If you’re going to the woods or safari, you should definitely follow these wildlife photography tips to take professional photos of wild animals that are not blurred. It’s quite difficult for an amateur photographer because there are no do-overs, and there may not be a second successful opportunity to take a good shot.
You won’t be able to ask a leopard to jump on the rocks again, or an antelope to run in front of you for a second time. Photographing wildlife is a kind of reportage where you need to make the most of every opportunity in order to get an interesting picture.
1. Study the Prospective Subject of Photography
Before shooting, you should clearly know what animals live in the planned area for photography, study their habits and daily routine well. You need to understand who, where and at what time eats, rests or mates.
This will not only help you choose the right time and place to take pictures but also take care of your safety. In fact, there are many animals that may attack you if they are disturbed at the wrong time.
2. Choose a Good Camera
Not every camera is suitable for photographing wild animals. The best choice for this genre would be to use a DSLR camera. Stick to the models of the middle and professional level as they usually feature weather protection, manual adjustments and support a number of lenses.
Many shooters are eager to lay their hands on Nikon D500. For its price, you won’t find a better option for photographing wild animals. Among its advantages are burst rate of 10fps and a large buffer. Thanks to the latter, the camera doesn’t stop shooting even in RAW mode and is capable of producing up to 200 continuous photographs.
Another camera body to consider is Canon EOS 7D Mark II. As the model’s autofocus reaches f/8, it is a perfect fit to be used with teleconverters.
An ordinary camera may fail you at the most unexpected moment as it isn’t protected from outside influence. So, to ensure that the camera is able to withstand all kinds of conditions, get a weather-proof one. It will be a worthy investment, be sure.
3. Use the Right Focal Length
The majority of wildlife photographers are using telephoto lenses for shooting. The reason is that such lenses are capable of capturing scenes from afar. Certain models boast optical stabilization (OS) to eliminate shaking that occurs because of maximum zooming. Be ready to pay a lot for such a model. Fortunately, the market offers inexpensive lenses for beginners.
With a responsive telephoto lens (200mm +), for instance, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, you will be able to bring the animals nearer without disturbing their privacy.
If you are lucky to observe the wild animals from up close, you may take advantage of a wide-angle lens. With its help, you will be able to capture the surroundings and the natural habitat of fauna. For such a shot, we recommend using the NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G lens. It boasts a compact size, it doesn’t weigh a lot, and its reliable design won’t let you down when shooting outside.
You have an option of converting ordinary lenses if you attach them to camera backward (reverse mounting) using extension tubes or an adaptor. In case you don’t have such items at hand, shoot with a telephoto zoom. Zoom into the animals while you are quite far away, and it will produce dimensions that are close to macro ones. This method isn’t the most practical, but it is at least something.
4. Protect Yourself and Your Gear
The next wildlife photography tips concern your outfit. Don’t forget about protecting your head with a hat if the sun turns out to be too harsh or it starts to rain. Consider getting a Boonie hat as it covers the face together with the whole head. Insects is another thing you need protection from, so buy headwear with a mosquito net.
One more item that might come in useful is a large raincoat for covering the body, the camera and the bag entirely. In case of heavy rain, such a coat may be used as a small tent.
If it suddenly gets colder, wear a warm jacket along with designated photography gloves that will make photographing with a pointing finger more convenient.
5. Forget about Auto Mode
Photographing large animals that are constantly in motion requires a maximum shutter speed of at least 1/500 of a second, ideally – 1/2000 of a second. The disadvantages of short shutter speed consist in the fact that you have to open the wide aperture in order to get enough light. It significantly reduces the depth of field, especially when working with long-focus lenses.
The only way to deal with this problem is to increase ISO. Besides, don’t forget to experiment with shooting at long exposures. This will allow you to be creative when it comes to conveying the dynamics of movement.
6. Use the Rule of Thirds
If you know the Rule of Thirds and successfully apply it, the composition, balance and visual appeal of your wildlife photo will always be on point. This rule consists in the division of the frame into three vertical and horizontal areas equal in size and overlaying a grid (3 by 3) on it. The significant details and subjects of the frame are supposed to be located in these frames.
