Maybe for you it’s just the most isolated spot in your local park where you can sit and observe and photograph squirrels and birds, or maybe it’s facing a wild kodiak bear on the Alaskan floodplains. Regardles, enjoy what you are doing! Have fun doing it! What does it help us to spend so much time on this amazing hobby-cum-artform if we are not enjoying the time spent?

I hope these tips will stand you in good stead out there in the field. They have for me. Good light and good sightings to you all!
Elephant_Vertical.jpg

Cheetah_Runner.jpg

Kingfisher.jpg

About the Author: Morkel Erasmus

After having been an avid naturalist from a very young age, picking up a camera for the first time early in 2009 proved to be a pivotal moment in the life of Morkel Erasmus. Since then has been infused with an unbridled passion for capturing forever fleeting moments of natural history and sharing it with people to showcase the wonderful natural heritage of his native Southern Africa, and to create awareness to conserve this heritage for future generations.

“I absolutely love being in the wild and unspoiled places of this world,” says Morkel, “and living in South Africa means there are plenty of those to choose from.” An Industrial Engineer by profession and an accomplished artist across many genres, from music to poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect ‘marriage’ between his engineering brain and artistic soul. Showing off God’s glorious creation is something he enjoys immensely. He is also a Nikon South Africa ambassador.

Besides being widely published, Morkel has been honoured for his commitment to his craft with various awards in the short span of his photographic career, the most notable being receiving a “Highly Commended” for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Morkel is a devoted husband and a proud father of a beautiful daughter and soon-to-be-born son.

See more from Morkel at his homepage, blog and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, 500px and on Instagram at ‘morkelerasmus’.

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  • http://kirantarun.com/lens Kiran @ KiranTarun.com

    Another great reason why I want to go to SA so badly — to capture it’s beauty :) Thanks for this wonderful tips, Morkel. I hope to improve my wildlife photography skills.

  • Helen White

    Beautiful sensitive images with very little post production gumph, the type of photos that will last a lifetime and outperform all the fads and frills of photography. Quite breathtaking! And the article is well written and concise. Hats off to you Morkel Erasmus! From a rank amateur who can recognise the artistic value in some darn good photographs.

  • http://www.photovideonamibia.com Johan Jooste

    Hi Morkel, I have a question, do you shoot RAW and if so, it doesn’t look like you’re doing much post processing, am I right. My impression is that a good number of pictures of wildlife and birds, especially on Outdoorphoto SA that are taken with long pro lenses, looks like they come straight out of the camera and many look a bit over bright on pc. I know pc’s should be calibrated but still, what is your opinion?

  • http://penelopesoasis.com Penelope

    Incredible! Steve, that giraffe is amazing too!!

  • http://willemkruger.wordpress.com/ Willem

    Hi Morkel – I am a subscribed member of this “forum” and I do read the weekly articles on a regular basis. Your article is one of the best so far – very informative and practical for people interested in nature and wiuld life photography. Also to be used by experienced photographer as confirmation on what to do and not to do when shotting wild life. Well done and keep it coming.

  • Jürgen

    Great article and fantastic pictures.

    Thanks so much for sharing your tips and also many thanks to all posters that shared their links as well.

    Here’s a shot I took last weekend at Melbourne Zoo.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kulminho/7784607146/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • http://obawildlifephotos.blogspot.com/ Atul Dhamankar

    Great images. Specially I love those action captured. As a wildlife photographer I know how difficult these shots in wild. Keep it up!
    https://www.facebook.com/atul.dhamankar1
    Atul

  • http://www.globeglimpser.com Azhar Khan

    Hey Morkel. From a fellow SA wildlife enthusiast, you really are doing a great job showcasing some of the country’s better ‘aspects/features’ as opposed to all the negatives that are making the news these days. Brilliant shots and keep it up!

  • Ram Bhor

    Hiiii.amazing photography ,i thought u r the best wildlife photographer ever.

