Do you have a passion for photographing fascinating creatures?
This article is for everyone who photographs wildlife. It can take years to perfect the skills needed to capture amazing photos regularly. In this post, we'll reveal the secrets for getting great shots, from ideal wildlife lighting to the best methods for capturing once-in-a-lifetime moments.
So, whatever your level of experience is if you're searching for a way to take your wildlife photography to the next level, then X marks THIS spot.
Let's get this safari started.
Get to Know Your Equipment
This is common advice, but it's 100% true. The most exciting, action-packed moments in wildlife photography last, on average, 5 to 20 seconds. You'll either miss the shot or destroy the photographs you do manage to capture if you're not well-versed with your camera's settings or lens' capabilities.
Know the bare minimum before you start:
- The minimum shutter speed to freeze action
- How your camera's shutter speed interacts with the stabilization in your lens (if your lens offers it)
- How quickly can you toggle between focus mods and focus points within those modes?
- How vast your ISO range is, and how far you can push it without ruining your images.
You must now be able to make most, if not all, of the required adjustments to your exposure/focus settings without removing your eye from the viewfinder. This way, you may make modifications on the go without fumbling (and perhaps missing the action!)
Educate Yourself on What Type of Wildlife You're Shooting
Because much wildlife photography is based on capturing fleeting instances of living history, it's a good idea to be able to anticipate your subject's actions ahead of time.
Not every animal species is as regular as the next. However, each species has its own set of behavioral patterns hardwired in it. Knowing your subject might make all the difference between capturing that "golden moment" and watching it pass by in disappointment.
Spend some quality time with your subject. If the one you're looking at or photographing isn't providing enough, don't just hang around for a few minutes and look for another subject. Spend time with animals. Keep an eye on what's going on in the environment. Wait it out. Patience is a virtue, and you won't regret it.
Learn the Norms of Wildlife Photography, but Don't be Afraid to Invent Your Own
To begin, you should understand the fundamentals: exposure and the histogram, as well as compositional rules such as the rule of thirds. Immerse yourself in them. To capture fleeting moments, you must be able to control both exposure and composition.
Related article: Photography Composition Techniques
Second, be familiar with the rules that apply to specific species of animals. Eye contact is considered essential for photographs of animals since it adds life to the picture. You might take this a step further in bird photography: The head should be positioned at least parallel to the camera sensor and, if possible, turned a few degrees toward the viewer.
It's time to start breaking the rules once you know what they are and when and how to implement them. Experiment with compositional methods and depths of field. Explore the parameters.
When the Light is Perfect, Snap a Photo
Stick to the golden hours (i.e., the time just after sunrise and before sunset). The harsh light of midday (mostly between 11:00 and 4:00) is often unpleasant to look at.
On overcast days, clouds function like a big softbox, filtering out light evenly. On those days, you can shoot all day (as long as there are willing subjects!). In wildlife photography, you must understand how to use the light in your favor.
You're often in a position where the light isn't ideal, or the light is excellent but comes from the wrong direction (and you aren't in a position to move to a better location).
The good news is that bright light from the wrong angle can dramatically improve an image's mood. Shooting into the light is difficult, but if you follow my first advice (understanding your gear!), you may get some rather unusual photographs from a less-than-ideal perspective.
Related article: Camera Settings for Bright Sunlight
Don't be Scared to Take Pictures from a Wide Perspective
Many wildlife photographers get caught up in the "focal length debate" when it becomes a fixation to have the longest/biggest lens available.
I understand that this is location-specific since you'll need a big lens to capture anything in some wide-open places. However, wildlife photographers tend to be too concerned with ultra-tight framing, resulting in sterile, uninteresting photographs with a perfectly smooth background and no sense of the subject's context.
Instead, aim to take wider shots. By shooting further away, provide a better understanding of where you took the picture and where your subject resides. This works for any animal species, including squirrels, deer, and elephants.
Include Several Subjects in One Shot
There is no need for a lengthy explanation; in wildlife photography, two is better than one, and three is best when food or shelter are involved. If you have an excellent vantage point of multiple animals from the same species, hang around!
It's a good idea to photograph your subjects interacting, if at all possible. Prepare to see snapshots of animals battling, preening one another, mating, or simply having a great time. Any activity between two animals may result in an excellent shot.
Every novice should commit this crucial wildlife photography technique to memory.
In wildlife photography, it's crucial to consider your perspective. Do you prefer to shoot from a high vantage point? Do you take photographs from a standing position? Are you flat against the ground when taking pictures? Each choice will yield a distinct outcome, some of which will be far more striking than others.
Related article: Photography Composition Techniques
Here's what I recommend: Shoot at eye level (or lower if possible). This places the viewer of your photograph in action, creating a personal connection and allowing them to see the world through your subject's eyes.
Obviously, eye level depends on the situation (you'll generally be lower than eye level with a giraffe, for example), but you get the idea.
Always keep in mind your surroundings' limits. You are not permitted to leave your car in most South African reserves, which restricts your viewpoint to a certain degree.
Don't Be Picky
On an African safari, everyone wants to see the "big 5," or at the very least a lion. However, if you've ever spent time with wild lions during the day, you'll know they're terrible photo subjects. They sleep for up to 20 hours each day.
The message? Take pictures of what you can. Look for photographs, regardless of species, when the light is right.
Wildlife photography is a challenge, and anything might happen at any moment and occur every once in a while.
You must learn to be patient. VERY patient. Try to enjoy the experience and not put too much pressure on getting every single shot you dreamed of – which brings us to:
Be Present and Have Fun
You must be in the moment. You shouldn't get caught up in technical difficulties or settings to the point that you don't notice the beauty around you while photographing birds and wildlife.
Be aware of your right to enjoy nature's beauty. Enjoy your time in locations where humans haven't quite exerted their entire presence. And have an absolute ball.
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