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Getting Down Low in Wildlife Photography

When photographing wildlife, the images that most resonate with the viewer are those that evoke emotion and offer an insight into the world of a particular animal.  There are numerous tips and pieces of advice that can be given to help improve your wildlife photography but the one tip that is the easiest to implement, and will show immediate benefit, is to get down low when taking your wildlife images.

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Here are three reasons to persuade you to try it next time you are out taking photos of wildlife:

1. Getting closer

If you are shooting wild animals, as soon as they become aware of your presence, they will often retreat in the opposite direction.  You typically can’t just walk up to wildlife and expect it to pose for you and getting down low is only part of the good field craft required to get closer to wild animals.  By lying down, you will be far less noticeable than by standing upright or crouching, allowing you to crawl much closer to your subjects before they either become aware of you, or feel threatened.  Often, good field craft is better than the longest telephoto lens for capturing frame-filling shots.

European toad (Bufo bufo)

European toads (Bufo bufo)

2. Isolating your subject

If shooting an animal at ground level from a standing position, you will be looking down on it, meaning that the ground or plants behind it will form the immediate background of the shot.  As this background isn’t very far away, it will be difficult to render it out-of-focus, even with the largest aperture, causing the background to distract the attention of the viewer away form the subject, in the final image.  Getting down low will often result in the background of the shot being much further away, meaning that you can capture the entire subject in sharp focus whilst ensuring that both the foreground and background are soft and blurred, isolating your subject in a fine plane of focus.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

3. Eye level

By getting down low, you can take photos of animals at their eye level.  Typically in wildlife photography, if the face of the animal has been captured, it is key for the eyes to be the point of focus as that is where the eyes of the viewer will immediately be drawn.  If the eyes are soft or out of focus, you will lose the viewers attention, however if the eyes are sharp you create a relationship between the subject and the viewer.  This relationship is made all the more intimate by being down at eye level with the subject as the viewer feels like they are looking at the animal from within its world.  If you take a photograph looking down on an animal, the perspective gives the animal a sense of vulnerability (which can be used creatively in some circumstances) however by getting down low this is easily avoided, and much more powerful portraits an be captured.

You may find that you initially feel awkward crawling around on your front after wildlife and that you get much muddier than if you stay on our feet, but once you start doing it and see the results, you won’t be able to stop.

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Elliot Hook
Elliot Hook

is a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Hertfordshire, UK. Elliot loves being outdoors with his camera, and is always looking to improve his own photography and share what he has learnt with others.

Elliot also can be found at his website, on Twitter, Flickr and 500px.

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