  • Graeme

    Great article,

    I wish I had read it before going to the Kruger earlier this month. Although it rained everyday we got some amazing photographs without having shadows to contend with. We got out just before the floods.

    I get a little confused as to my settings once the shadows make their appearance.

    Keep up the good work

    Graeme Elliott
    Cape Town

  • http://www.morkelerasmus.com Morkel Erasmus

    Thanks to everyone for your great feedback and for weighing in on this!

  • http://www.smdiv.co.za/ Bruce Ungersbock

    I would have to agree with the article. If you want professional advice then ask actual game rangers here http://www.perfectinvestments.co.za/

  • http://desitraveler.com/ Prasad Np aka desi Traveler

    Wonderful tips…and just loved the pics…

  • marius2die4

    I guess you forget just one thing with capital importance: the luck.

    The article is very well written. Congratulations!

    Some of my pics:

    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2013/04/turdus-pilaris.html

  • Stevej46

    I like shooting birds during the winter months. The sun is so low in the southern hemisphere (Denver, Colorado area) that I can get good photos even at mid day. Too many shadows late day. During the summer I do shoot early or late day.

  • http://www.cfleesphotography.com/ Christopher Flees

    I was very impressed with your article. While all the 10 points are important: knowing your gear, knowing your subject etc. The one thing that a lot of photographers forget is “to be there”. Waiting for a specific action to capture ananimal pictures through the viewfinder of the camera can make us miss the bigger picture of whats going on around us. While its true photographers need to stay somewhat focused when preparing to shoot, do not stay so focused that your entire adventure was only about capturing that one or handful of images.Take time to enjoy the entire experience not just that few seconds behind the lens.

  • Sudarsan SuKu

    Which climate is good for wildlife photography.?
    During a hot sunny day the animals go for shade,so we lose some good shots.
    So which climate would u prefer for wild life photography.I am from India.

  • Barry E Warren

    There is wildlife in almost all climates, the real trick is get out there early. Scope it out the day before, then get there before sunrise. The wildlife is out to feed. And you can get there before sunset, for they want to feed for the long night ahead of them. Plus you get the best colors for you are shooting in the Golden Hours.It works for me. And another tip is you can get some amazing sunrises and sunsets shots.

  • Linda Bon

    I LOVE #10. I am a beginner who is passionate about photography, but there have been times when I’ve been so busy messing around with settings on my camera that I miss the best moments. For example, on a whale watch cruise. Sure I got some good shots, but sometimes I just had to set the camera aside and watch……..after all it IS a whale WATCH cruise!

  • wojongo

    great sample pics!!! I like his point on knowing your subject. I have spent many sessions making my way into this little guys life and he has been very accepting and has let me photograph him up close and he is at ease with me.

Some older comments

  • Bruce Ungersbock

    August 6, 2013 01:35 am

    I would have to agree with the article. If you want professional advice then ask actual game rangers here http://www.perfectinvestments.co.za/

  • Morkel Erasmus

    February 28, 2013 02:43 pm

    Thanks to everyone for your great feedback and for weighing in on this!

  • Graeme

    February 1, 2013 06:56 am

    Great article,

    I wish I had read it before going to the Kruger earlier this month. Although it rained everyday we got some amazing photographs without having shadows to contend with. We got out just before the floods.

    I get a little confused as to my settings once the shadows make their appearance.

    Keep up the good work

    Graeme Elliott
    Cape Town

  • Ram Bhor

    January 22, 2013 05:25 pm

    Hiiii.amazing photography ,i thought u r the best wildlife photographer ever.

  • Azhar Khan

    September 16, 2012 06:49 pm

    Hey Morkel. From a fellow SA wildlife enthusiast, you really are doing a great job showcasing some of the country's better 'aspects/features' as opposed to all the negatives that are making the news these days. Brilliant shots and keep it up!

