Taking Photography into the WIld
Wildlife photography is very challenging, especially for new photographers, because you have no control over your subject and very little control over the conditions. As a beginner, or if you’re just a tourist who would like to capture animals in their natural habitat, you’ve probably wondered about the best wildlife tips and tricks.
Luckily, there are a few select areas of consideration that, when used frequently and confidently, can greatly increase the chances of capturing a once in a lifetime shot of your subject. Great shots take skill, planning, and persistence.
Let’s start with some basic tips to get that magical wildlife shot:
It’s no surprise that light is the most important factor in all forms of photography but it’s especially important for wildlife photography because of the inability to control what little light you do have.
Wildlife photography is about capturing animals in their most candid moments, and those moments usually exist during very early and late hours of the day.
Choose a time when the sun is at it’s warmest in hue, casting rich colours across the landscape and often providing a dramatic backdrop for your subject.
Pro Tip: The key to this wildlife photography tip is not to simply wake up early enough to shoot in this light, but to use the light creatively and to always be aware of it. Know the direction the light will be coming from and plan for it.
Challenge yourself to think creatively about dramatic lighting, because you will end up with very unique and thoughtfully composed shots.
Consider the sun setting over the hot plains and a large elephant walking away from where you’re shooting, every creature turning in for the night. A blood red African sunset like that shouldn’t be wasted, especially when it is the perfect backdrop for a silhouette shot of the elephant walking toward the setting sun.
Pro Tip: Using light in a dramatic way, from backlighting to casting dark shadows and lines across your subject can add a unique and intriguing tone to your shots because of the thought and care put into it.
If lighting isn’t good or if your subject has both dark and light contrasting colours on their body, a low-powered external flash can give you that extra light you need to fill in those spots or simply to provide that perfect gleam in your subjects’ eyes.
If you know your location, then chances are you’re going to have a better idea of what the weather will be like and how it will impact your light and your subjects’ movements or behaviours.
Shooting during the golden hours, dawn and dusk, will often bring about a change in temperature and a change in temperature means a shift in wind.
If you want to get close to wildlife you always want to approach from downwind. When the sun sets after a long hot day, the cooler temperatures will push the warm air up and out of the river bottoms causing the wind to swirl and often switch directions to going up and out.
Of course, every location has different weather patterns and even some animals don’t mind people snooping around, depending on where you are and the time of year – but knowing you location, its weather patterns, and your subjects behaviour will give you the upper hand to make your own luck and capture those once in a lifetime shots.
As mentioned before, knowing your subjects’ behaviour will help you identify their next move. For example, if your subject is an animal of prey who relies on hearing their predators’ approach as much as seeing and smelling them, then a storm is going to change their movements and behaviour.
Animals change their behaviour throughout the year, so knowing when and where they appear will save you hours or days of fruitless searching.
Being intentional with what you want to capture and how you want to capture it will greatly enhance the photos you take, but it takes plenty of patience.
Using light creatively and intentionally by putting yourself in the best spot to capture a movement or behaviour you can predict from your subject will increase your chances of a unique shot.
It is hard to predict what your subject will do at any given moment and you obviously can’t give them directions on how to stand or which way to look, but at least you can predict their behaviour, position yourself where you can capture the shot you’ve envisioned, and wait for an opportunity to arise.
Use your time wisely to observe your subjects as well as sense their movements and thoughts.
Pro Tip: If your subject is a bird of prey in flight over an open field watching for prey, you might see that they follow the same flight path back and forth, turning at the same point every time. Catch them in that turn to make for a more action filled shot versus a shot of the bird flying.
A great wildlife photography tip is to embrace negative space. A blank canvas behind an animal can put more emphasis on the subject or it can offer an interesting contrast to the photos setting.
If you find that you can’t eliminate a distracting background from your photo by re-positioning yourself, then get closer and fill the frame.
If you can’t get closer for whatever reason you can also consider changing your camera’s aperture to soften the background with a blur and bring the subject of the shot into an intentional focus.
Pro Tip: This wildlife photography tip is especially helpful when capturing a subject that travels in large groups like birds, buck, or meerkats.
Wildlife photography has many things you should and should not do. This is for the simple reason that you are working with unpredictable, wild creatures. However, the core of wildlife photography is actually quite simple, and you don’t need to be a professional photographer to get some really amazing shots. Be patient, be cautious, and be creative - spend the time, know the animals, and the images will come about naturally.