If you’ve got a camera with a telephoto lens and you’re not sure what to do with it or you’ve just been to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum, then investigating wildlife as potential photographic subject matter should certainly be at the forefront of your mind.
This has to be one of the most rewarding of all forms of photography and from setting up a hide and patiently waiting, to gaining an understanding of the animals, birds and landscapes that are around us every day, wildlife photography is an exciting and enthralling hobby for all ages.
As with all new skills, getting to understand the basics is always your best bet and below are just some key pearls of wisdom that will no doubt help you on your way to becoming the next Ansel Adams or John Shaw.
Be well prepared
As wildlife photography is often dependent on capturing a moment that isn’t planned or pre-arranged it can require an element of getting ready for every eventuality. Staying out overnight, trekking long distances and remaining still in one place can all be needed to get the perfect shot and if you’re not prepared then you may have to cut short an expedition and come home empty handed. Provisions, clothing, back up lens, batteries and film are all essential for every great wildlife photographer so pack well and be prepared for every outcome.
How to compose
Once you have finally reached the moment when the perfect image looms large in your camera lens then the urge to snap away is often too much to resist however, remaining calm and getting the right shot rather than relying on pot luck is definitely the best way forward. Composition is everything and if you can carefully judge where and why each of the image elements are set in your frame then you should be getting closer to getting the perfect picture. Top tip: use a 9 square grid to divide your frame and aim to position your subject where the lines cross to hit the ideal ‘sweet spot’.
Time for your close up
Often, when photographing animals and insects in the wild, it’s nigh on impossible to get up close without scaring off your intended target. Buying a zoom lens or even a remote camera operating system is the best way to get all the detail of your subject matter without having to spook it or make its appearance seem startled or unnatural. Compact cameras will only take the optical zoom facility so far which means that you may not always get the image that you’d hoped for. Tripods will help to keep your lens steady however, if you’re starting to really take wildlife photography seriously then purchasing an interchangeable DSLR camera will always help you get better results.
Let there be light
Taking a photo of an animal in its natural habitat is always going to be an amazing experience and no matter what level your expertise, nothing can be sweeter than capturing the perfect moment. It has to be said that animals alone do not make the photograph a success and from composition to background you’ll need to take several aspects of shot into account before you finally nail ‘the one’. Light is a key factor in wildlife photography and without doubt the sunrise and the sunset are considered to be optimum times of the day. Overcast days, bright sunshine and rain can all be used to great effect so practise and gain experience with different exposure settings and filtrations before you feel confident to make the most of the varying levels of light that each day can provide.
What’s in your kit bag?
From gorilla grip tripods to polarising filters, what you have in your kit bag says a lot about you as a photographer as well as providing a means of staying flexible no matter what the wild world has to throw at you. Tripods need to be as sturdy as possible and packing a spirit level is always good value for ensuring you’re positioned at the correct angle. Lenses are often key when using a manual camera however, automatics and compacts will often alleviate the need to carry them around which will make your kit bag a little lighter. Filters take a little while to get the hang of and often it’s just a question of trial and error before you find what works for you. Best advice: practise with a variety of tech and gadgetry prior to setting off and ask advice at the local store or from an experienced camera person as they’ll always be more than happy to help with wise words and handy tips.
Get out there and practise
At the end of the day, you’ll know how far you’re willing to travel and which sorts of animals you’re hoping to photograph. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re on your safaris in Africa, wildlife holidays in America or watching bees in your back garden, this is a fun and calming hobby which requires as much patience as it does practise so get out there and start snapping. It’s often estimated that you can’t properly call yourself a wildlife photographer until after your first 1000 shots so if you’re still wondering why you’re not quite hitting the mark then just keep trying and slowly but surely you’ll begin to appreciate that experience and a successful photograph often go hand in hand.
Chris always attends the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition every year and can’t wait to get snapping away in his garden and down his allotment now the winter is over.