Creating attention-grabbing wildlife photography that makes a lasting impression is a difficult and demanding challenge. Typically you’re battling a number of uncontrollable and unpredictable elements, not least your subject’s behaviour, the weather, the environment and lighting.
But, when it all comes together it’s truly magical! To ensure you maximize every opportunity and extract the most out of your wildlife encounters, there are a number of approaches that you can adopt to help you get ahead.
Here are seven tips to help you take your wildlife photography to the next level.
1 – Know Your Camera
Wildlife’s special moments are often fleeting. Subsequently your camera needs to become an extension of you. Learning to adjust the focus point, shutter speed, aperture and other settings while continuing to look through the viewfinder, for instance, should become second nature. Leaving you to concentrate on being creative with what’s happening in front of you.
If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of your camera, then you may not be exploiting its full potential and therefore limiting yourself. Take some time out to learn as much as you can about your camera’s features and practice, practice, practice.
If reading the user manual is too much like hard work or you’re a visual learner, search for related video resources online.
2 – Shoot at Eye Level
One of the best ways to ensure your audience is able to feel connected with wildlife through your images is to shoot at eye level with your subject. That often means getting low.
Looking down on your subject can feel unnatural and controlling. Shooting at eye level allows you to create images that are much more intimate, and because the viewer is seeing what they expect to see, there is a real sense of familiarity.
From a technical perspective, there are also a number of advantages to adopting this approach.
For instance, by positioning yourself, and more importantly your camera, on a parallel focal plane to your subjects’ eyes you will increase the likelihood of your camera’s sensor picking up, and locking focus on, the sharpest part of the image. This is partly dependent on the depth of field of course.
Another benefit of interacting with wildlife at their level is the ability to separate your subject from what’s behind the animal to achieve wonderful, unobtrusive backdrops.
So, be prepared to get down, get wet, and get dirty in order to get the best shots!
3 – Keep Backgrounds Simple
Imagine the scene. Your subject is sitting pretty; you’re at eye level and just about to capture the moment. What you haven’t noticed is a tree protruding out of your subject’s head!
The adrenaline rush is part and parcel of wildlife photography and we’ve all been there. We’ve all been caught up in the moment, but it’s important to remember to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. Literally!
It only takes a moment to run your eye around the edge of the frame to spot unwanted distractions in the scene and then take the appropriate action. Shifting your position by moving to the left, right, up or down, often only as little as a couple of inches may be all that’s required to craft a more pleasant scene.
4 – Know Your Subject
Research as much as you can about the animals that you’re going to photograph. It really does pay to be able to envisage what your subject is likely to do in given situations.
Animals are habitual and most lead relatively straightforward lives with uncomplicated daily routines. Once you’ve tapped into the characteristics of a particular subject such as its preferred habitat, how and when it feeds, mating displays and so on, the more likely you will be able to predict what’s going to happen next and be ready to capture it.
By becoming intimately acquainted with your subject species will result in distinctive, evocative images.
5 – Be Prepared
Some of the most iconic wildlife photography images have been captured by photographers who were able to make the most of spur-of-the-moment opportunities. By ensuring they had already dialled-in some baseline camera settings before heading out into the field, they were ready when the action occurred.
Nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived and second chances are rare. So checking the available light and firing off a couple of test shots before setting out, will ensure that you’ll be ready at a moment’s notice. As well, this will safeguard you against mistakenly using previously loaded settings from the day before.
Even the slowest animals can react suddenly. So try and set your shutter speed as high as possible given the available light and your ISO setting.
6 – Break the Rules
Understanding the fundamental rules of wildlife photography with regards to lighting, camera settings, and composition is essential. Regardless of camera brand, manual or aperture priority, back button focusing versus front, you have to do what works for you.
It’s okay to play it safe. But then again your camera is a tool, and like an artist’s brush, it’s what you do with it that will set you apart from your peers. Try experimenting with side lighting, backlighting (or rim lighting), test different viewpoints, close-up versus wide angle, look for patterns, trial alternative lenses, and settings.
Stretch yourself and you’ll grow as a wildlife photographer.
7 – Take Care
Finally, never forget that for us [photographers] it’s just about obtaining an image. But for wild animals, every day is a fight just to survive. No photograph is ever worth more than your subject’s welfare.
Share your wildlife tips and images in the comment area below. If you have any questions, please ask.