Be ready to shoot the fast action of wildlife and adventure sports
Sports-action and wildlife photography are connected because of their mutual reliance on spur-of-the-moment, lightning-fast activity. The photographic techniques required for each are similar as is the mindset of those who specialize in either endeavor. The pros who spend their lives seeking out the best in wildlife or sports photography have valuable insight into how they're able to capture their images—and how you can, too.
1. Use Water Reflections I waited for the sun to get low enough to provide warm lighting on the butte while the river was in shadow, but the reflection of the sky in the calm water kept it bright enough to silhouette the kayaker. Without using a split-neutral-density filter, I overexposed the butte slightly to bring out more detail in the shadowed area. Using the rule of thirds, I placed the kayaker in the bottom third of the image to balance the composition.
2. Simple Stabilization When shooting telephoto lenses, I often use the lens or camera strap as a device to help stabilize the camera. I wrap the strap over my right shooting shoulder and push the camera forward against the strap while holding the camera to my eye. This creates tension and makes it much easier to hold steady a longer lens. I regularly shoot action images in this manner with my 200-400mm and 500mm Nikon lenses. This simple system keeps me free to move fast if I have to and my camera reasonably stable, too.
—Daniel J. Cox
3. Be Part Of The Sport Just as important as photographic skills is mastery of the vertical arts one wishes to photograph. This includes the ability to previsualize the image so that safe and proper rigging can be put in place in advance to get you in position. Rigging often requires more time and effort than actual shooting—miscalculate and you may find yourself literally "hanging around," watching as the best light and action occur just out of reach. Action sports photography is a performing art. At its highest level, it requires exquisite communication between all the participants in order to succeed. At the end of the day, ask yourself, did we all collaborate, listen, imagine, brainstorm and explore together as best we could in order to create the most powerful image possible? In the long run, that's what will set you apart and keep you motivated.
4. Eye To Eye The most effective wildlife shots are made from the subject's level. Images made from a standing height lack the intimacy of a ground-level image so be prepared to get down onto your knees or belly when necessary. Whenever you're close to wildlife, move slowly—tai chi-like. Don't worry about being seen; the animal will know you're there, but slow, deliberate movements are always less threatening.
5. Be Radical If you're shooting digitally, don't be conservative! For fast action sequences, fire as fast as your motordrive will allow while keeping an eye on your buffer so you don't run out of memory during the best action. Birds in flight, animals sparring or fighting, dolphins breaking a bow wave and other action occurs faster than you can respond, so it's best to start snapping as soon as the activity begins. Activities that have a peak, however, like a mountain goat jumping from one rock to another, are best shot by anticipation and not by random fast-firing.
6. High-End Shooting I do a lot of aerial photography from helicopters and I'm frequently asked what shutter speed to use and how to avoid vibrations. First, you need to find a helicopter that has the blades perfectly tracked or balanced; this can make the difference between a ride like a Cadillac and a motocross bike. Take the bare essentials in the air with you; don't clutter your floor space with unnecessary gear. When in the air and shooting, seat yourself comfortably in the center of the seat cushion for maximum comfort and vibration absorption. If you sit on the edge of the seat or touch the frame of the seat or aircraft, the vibration goes straight to you and your camera. Hold the camera as if you're drinking a glass of champagne, delicately and relaxed, again avoiding transmitting the bumps and vibration to the camera. Take your time to explain the angle to the pilot, be patient and relax. A helicopter is the best tool for photography—it goes up and down, hovers, flies backward and gives you perspectives most people would never see. It's a blast!
—Onne van der Wal
7. Make Big Air Look Even Bigger I used a Nikon 24mm wide-angle lens to accentuate the height off the ground of the snowboarder in this image. By keeping my angle low and having only the sky behind the snowboarder, the feeling of height was exaggerated. I also wanted to include the sun as an element in the image. The 24mm lens kept the sun at a small diameter so it wouldn't overwhelm the image. The sun then provided great backlighting to illuminate the snowboarder's contrail.
8. Stick With It Be patient and wait for the decisive moment. Too often, there's a tendency to get some shots and to feel like "you've got it" when, in reality, you've just scratched the surface. I usually stay with a subject until all possibilities are exhausted—time and again, I've captured my best images after the average shooter would have packed up and left. Why? Perhaps it's simply because wildlife grows accustomed to you, and the longer you linger, the more likely you'll have your subject relax and exhibit interesting behavior.
9. Heads Up Animal action happens fast so always be prepared to shoot, with everything setup in advance. If you use a D-SLR, avoid looking at the LCD screen until after the action is over and keep shooting until the buffer begs for forgiveness—then shoot some more. Any slight exposure worries always can be corrected at the RAW stage.
10. Wait For The Light I scout locations at midday when scenes are evenly lit. Often before shooting, I wait several hours for the sun to sink in the sky and throw some areas into dark shadow. That lighting enhances the dramatic look of an image—in one image, I created vivid contrast with a rock climber appearing to be hanging above a deep abyss. That kind of stark contrast between light rock and dark-shadowed area makes for a much more dramatic scene than the one you see at noon.