  • Atul Dhamankar

    September 2, 2012 10:57 pm

    Great images. Specially I love those action captured. As a wildlife photographer I know how difficult these shots in wild. Keep it up!
    https://www.facebook.com/atul.dhamankar1
    Atul

  • Jürgen

    August 18, 2012 01:09 pm

    Great article and fantastic pictures.

    Thanks so much for sharing your tips and also many thanks to all posters that shared their links as well.

    Here's a shot I took last weekend at Melbourne Zoo.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kulminho/7784607146/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • Willem

    August 10, 2012 09:42 pm

    Hi Morkel - I am a subscribed member of this "forum" and I do read the weekly articles on a regular basis. Your article is one of the best so far - very informative and practical for people interested in nature and wiuld life photography. Also to be used by experienced photographer as confirmation on what to do and not to do when shotting wild life. Well done and keep it coming.

  • Penelope

    August 9, 2012 02:01 pm

    Incredible! Steve, that giraffe is amazing too!!

  • Johan Jooste

    August 8, 2012 07:03 am

    Hi Morkel, I have a question, do you shoot RAW and if so, it doesn't look like you're doing much post processing, am I right. My impression is that a good number of pictures of wildlife and birds, especially on Outdoorphoto SA that are taken with long pro lenses, looks like they come straight out of the camera and many look a bit over bright on pc. I know pc's should be calibrated but still, what is your opinion?

  • Helen White

    August 8, 2012 04:12 am

    Beautiful sensitive images with very little post production gumph, the type of photos that will last a lifetime and outperform all the fads and frills of photography. Quite breathtaking! And the article is well written and concise. Hats off to you Morkel Erasmus! From a rank amateur who can recognise the artistic value in some darn good photographs.

  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com

    August 4, 2012 05:29 am

    Another great reason why I want to go to SA so badly -- to capture it's beauty :) Thanks for this wonderful tips, Morkel. I hope to improve my wildlife photography skills.

  • Morkel Erasmus

    August 1, 2012 06:53 pm

    Thanks a lot Michael and Greg for your kind comments.

  • michael

    July 31, 2012 11:29 pm

    Great article. Thanks for sharing your work, the pictures are amazing. This gave me more reasons to visit some places in Africa soon if I have a chance. Congratulations! Well done.

  • greg

    July 26, 2012 11:46 pm

    I just finished a couple of days camping in Mueller State Park in Colorado. One lesson I learned was take your camera everywhere. The best chance of photographing a red fox was coming out of a bathroom but I missed it because I didn't have it with me. I did get a great shot of a mule deer doe while I was enjoying my morning coffee. I had my camera on my lap and she ventured into my camp site. I wasn't going to miss another opportunity because I wasn't prepared.

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 22, 2012 08:15 pm

    Thank you so much for the kind responses, folks. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this article and that you found the advice practical and well-expounded.

    @Henry K - yes doing some wildlife photography in groups is awesome, nothing like spending time in nature with like-minded folks and learning from one another. If the purpose of the group outing is to capture interesting imagery, then the pace will be set by working the light on some interesting subjects until it looks like there won't be any more action. I am involved with a company that takes photographers on wildlife photography safaris in Africa and all over the world, where guidance is given and the pace is set by the photographic guide - check out www.wild-eye.co.za!

    @Judy Royal Glenn - hummers are amazing birds and hard to take photos of! We don't have them in Africa though.

    @Selena - you are right, great point, forgot to mention that. Most animals will 'siesta' in the heat of the day, and the predators are often nocturnal which means they will still be active early in the morning and start to get active again in the last hour or so of daylight.

    @nms - I would be happy to provide you with details on any of the shots you see here - shoot me an email and I will discuss with you.

    @Alan - great point, dust in Africa gets in everywhere, and I'm certain in other locations as well. Also, down here we don't have to deal with snow and sub-zero temperatures like others do, which is a challenge in its own right!