For instance, the subject may be located not in the center of the frame but along the left gridline. Besides, you may tweak the composition and locate the horizon on the bottom third, without dividing the frame in half. Remember that the horizon line should always be straight.
7. Change the Perspective
You can often see a photographer shooting at the level of his height. From this angle, it is very difficult to take a good shot. If possible, a photographer should get lower – to the level of the animal’s eyes. Visual contact with the subject lets you achieve a more trusting relationship with it.
In addition, you are less of a threat when you are not towering over the model. As a result, the animals will feel more at ease, sometimes even forgetting about your presence, which will allow you to take interesting shots of their daily life.
8. Always Edit Your Photos
FixThePhoto is a photo editing service that you can trust your wildlife shots. If you think that your photos are good as they are, without any image post-production manipulations, you are actually wrong. Wildlife photography requires to be edited. This includes color correction, white balance alignment, setting the correct temperature, adding sharpness and even applying effects.
9. Shoot During the Golden and Blue Hours
The same as with any photography genre, lighting plays an important role in photographing wild animals. Try capturing wildlife during the golden hour, which is the time before dusk or after dawn. That’s when the lighting is soft and warm, and the shadows aren’t so harsh.
Apart from the golden hour, you may shoot during blue hour, which is the time straight before dawn or after dusk. The sky is deep blue, and the lighting is sufficient to take photographs.
10. Try Dramatic Lighting
Among other wildlife photo tips, we would like to encourage you to play around with the lighting. For instance, try using a backlight or rim lighting for spectacular results.
Side lighting is an excellent variant as well. Incorporate dusk, dawn, moonlight or gloomy sky into the dramatic lighting effect. Or you may experiment with silhouettes if you are after a more unusual look.
11. Notice Patterns
Marvelous pattern photographs require plenty of patience and effort. You will need to get acquainted with a special guide and hone the skill. Only after a while, as you gain experience, you will start noticing the patterns and be able to convey them beautifully in shots.
To achieve the necessary pattern, you may photograph a number of subjects and place one odd item in a line in accordance with the rule of thirds. One more variant is to take pictures of animals with the patterns on bodies, like a giraffe or a leopard. If you are taking pictures of birds, zoom in and take a full-frame pic with the pattern on their feathers.
12. Try Black & White
Many wildlife shooters love taking black and white shots. It often happens that the captured scene features too many elements that divert attention, or the background is too cluttered. Black&white color correction can save the situation and direct the eyes of the viewers to the primary subject of the shot. Besides, b&w photographs have that ageless classic flair.
13. Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot in Bad Weather
One of the best wildlife photo tips we could give you is not to be afraid of photographing in terrible weather conditions, especially if you strive for captivating shots. Not many people will be impressed by a regular picture of an animal lying in the sun. But how about capturing an animal’s behavior during snow? Sounds more interesting, doesn’t it? Convey the struggle the animal faces when the weather is rough and there is no place to hide from it.
Terrible weather conditions may actually help you when you are photographing wild animals and add drama to shots. A fog contributes to the overall mystery of the shot. Snow produces a white background that will contrast with the subject, making it more prominent and attention-grabbing.
14. Learn from Famous Photographers
You need to know well what you want, what has already been done and is being done in the world of photography. To do this, you have to look at the works of other photographers. We recommend you to pay attention to such photographers as Martin Bailey, whose works has been published by Popular Photography Magazine, X-Rite, Pomegranate, Korean Air, Creation Durable (Paris), Real Music and Light of Consciousness Magazine and Jon Cornforth, who is a worldwide-famous wildlife photographer, known for skillful compositions and careful attention to details.
Copying in this genre is unreal. You need to learn and also know what has already been done by other photographers. Try shooting something new and do it better. In wildlife photography, as in any other genre, the bar is constantly raised. To be able to compete in the industry, you need to keep improving your skills, setting new and new standards for yourself.
You need to photograph a lot, with pleasure and without putting it off for tomorrow. When shooting, make mistakes, analyze them and shoot again. The more you photograph and analyze, the more successful the shots are.
15. Be Patient
By watching an animal, you can capture a moment that lasts only a second, which a random person would never be able to see. To achieve a decent wildlife photo, you should be persistent and be patient. Remember that good moments are worth a lot of effort and work.