5 Big Tips to add Impact and Variety to your Wildlife Images - Digital Photography School
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5 Big Tips to add Impact and Variety to your Wildlife Images

Wildlife photography can be very exciting, which generally means your adrenalin is running on overdrive. It is too easy to be caught up in the action of the moment and just snap away at what you are witnessing. What you saw was so great, yet when you view your images they just don’t seem to have the impact that you experienced. I have put together a series of images of wildebeest, generally a very boring animal that is quite drab in color. This is to help illustrate how light, mood, and motion can bring powerful visual impact to your images.

Wildlife Variety

This is a Wildebeest for those of you who have not seen one.

Plan to go at the Best Time

Many species migrate or give birth at particular time in a particular location. Plan you trip around these extraordinary events. This was photographed during the annual wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River in Kenya. It has been said to be the greatest wildlife show on earth. The mass of the animals and the dust kicking up gives big impact to this image. Large numbers of any species will add impact.

Wildlife Variety 3

Wildlife Variety 1

Backlighting and Side Lighting

Wildlife Variety 4

It is natural to want the beautiful golden light on a wildlife subject as you see in the first photograph, but more dramatic can be adding backlighting or side lighting shown in the image below it. Take the safe shot and then get creative. Backlighting works great on the wildebeest beards and it also creates some rim lighting. Rim light is when backlighting creates a lit edge around the subject.

Wildlife Variety 2

Look for Moody Elements such as Dust and Fog

This is another great time to add backlighting or side lighting. Backlighting will generally create a silhouette so I generally prefer to use side lighting in these situations. The light filters thought the elements for dramatic light and you can still see the details in your subject.

Wildlife Variety 5

Add Motion to your Image with a Pan Blur

In the first image you can see the animals are in motion; notice I have a little backlighting going for added impact. However, by panning with the animals to create a blur in the background it shows a more dramatic sense of speed and motion.

Wildlife Variety 6

Wildlife Variety 7

To shoot a pan blur you need to slow down your shutter speed, 1/60-1/30 generally works, depending on the speed of your subject. You need to focus on the eye’s/shoulder of your subject, pan at the same speed as your subject while holding down the shutter. Yes, this takes lots of practice and you will delete hundreds of images, but when you get one that works it is very exciting. This is something you can practice anywhere so when the opportunity comes you are ready.

Here is another set of images to show the impact and difference between a fast shutter speed stopping the action and a pan blur to show motion. Notice in the second image the front wildebeest are in focus while the rest of the images has a slight blur giving the viewer a more powerful sense of motion.

Wildlife Variety 8

Wildlife Variety 9

Slow Down your Shutter Speed

Stopping the action of animals running through water with a high shutter speed makes a dramatic image, but slowing down the shutter speed will add a different impact and variety to the story. Different from a pan blur, here you hold the camera still and slow down the shutter letting the moving element create the effect of motion. Water works great as well as tall grass that is blowing or branches moving is a tree. In the first image my shutter speed was very high to stop the action and the explosion of water. In the second I showed down the shutter to create a different mood and show the spray of the water. In the third I slowed down the shutter just a little more to really show the blast of the water.

Wildlife Variety 10

Wildlife Variety 12

Wildlife Variety 11

These simple tips will not only add impact and variety to your images but will make them stand out in a sea of imagery on the same subject.

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Piper Mackay is a full time wildlife and cultural documentary photographer whose work is based in Africa. She speaks at events throughout the US, teaches workshops in the US, and leads photo safaris and tours throughout Africa.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Spectacular show! Does it gets very crowded at these times too at the location?

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • http://Www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve
  • Barry E. Warren

    Some very good tips on shooting wildlife. Most of the photography I do is wildlife. Thanks.

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano

    I love the father and son (assumption) running. So inspiring.

  • Joe

    Great post. Let me say, I went to Kenya and getting the panning shot is much trickier than you think!! I like the idea of slowing down the shutter to capture the water. Here are some pics I took last month on the Maasai Mara

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3794229340206.2132368.1411352167&type=1&l=deabc730df

  • Mei Teng

    I like the addition of elements such as dust and fog to wildlife photography.

