Wildlife photography is a challenge. When it comes to nature photography, it’s the most difficult aspect into which you’ll endeavor. There’s a plethora of variables over which you have zero control. Will the subject cross your path as you traverse a road or trail? Will it appear in a place where the background is clean? Will the light cooperate? Will the animal face you to provide a good head angle? Will the weather comply? Will the subject be active?
I could go on and on asking these rhetorical questions, but it’s obvious that I’ve made my point—wildlife photography is difficult! Here are eight ways to improve your wildlife photography.
How To Improve Your Wildlife Photography
With all the unpredictable factors that are part of the process, how does one get to become a good wildlife photographer? Invest the time, have persistence, do research, accept the bad with the good, have good timing and hope for a bit of luck are some great ways to start.
I want to share some key concepts and hopefully motivate you to immerse yourself in the challenge because when you do get that killer shot, all the time spent where nothing was produced will be forgotten.
Know Your Subject
It’s essential you learn the habits and behaviors of the animals you photograph, such as:
- Where do they dwell?
- What time of year do they rut?
- When do females give birth?
- Do they migrate and if so, to where and when?
There are many wildlife hotspots. For instance, Bosque del Apache is famous for sandhill cranes and snow geese from mid-November through February. Go there at other times of the year and it will be a wasted trip. The wildebeests in Africa calve in February, which makes it peak season. Many photographers want to capture the birthing of the young. The more you study an animal, the more you’ll be able to predict behavior, such as what sign it gives when it’s ready to fly and what facial expression it shows when it hunts.
Know Your Light
My business motto is, “It’s All About The Light.” The quality of light can make or break a photo. Photographers naturally love the sun, but if you photograph animals mid-day when it’s sunny, there’s too much light. This creates a contrasty situation, so be careful what you wish for. The best times of day are sunrise and sunset when the light angle is low and the color is warm. Bright overcast light works well by providing a full-sky softbox. The light is even, so one can make photos the entire day.
Know Your Camera
RTM—Read The Manual. Learn all that your camera can do by reading the manual and practice what you absorb. I guarantee that the subject won’t repeat the behavior you missed because you pressed the wrong button, was looking for a special setting or didn’t know how to modify the setting. Take a class, watch videos, go out with friends—do whatever it takes for you to know your camera.
Depth Of Field
The aperture controls depth of field. The smaller the aperture, the more depth of field and the wider the lens, the more depth of field. The majority of the time, it’s preferable to make wildlife portraits with an out-of-focus background. To accomplish this, use your longest setting in conjunction with your widest aperture.
That being said, unless the animal is far enough away from the background, it won’t matter. If the subject is close to the background, the background will more than likely create a distraction. It’s critical you put all the pieces of the puzzle in the proper place to get the end result you want.
Exhaust All Possibilities
When you pick up a camera, it’s easy to understand that most images are made in the horizontal format. Part of exhausting all possibilities is making a composition that works in the vertical format. You now have two images of the same subject. Two is better than one!
With a zoom lens attached, you have the option to utilize different focal lengths. Make a photo with the lens zoomed to the telephoto end and fill the frame with the subject. Now, go to the wide setting and make an environmental portrait where you show the subject in its habitat. Do this both in a horizontal and vertical format.
Adhere to this and you’ll go home with many more images. It’s so much better to be able to choose which one you like best while you’re editing than to have failed to give yourself the option while in the field.
As if wildlife photography of a single subject isn’t difficult enough, try making a photo where everything comes together when there are multiple subjects. For successful images, be sure to:
- Watch for awkward mergers.
- Be cognizant of the background.
- Be aware of each animal’s head angle.
- Don’t cut off a tail or foot of one of the subjects.
There will be times when you come across a sleeping lion surrounded by cubs and none are doing anything interesting. In a situation like that, it pays to wait it out and see what develops. Yes, it’s true that there may be something around the corner, but while you’re investigating, the moment about which you always dreamed may have occurred and the lion and cubs have now wandered off and you missed the shot. Regardless of the subject, there will be times where you have to show more determination than the animal and simply wait it out. It’s not easy, but it’s part of the hunt.
Persistence goes hand in hand with patience, and those who are more persistent and persevere often come back with winning images. Those who stay in the field for longer periods, those who invest more days waiting, those who take the time to read the manual, those who go into the field more frequently when that 5 a.m. alarm goes off, those who…again—you get the idea.
If you want that trophy image, apply the above to your photography and when you do capture it, leave me a comment to let me know. Good luck and good shooting.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.