Buying a long lens doesn't guarantee you’ll get better wildlife shots. As a matter of fact, if a photographer simply purchases a long lens but continues using bad practices, the only guarantee is that his or her bad pictures will be more magnified. First learn the principles of good wildlife photography. Practice with species that tolerate your presence. Accumulate some great images. If you still feel the need to get a super telephoto, then go for it. Until then, apply the following principles to get to the next level.
Be Cognizant Of The Background: When I run my nature photo tours or teach a workshop, I constantly tell my participants to be aware of the background. I’m often heard saying, “The background is equally as important as the subject.” A fantastic subject against a distracting background nets a confusing image. Take that same subject and put it against a clean background and it’s a winning shot. Wait for the subject to move to where the background is neutral or dark. Patience is essential and should be practiced if you want to get good wildlife shots. Get to a higher vantage point or get lower to the ground as each may improve the background. Often, a few steps to the right or left make all the difference. When a good subject and background line up, fire away. If it doesn’t happen but you insist on pressing the shutter, study the results. Based on the outcome, you’ll learn that as badly as you want the shot to turn out well, the bad background prevents it from being a winner.
Avoid Mergers: Mergers come in many forms. If a subject completely or partially touches the side of the frame, it’s an edge merger. If bright or dark spots in the background blend in with the subject, it’s a tone merger. If multiple subjects overlap each other in an awkward way, it’s a subject merger. Be patient and wait for the subjects to separate. Will patience always prevent mergers? Will symmetry occur? Not by any means. I can’t tell you how many times I waited for subjects to get in the proper alignment and it never materialized. But for the times it paid off, it washed away the lonely hours of waiting. The fewer the number of subjects the better the odds of things falling into place, so start with twos and threes and work your way up the ladder.
The Importance of a Good Head Angle: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing a wild animal in your viewfinder. It often prompts photographers to lay on the motor drive. But to save you editing time, be aware that once an animal flies, walks or runs past you, stop pressing the shutter. All you’ll get are butt shots. Once the subject is past perpendicular to the lens, stop pressing the shutter. A related concept is before it reaches that perpendicular position, be aware of the head angle. If the animal’s head faces away or toward the back of the frame, it loses its connection with the photographer—not a good time to press the shutter. On the other hand, if the head angle is 90 degrees or less from the front of the lens, press it. For most situations, the closer to 45 degrees, the better.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.