  • amir paz

    July 22, 2012 01:45 am

    Beautiful images

    i was on a safari trip to kenya last year

    and had the great oportunity to take some lovely pictures of wildlife in kenya

    we had an elephant storm our safari vehicle

    it was a frightening experience to watch him storming towards us

    but i still didn't leave the camera, and have some great close shots from this encounter

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/6261402538/in/set-72157627923609458

    you are welcomed to see more of my trip to kenya here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/sets/72157627923609458/

    Amir

  • Henry K

    July 21, 2012 10:38 am

    What a brilliant piece of work - tips and picture illustrations. Highly tutorial and informative. Reading through the article, I sensed that, Wildelife Photography seems not suitable for 'group shoots'. Especially when it comes to 'patience'. I hope, I'm not misinterpreted here to mean that 'group shoots' are unadvantageous. Going out on 'shoots' as a group has a lot of advantages - learning and sharing tips from each other right there on the field as the action goes on. However, the 'pace' in which the group moves, sometimes missing some interesting subjects, does not suit the definition of 'patience'. Would then be advisable to go out as a group for a 'shoot' on Wildelife? What do others think?

  • uncle g

    July 21, 2012 10:33 am

    These are some of the most spectacular wildlife images I have seen in a long time, made it nearly impossible for me to read the article! Well done, great tips, inspiring work!

  • Judy Royal Glenn

    July 21, 2012 03:26 am

    I enjoyed reading your article and viewing your beautiful photography. One day I hope to go to Africa to take photos like yours.....once I have that larger lense you were talking about and better camera. You were very blessed to capture the giraffe with the rainbow. That was a small miracle:) My passion is to photograph birds and flowers. Hummers are my favorite.

  • Photofintan

    July 20, 2012 04:01 pm

    Great article, my favorite on here for quite some time and the images are just mind blowing. It also is extremely heartening to hear that you first started taking photography seriously in 2009 !!! I bought my D5100 last summer and am really enjoying it , mostly for this amazing new perspective it has given me on how I look at the world but it is sometimes disheartening to not have the technique or know how to capture the shots you want, if some of my images are half as good as yours in a few years I'll be over the moon,but you've given me hope ;o) Most of the photographers I read with the best images sound like they've had a camera in their hands since they were in diapers haha

  • Steve

    July 20, 2012 02:35 pm

    Great article and images! My wife and I had the chance to go to SA in January and spent a few days in Kruger, which was amazing.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43017182@N06/sets/72157629079029777/

  • Steve

    July 20, 2012 01:52 pm

    Great article and images! My wife and I had the chance to go to SA in January and spent a few days in Kruger, which was amazing.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/43017182@N06/6894030459/' title='Giraffe looking back' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7189/6894030459_1144c3fb46_z.jpg']

  • James Bethany

    July 20, 2012 12:36 pm

    Great article and great shots. Everything you have mentioned is applicable to the type of shooting I do here. I ESPECIALLY appreciated your comment regarding context, which is something I have always tried to do when shooting wildlife up here. Context really helps the viewer, especially viewers who have never been here to the Bush or Last Frontier. Keep up the great work.

    James Bethany
    Anchorage, Alaska

  • Chrissie

    July 20, 2012 08:45 am

    WOW, stunning, amazing, fantastic images and your tips are great Morkel, thank you!

  • Jocelyn Bowie

    July 20, 2012 06:43 am

    Great article. I especially liked tip # 10 - Be there and enjoy the moment. Excellent piece of advice!

  • Ratkellar

    July 20, 2012 06:33 am

    thanks for trhe article. The author certainly executes well. Knowing animals is important and knowing when to stay on the game trail adn when to get off. Also, I second his statement about "context." Many photographers try to isolate animals (or human subjects) so much that there is no meaning to the shot. I almost always prefer to repreen tth environment, but mountains can be more interesting than African plains. With wildlife (including children), sharp focus is always a challenge.

