Tips forWildlife Photography
Many photographers dream of becoming the next great wildlife photographer featured in National Geographic. 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 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.
I will attempt to provide you with some easy-to-apply tips or advice for improving your Wildlife Photography. So how do you become a great wildlife photographer? It's a combination of lots of practice and a bit of research and learning. Wildlife photography is an ongoing adventure, so let's start with a quick overview of the points I can cover with you all :-
- Know your gear.
- Know your subject
- Know the “Rules”.
- Work the light.
- Shoot wider | Shoot Closer.
- The More, the Merrier.
- How low can you go ???
- The Content.
- Patience is a necessity.
- BE THERE & ENJOY IT.
1. KNOW YOUR GEAR
The really great action-packed moments in wildlife photography last on average (based on my experience) between 5-20 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 out your images.
- 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 settings and still achieve acceptable results.
2. KNOW YOUR SUBJECT
Since much of wildlife photography is based upon capturing fleeting moments of natural history (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. More you spend time with them, more you learn about their behaviour too and later you would be able to judge what steps your subject is going to take next. Most important point is 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.
3. KNOW THE “RULES”
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. For example if the bird is at a ground level and you are standing and taking the picture, it wont come nice at all, whereas if you take the same picture at the ground level by lying flat on the ground would bring a better picture. Yourself can see my personal picture too lying on the ground for taking the birds pictures, if you are in a jeep and u cant lie down, try to lower yourself the maximum.
4. WORK THE LIGHT
The first piece of advice u would get from any professional wildlife photographer 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. 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.
5. SHOOT WIDER | SHOOT CLOSER
Too many wildlife photographers get fixated on what I call the “focal-length”, 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 is when you click the animals too close with a bigger lens or you get as close as possible to the animals, you 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 a bee to the elephant.
6. THE MORE, THE MERRIER
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 ! Most ideal way for wildlife photography is to spend the time all alone and this way you can learn more about the animals too (Tip # 2).
7. HOW LOW CAN YOU GO???
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 wildlife reserves these days you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in the field. This may restrict you to a certain perspective but try to get yourself as low as possible for yourself.
8. THE CONTENT
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 one of my safari experience. Every tourist wants to see the Big Tiger or at least a Lion. If you’ve ever spent time around wild lions in the daytime, you will know they are actually bad models for photography. They sleep up to 20 hours per day whereas there are other lot of subjects to click such as other wildlife, birds, mammals etc.
9. PATIENCE IS 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 require to have patience…..it will pay in the long run.
10. BE THERE & ENJOY IT
I will conclude this lengthy article with the following advice… ”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 as well 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 the people who cannot travel to different wildlife sanctuaries, they do have an option as well. They can choose the most isolated spot in your local park where you can sit and observe and photograph squirrels and birds. Regardless, enjoy what you are doing and have fun doing it and please do not bother if people make fun of you while seeing you lying on the ground for taking a bird picture, you should just relax and enjoy the beautiful moment which you are spending with wildlife irrespective of what people say to you.
"I hope these tips will stand you in good stead out there in the field. Good light and good sightings to you all." - Randeep Singh