As any photographer knows, professional or beginner, it takes a lot of patience to get the right wildlife shot. And even then, you may still not get that shot your aiming for.
In this article, I’ll share 10 tips to get pictures that are sharp, exposed properly and EXTRAordinary!
It takes a lot of skill to capture even the most basic wildlife photos. Your subject could be a rabbit, jumping all over the place or a hawk stalking his prey. You can take an upwards of 100 shots to get the one photo you hope to achieve. Most photographers go to freezing action with faster shutter speeds.
#1: Pan to Capture the Movement
Animals on the move or birds in flight present excellent opportunities to enable slower shutter speeds and pan the camera to show the motion. Holding the camera in your hand instead of using a tripod, is best for panning animal movement. Here’s how. Enable the image stabilization and shooting drive set to continuous and auto-focus mode on. Track the animal with your lens before shooting. Then gently press the shutter release and hold it down while while smoothly turning your body laterally, taking many images in the process. Use faster exposures for rapidly moving subjects and longer exposures for slower subjects.
#2: Think Design
Taking great wildlife photography is more than just pointing and shooting, and fumbling with your camera settings. Hoping that your subject doesn’t run, fly or swim away. Its about the elements surround you and your subject. Look for underlying elements in your frame, such as shapes, leading lines (particularly diagonals). Check your visual weight, whether your the image is balanced and pay attention to the way your image relates to the borders of the frame. Temporarily let your subject disappear from the frame and look for all the abstract elements lurking below the surface. Your images will have a much bigger impact as a result.
#3: Try Back-lighting
A lot of the time, photographers will opt to take a photo with the light source from the front of the subject or “pointing your shadow at the subject”. Which allows the light to evenly illuminate the subject. In other words, its easy and could be boring. For a more interesting image, try back-lighting. Back-light can give feathers and fur more definition and can even make them seem to glow. When setting your exposure, over expose by at least one stop to avoid rendering your subject too dark or total silhouette. Instead of focusing on the main subject, try focusing on the rim light around the subject or on an illuminated edge to lock your auto-focus. And always use the lens hood to prevent sun flare.
#4: Use That Negative Space
Professional photographers know that the background is just as important as the subject itself. Wildlife photos with messy or distracting backgrounds lose visual impact when the primary subject blends in or gets lost in the chaos. Instead, go for a simple, less distracting background that will allow your subject to stand out. Make sure the negative space around your primary subject is ample enough so that it doesn’t feel cramped or crowded within the frame. Give your subject plenty of room to breath. If you combine tip #7, Getting Low, you can use empty expanses of sky or blurred, clean backgrounds for effective negative space. Avoid conspicuous trees or branches that could appear to come out of the subjects head or body.
#5: Shoot Wide
When photographing wildlife, the usual impulse is often to use the longest lens in the bag and zoom in as tight on the subject as possible. Every once in awhile, resist the urge and explore a wider view instead. The surrounding environment can lend a perspective and create a more compelling composition-and a more complete photo. If you are using a zoom lens, pull away from the viewfinder and take in the surrounding environment. Ask yourself whether including it would strengthen the image. Try zooming out a little or a lot. If necessary, witch to a wide angle lens to really show the context and tell the story of how and where the subject is.
#6: Know Your Subject
If you are a professional wildlife photographer, you may know that luck plays a huge part on getting the fantastic shot. But we can’t rely on luck alone. It really helps to do a little studying, if you know what you are going to photograph. Learning the habits and habitats of your subjects, lends a great deal of expertise when getting the perfect shot. Before heading out, do some internet searching to learn a few things about your subject. Field guides are also a big help in learning your subject.
#7: Get Low
With a few exceptions, the absolute worst perspective is shooting downward at a subject. You have the immediate ground as your background and you’ll be lucky if you can get any eye contact from your subject. Getting to a lower perspective, especially with your smaller subjects, allows your viewers to connect with the animal. It becomes mutual respect, not dominance. Getting low also delivers far more interesting out of focus backgrounds where the subject almost pops off the print or screen.
#8: Show Interaction and Gesture
Gesture is defined as a movement that expresses meaning. We want our images to have meaning, so why not let our animal friends help us express it. Don’t be satisfied with the subject staring off into the wilderness, try capturing the subject doing things like eating, playing or even mating. Giving your image some emotion, action, a story.
#9: Don’t Reveal Everything
To pull the viewer into the scene, hold a little something back. Hide some of your subject behind visual obstacles such as trees, a screen of out of focus leaves or other animals. As long as at least one of the animals eyes is visible and the viewer can connect with the subject, you can conceal other areas behind obstructions. Try using shadows or reflections instead of showing the subject itself. Make your viewers work to help unravel the mystery you’ve created,
#10: Take Advantage of Auto Modes
Unless you want to purposely blur your subject, set your camera to shutter priority and auto ISO to ensure sharpness. You can set a minimum shutter speed that will be sure to freeze any animal movement and let ISO automatically control the exposure. Setting your camera to make sure it fires at a fast minimum speed is particularly helpful in situations when camera shake is a possibility, such as in a car, boat or in windy weather. There is nothing worse than having a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounter result in a blurry image because the shutter speed was too slow. Follow this simple technique and motion blur will never be an issue.
Even if you are a professional, or just starting out, these tips and techniques will surely give you better shots each time. Your viewers will be more engaged and more emotionally tied to your work, rather than just passing by it. By allowing these techniques to work for you, you can be assured that your wildlife photography will be make a splash, take flight and leave a lasting impression on those who view them.