  • Tom Savage

    July 20, 2012 06:13 am

    Great article. I've never been to Africa but it is moving up my list of places to go. In the meantime, I'll try to practice these ideas closer to home.

    Tom

  • selena

    July 20, 2012 05:46 am

    Nice article thank you :) I'd like to point out another reason for getting up early or shooting at the end of the day - animals are most likely more active at those times. The chances of getting "action" shots during those times may be better.

  • Marcus Davis

    July 20, 2012 05:32 am

    First, wow.... Amazing images. Thank you for sharing this article and I for one was not bored. As great as all of the tips are, I like #10 the best. Yes, you have photographs of what you were looking at, but not experiencing what you were looking at, leaves you with a sense of emptiness later.

    As for Steve's comment (#1 on the list), common sense would tell you to stay away from the animals that can hurt you. However, since common sense isn't that common anymore, the results could make for interesting images in their own right. lol

  • nms

    July 20, 2012 05:25 am

    I am an amateur in every sense of the word, and look to these articles to help 'point-the-way' for me. These are great shots, but I would really appreciate technical info attached to photos: time of day, camera settings, camera and lens used, etc. I find this info helpful when I go out and try to recreate lighting, composition, etc.

    Thank you.

  • Arturomar

    July 20, 2012 03:41 am

    I enjoyed very much this article, to me the best I've read here ever.

    I particularly liked so much this sentence: "The obvious ideal is for an image with great content in great light shot with just the right settings – the Utopia shot that most of us will never get right."

    Because I have missed that shot so many times and always expect to get it next time.

  • Alan

    July 20, 2012 02:53 am

    Great article Morkel. Off to Kruger in 12 hours for a week so the article was very welcome. You were spot on about looking beyond the big 5. So often we are chasing them and fail to see the birds, insects and interesting critters.

    Another tip which may help budding wildlife photographers visiting Africa: Clean the equipment after each game drive, especially when you are travelling on secondary and gravel roads. It's amazing how dust gets into everywhere, even in places where you don't expect.

  • Johannes Meintjes

    July 20, 2012 02:46 am

    Morkel,
    Thank you for the article and tips.
    Thank you for sharing all the amazing pictures as well.
    God Bless.
    Regards.
    Christo.

  • Mikell

    July 20, 2012 02:30 am

    So many wonderful images - the impala and leopard is a standout ...and thanks for having the patience to get this shot ...and share it (and all the others) with us.

    Lots of great advice...and inspiration.

    :) mikell

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 19, 2012 06:41 am

    Thanks again for the very kind response, folks!! So glad you find it useful and that you find most of the images to be apt examples.

    @Joe Shelby: I'm glad you've taken up wildlife photography! I like that "deerscape" you posted. I think I actually covered what you mentioned in point #2 (Know your subject), though I was perhaps a bit less elaborate.

    @Tyler Ingram: I hope you've at least read it by now (you are too kind).

  • Pittsburgh Guy

    July 18, 2012 12:18 pm

    My favorite tip is the one suggesting to "break the rules" and I couldn't agree more. Just imagine, without breaking the rules, a lot of the great works of art would never have come to be.

  • Mei Teng

    July 18, 2012 10:43 am

    Love all the images and great tips on wildlife photography.

  • Ralph Hightower

    July 18, 2012 08:23 am

    You state your case very well! Your tips are great!

  • TylerIngram

    July 18, 2012 07:06 am

    I have to go back and read the article.. the photos made me skip all the text! lol

  • Mikhail Anand

    July 18, 2012 04:57 am

    nice post...the image of the hyena and the bull are my favourites
    http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com/

  • Juan Fco. Garamendi

    July 18, 2012 03:19 am

    I understand Morkel, but in my opinion, breaking one rule and following another rules is not a good example of "breaking rules". It's true that the zebra image doesn't follow "eye contact" but this image strong follows another rules that make a very impact image.

    And I repeat, fantastic images all of them and beautiful webpage.

