7 Wildlife Photography Tips
Wildlife photography is on the rise again. With gear becoming more affordable and landmark TV shows such as Planet Earth 2 inspiring professionals and amateurs alike, there’s a new wave of photographers wanting to indulge themselves in everything Mother Nature has to offer.
But wildlife photography is a fine art, and certainly not as easy as point-and-shoot. Whether you’re going in search of the elusive leopard on the African plains, or want to snap birds of prey high in the skies, here are eight wildlife photography tips to help you take better pictures on your travels.
1. Gear up
Thanks to massive technological advancements in digital cameras, the barrier to entry for wildlife photography has become significantly lower.
To get started, invest in a decent DSLR (think Nikon D3300) with an entry-level telephoto lens (around 300mm). Bridge cameras work too, but the light sensitivity that a DSLR gives you can make a big difference. If you’re feeling creative, invest in a wide angle (anything under 35mm) to show off the gorgeous setting you’re shooting in.
2. Plan ahead and do your research
Scout out your intended shooting locations before you want to start taking pictures. Study how the light of sunrise or sunset changes the environment, find dens or roosting sites and, of course, witness the behaviour of your subjects.
Wildlife is inherently unpredictable, which is exciting but sometimes frustrating. Pick a species you want to photograph and do your research. When are they most active? Where do they live? What do they eat? How do they react to a human presence?
Understanding the innate behaviours of your subject will not only bring better sightings but ultimately, allow you to reflect their character in your photography.
3. Get low
When setting up – whether on the forest floor in Finland or on the heaths of Scotland’s Highlands – you’ll want to get as low as physically possible. Practically, you’re far less visible to the animal. Photographically, the image will be far more powerful.
Being at eye level allows for a stronger emotional bond between the subject and the viewer. You want a viewer to feel part of the environment that your subject lives in.
4. Use light to your advantage
As with all photography, lighting is everything. For wildlife photography, there are three general categories: backlighting/rim light, standard lighting (direct on subject) and silhouetting.
To choose your approach, consider both the type of light and character of the animal. If you’re photographing a fox in the spring time, for example, you might want to consider how the dawn light plays with the dew on grass.
5. Frame it right
The right framing separates the good from the great. With long focal lengths, even a slight shuffle to the left or right could change the image entirely, so don’t just snap away without thinking.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take a picture if the frame isn’t perfect, though: if you’re in the midst of photographing your subject and it suddenly moves, keep in mind that slightly off-framing is better than an image with no animal at all.
6. Tell a story
Light, framing and backgrounds all come together to tell a story around the subject. The best wildlife photography always creates intrigue in the viewer and gives an understanding of behaviour and environment. Think about how the background of your shot complements the animal.
Hares in long grass; little owls sitting on a post with a forested background; leopards lounging in trees: whilst the eye is naturally drawn to the subject, it’s important the whole scene tells a story.
7. Be persistent
Wildlife photography is one of the hardest mediums of all. You need good light, interesting landscapes, ideal weather conditions, and an animal – and, of course, for said animal to be doing something interesting.
The reality is that most outings won’t meet the lofty expectations that you set for yourself – with so many variables, the odds are always against you. However, persistence and a real passion for wildlife are key, and when it does come off, there’s no better feeling in photography.