Since DSLRs became more widely accessible, more photographers have begun to explore wildlife photography.
Wildlife photography, along with landscape photography, seems to have seen a significant increase in popularity in recent years, at least in terms of the number of people who practise it as serious hobbyists or aspiring professionals.
This is particularly true in my home country of South Africa, where visiting iconic self-drive safari locations like Kruger National Park has long been a family tradition. The presence of neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe has no negative impact on this trend!
However, if you spend any time on your favourite online photography forum (at least those that allow photo posting) or other photo-sharing sites like Facebook or Flickr, you’ll find that not every photo of a wild animal speaks to you. For aerial photography click here.
I’m not sure how many people just shoot and hope for the best, or if they believe they’re doing their subjects justice by doing so (when that is not at all the case). Let me state unequivocally that no offence is meant, and I, too, take photos that fall into the categories listed above. But it’s going a step further and capturing a rare wildlife shot that checks all the boxes that we should all be aiming for. And when the chance arises, we must be ready.
In today’s post, I’ll try to give you some practical advice and tips for improving your wildlife photography.
Some of these suggestions might seem obvious, and you’ve probably seen a similar list of “how-tos” somewhere else. But keep in mind that common sense isn’t so common these days, and that everyone has their own perspective on things, no matter how similar it is.
I believe I will touch on a few points that are not solely technical; photography is, after all, an art form. Rather than following conventions and standards, we sometimes need to be opened up to catch the vision we have in our heads.
This may sound like a cliche, but you already know it’s real.
In my experience, the truly amazing, action-packed moments in wildlife photography last between 5 and 20 seconds on average. You can either skip the shot or blow the photographs you do manage to capture if you are unfamiliar with your camera’s settings or the capabilities of your chosen lens.
Here’s what’s crucial:
- Understand the minimum shutter speed at which your camera/lens combination can produce a sharp image.
Recognize the additional margins that in-camera or in-lens stabilisation provides.
You should be able to easily switch between focus points or focus modes.
Know how high you can set the ISO on your camera and still get good results.
In general, I believe you should be able to make the majority, if not all, of the requisite exposure/focus changes without taking your gaze away from the viewfinder.
Even though we sat with them for more than an hour, the play between the cheetahs in the following picture lasted just 10 seconds:
Get to know the wildlife.
Doesn’t this go without saying? Since so much of wildlife photography is focused on catching brief moments of natural history (read: fascinating poses or actions), being able to anticipate your subject’s behaviour ahead of time is advantageous.
Granted, not all animal behaves in the same way. Every animal species, however, has entrenched behavioural habits. Knowing your subject will mean the difference between being prepared to capture the “golden moment” and watching it pass you by in anguish. For more info click here.
There is only one way to learn about wildlife now:
Take your time with it. If the subject you’re watching or photographing isn’t delivering the goods, don’t just wait a few minutes and move on to the next one. Take a seat among the animals. Keep an eye out for wildlife. Please hold your horses. Knowing what the Lilac-breasted Roller was going to do with its grasshopper lunch and being prepared for it resulted in this image:
Know the “rules” of wildlife photography; break the “rules” of wildlife photography
Regardless of genre, there are certain unwritten rules that form the cornerstone of good photography. Then there are some “laws” that apply primarily to the genre of wildlife photography.
Understanding proper exposure and histogram usage, as well as making proper compositions using a guideline like the rule of thirds, are both crucial to ingrain in your subconscious. You want to be able to accurately catch the brief moment as quickly as possible.
Eye contact with the subject is important in wildlife photography because it gives the picture life. In the case of avian photography (birds), you can go much further: the head angle in relation to the imaging sensor of the camera should be at least perpendicular to it, but preferably turned a few degrees towards the sensor (and therefore turned towards the viewer, who ultimately gets to view the image captured by the sensor).