    Juanfran,

  • JacovW

    July 18, 2012 12:04 am

    Excellent write-up Morkel. Just goes to show that good photography starts in front of the sensor, thanks for the great tips!

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 17, 2012 07:40 pm

    Thanks guys for the kind feedback...the idea of the content of the tips is that it should be applicable for shooting any kind of wildlife...from squirrels to snow leopards, from chipmunks to cheetahs, from reindeer to rhinoceros.

    @Juan - if you read that section of the post again you should see that I chose that image as an example of breaking the "rule" of always needing clear eye contact with the subject. I know it follows some other compositional rules - I did not say that an image should not conform to any photographic guidelines :)

  • JC

    July 17, 2012 07:24 pm

    There are some beautiful shots, and the tips are surely handy. Hopefully one day I can take photos like this.. amazing!

  • Maree Jamieson

    July 17, 2012 05:39 pm

    Wonderful photos and wonderful advice. I tend to photograph domestic animals but the same suggestions apply there too.

  • raghavendra

    July 17, 2012 01:09 pm

    wow, seeing the pictures of all in this comment section is pretty cool :)
    here's mine

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/07/sparrow-in-home.html

  • Joe Shelby

    July 17, 2012 10:21 am

    I just recently took my first stabs at wild animal photography, hunting for deer (bears were being secretive that week) in Great Smokey Mtns National Park.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/Dx-8QGR-GCCwz_dwDxR1QtMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink is my fav of the set.

    A number 11 I might add, and one specific to this topic, is "Get to know the animals you're looking for." Get out to zoos and study them for a bit. Yeah, you might not see all the eating habits, but you'll learn their hours, you'll learn their grouping behaviors, and their preferred terrain (in larger parks like Disney's Animal Kingdom or San Diego Safari). Similarly, hit local ponds and county parks, which often have ducks or geese in the morning, as practice for action bird shots later with rarer species.

  • Elizabeth

    July 17, 2012 09:46 am

    Wow, I can't imagine if I will ever be able to take photos like those. They are great and the information that goes with them is wonderful too! Thanks for sharing.

    http://www.livingdisney.com/2012/07/signs-of-walt-disney-world-photographs.html

  • Scottc

    July 17, 2012 09:20 am

    INCREDIBLE photos and equally incredible advice. The composition in all of the photos is amazing.

    I've got a ways to go with wildlife photography myself, but I'm sure this advice will come in handy.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5707740312/

  • Juan Fco. Garamendi

    July 17, 2012 09:18 am

    Break the rules?

    The image of a zebra that you show as example of "breaking the rules" follows two basic rules: Framing and golden area.
    But anyway, stunning images all of them.

    Juanfran

  • Simon

    July 17, 2012 08:16 am

    Agree with others - tip number 11 is "don't get eaten". Or more generally, don't provoke the wild animals, whether by getting too close for comfort, or by looking edible.

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 17, 2012 08:10 am

    I've been trying to respond to some of the comments but my posts don't show? I'm also not getting a message that says my post will be moderated first...?

    Anyway - here's another attempt.

    Thanks so much for the kind words, folks.

    @Steve - indeed that is an oversight, I should have mentioned that you should not approach a potentially dangeroud animal on foot without an experienced (and hopefully qualified) guide present who understands animal behaviour. In most South African reserves you are restricted to your vehicle, but I know there are some in Botswana and Zimbabwe that don't limit you to your vehicle (if I am not mistaken you can even be on foot in Yellowstone??).

    @Alexander - thanks for the compliment! I agree, even antelopes/deer can be dangerous. I have heard of a Bushbuck ramming its horns through the door of an SUV.

    @Erik - it is my pleasure, glad you found it useful!

    @Badflea and Mike - thanks a lot!

  • Mike Gaudaur

    July 17, 2012 07:55 am

    Well written article Morkel. Good tips and fabulous images.