  • http://www.pipermackayphotograph.com Piper

    Thanks everyone, glad you enjoyed it. A few images were out of place but I think you get the idea… there are a few small things you can do to really make a difference and impact in your images.

  • Jenny

    Realistically very few people will get to see and photograph the mass migration of wildebeests.
    It would be more helpful to have a more general sample of pictures.
    Each creature presents it’s own sort of problem to photograph.

  • ratkellar

    Great shots The principles apply to all wildlife. The slow shutter speeds (last set) shows another point. To me, the 2nd shot just looks like the camera was moved, but #3 (with the longest exposure) works since at least some of the wildebeest stood still. With wildlife, luck can greatly assist being in the correct position at the correct time.

  • Naz

    [[Realistically very few people will get to see and photograph the mass migration of wildebeests.]]

    Not true- everytime I go to Walmart I see a migration and stampede of wildbeasts- especially on Black Friday and Christmas eve

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro marius2die4

    Good tips!Tank’s!
    Some of my pics:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2011/07/sturzii.html

  • http://www.hksconsultants.com/ Wildlife Consultant

    Love this. This post being very inspiring and knowledgeable about the wildlife photography.

  • http://ideasrbulletproof.com/ Ideas_R_Bulletproof

    good tips!…. thumbs up!!

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

    Great information on capturing animal images particularly on the pan blur technique. You are right about the technique you will spoil a lot of shots trying to develop the technique but once you got it down the results are amazing.

  • Tracy P.

    I love a tutorial where the images make the instruction completely obvious. You nailed this one. “This is a Wildebeest for those of you who have not seen one.” Thank you for my Monday morning chuckle. :-) Fantastic shots!

  • dantefrizzoli

    The first picture is my favorite.

Some older comments

  • Wildlife Consultant

    February 13, 2013 10:30 pm

    Love this. This post being very inspiring and knowledgeable about the wildlife photography.

  • marius2die4

    December 13, 2012 05:21 am

    Good tips!Tank's!
    Some of my pics:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2011/07/sturzii.html

  • Naz

    December 7, 2012 08:53 am

    [[Realistically very few people will get to see and photograph the mass migration of wildebeests.]]

    Not true- everytime I go to Walmart I see a migration and stampede of wildbeasts- especially on Black Friday and Christmas eve

  • ratkellar

    December 7, 2012 05:44 am

    Great shots The principles apply to all wildlife. The slow shutter speeds (last set) shows another point. To me, the 2nd shot just looks like the camera was moved, but #3 (with the longest exposure) works since at least some of the wildebeest stood still. With wildlife, luck can greatly assist being in the correct position at the correct time.

  • Jenny

    December 7, 2012 05:14 am

    Realistically very few people will get to see and photograph the mass migration of wildebeests.
    It would be more helpful to have a more general sample of pictures.
    Each creature presents it's own sort of problem to photograph.

  • Piper

    December 4, 2012 11:04 am

    Thanks everyone, glad you enjoyed it. A few images were out of place but I think you get the idea... there are a few small things you can do to really make a difference and impact in your images.

  • Mei Teng

    December 1, 2012 12:09 pm

    I like the addition of elements such as dust and fog to wildlife photography.

  • Joe

    December 1, 2012 05:55 am

    Great post. Let me say, I went to Kenya and getting the panning shot is much trickier than you think!! I like the idea of slowing down the shutter to capture the water. Here are some pics I took last month on the Maasai Mara

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3794229340206.2132368.1411352167&type=1&l=deabc730df

  • Jai Catalano

    December 1, 2012 04:33 am

    I love the father and son (assumption) running. So inspiring.

  • Barry E. Warren

    December 1, 2012 04:11 am

    Some very good tips on shooting wildlife. Most of the photography I do is wildlife. Thanks.

  • Steve

    December 1, 2012 03:57 am

    Close up in HDR of a Wildebeest

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-Mammals/G0000IrGRBOD5m2s/I0000eclyF4fhWZE/C0000bdEkyK_8Dzs

  • Mridula

    December 1, 2012 03:19 am

    Spectacular show! Does it gets very crowded at these times too at the location?

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

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