  • Badflea

    July 17, 2012 07:29 am

    What amazing photos did you publish!!!

    Here my little entry:

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/pellicano-pelican/

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    July 17, 2012 05:32 am

    Hi

    This is a great article and the tips included can be applied to all sorts of Photography! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Erik Kerstenbeck
    http://www.kerstenbeck.com

  • Johan Jooste

    July 17, 2012 05:15 am

    Hi Morkel, this is great advice, thanks. I have been photographing wildlife for some years also and yes, it so true, the one outstanding attribution one needs is patience, without a doubt.

  • Dave

    July 17, 2012 04:47 am

    Great article, and I agree with Steve also. A few years ago I attended a short lecture by Moose Peterson. He said people were always asking him if he was ever attacked or chased while shooting wildlife. He said that in 30 years he'd never been threatened, chased, or even bluff charged. A few days later I was shooting an alligator swimming down a canal in the Everglades. I was standing in a place where the sawgrass had been beaten down along the canal bank. The alligator looked at me a couple times, then suddenly turned and started swimming straight towards me. The only thing I could think of was what Moose had just told us!

    Needless to say I got out of there quite quickly and headed to a tree that I could climb if necessary. It turns out that I was just standing in the alligators "spot". He's the one that had flattened the grass.

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 17, 2012 04:11 am

    Thanks again Darren for the opportunity - so honoured to have done this!

    Thank you Steve and Alexander for your kind words.

    @Steve - I am sorry I left that part out...oversight on my part. I should have stated that you should not approach dangerous game on foot unless you are accompanied by an experienced (and hopefully qualified) guide who understands the behaviour of animals in the wild. Most of the reserves I photograph at have rules in place prohibiting you from exiting your vehicle, though there are some reserves in Botswana and Zimbabwe that allow this (I think even Yellowstone NP allows this?). The Wild Dog photos in the post were taken in the presence of 2 qualified FGASA guides.

    @Alexander - thanks for the compliment! I agree with you - I have heard of a Bushbuck, a smallish and normally timid antelope, ramming its horns through the door of an SUV! I don't own a Fisheye lens yet, but I mean to! Perhaps I'll do another post when I've mastered its use in Wildlife Photography... :)

  • Morkel Erasmus

    July 17, 2012 03:26 am

    Thanks again for the privilege of doing a guest post here, Darren!

    Thank you so much for your kind responses Steve and Alexander.

    @Steve - I probably should have put that in there...I forgot that everyone won't have my context. Our parks normally have very strict rules about getting out on foot (normally prohibited unless on an officially-guided walking safari). The parks in Botswana and Zimbabwe are more lenient than our South African reserves, though. The upright elephant and the low-angle Wild Dog were taken in Mana Pools which actually allows you to get out on foot. I took these photos in the company of two qualified FGASA guides so yes I would not encourage just anyone to approach dangerous game on foot. Apologies for the misunderstanding and the misconception this might create!

    @Alexander - thanks for the compliment! I agree with you - I've heard of the small and normally timid Bushbuck ramming its horns through the door of an SUV here in the Sabi Sands, so antelopes can also be dangerous if riled up. I personally don't own a fisheye lens yet, but I mean to!

  • Alexander Catastroff

    July 17, 2012 02:28 am

    Great article. And I agree with Steve; you should never get too close to a dangerous wild animal. That said; a lot of animals are dangerous, even deer and seemingly harmless animal.

    A fun thing to try is Fisheye nature and wildlife photography. It's really hard to get a good shot in this genre with a Fisheye, but if you can manage to succeed, you will be widely praised!

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • Steve

    July 17, 2012 02:04 am

    A very good article. I would just add that if it is a potentially dangerous animal do not get too close and if you are told to stay in the car then do so. I say this as an ex safari guide. I saw so many people do stupid things just to get a photo risking their lives and the animals:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-Mammals/G0000FIcyAEFOesQ/I000054G018zHe8U

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