10 tips to improve your wildlife photography
Be familiar with the equipment
Be ready (technically and mentally)
Know the behavior of animals
To be in the right place at the right time
Respect for nature and animals
Clear statement - play with the distance
Conscious use of perspective and background
Put every animal in the best light
Patience is not a virtue ... it is a necessity
1. BE FAMILIAR WITH THE EQUIPMENT
Sounds like the biggest cliché? ... but you know it's true for wildlife photography. In my experience, the really great actions in the animal kingdom last between 1 and a maximum of around 20 seconds. If you are unfamiliar with your camera's settings or the capabilities of the lens you have chosen, you will either miss the moment or with due sadness erased the pictures you can take later.
Do you know the minimum shutter speed with which you can achieve a sharp picture with your camera / lens combination?
Do you know the additional possibilities that stabilization in the camera or in the lens offers you?
Know how to quickly switch between focus points or focus modes?
Do you know how high you can go with your camera's ISO setting to still achieve acceptable results?
Of course, depending on your equipment, sooner or later there will be limits. But the best equipment is of little use if you don't know how to use it.
Look for tutorials on the Internet in quiet times or attend a photography course to get to know the possibilities and limits of your equipment and then it is time to try it out, practice, stick with it.
2. BE READY (technically and mentally)
Often you take other photos between the drift observations. The equipment and settings are customized for landscapes, people or night scenes, etc. It is therefore essential to check the camera settings for animal photography at an early stage and to make sure that the necessary accessories such as memory cards etc. are included.
When starting animal photography (safari), the camera with the appropriate lens should always be set so that you are always ready to take a sharp picture of a moving subject.
Interesting actions and exciting situations with wild animals are often unpredictable and surprising. They are over just as quickly as the fight between two hippos in Kenya.
One possible setting that has proven itself for me in these situations is: Manual recording mode (M) with freely selectable aperture and shutter speed and ISO automatic. For the aperture, I choose an aperture that is as open as possible (small f-number) and a fast shutter speed (at least 1/1000). The automatic ISO ensures that the image is always correctly exposed until the maximum ISO number is reached. This must be set beforehand in the camera menu under ISO sensitivity settings. Of course, it is important to know how high you can go with the ISO setting of your camera in order to still be able to achieve acceptable results.
Furthermore, the continuous autofocus (tracking autofocus) and the series image recording must be set on the camera.
If you come across subjects that don't move or want to take a landscape photo in between, you usually have enough time to adjust the settings.
Always expect to be able to take the picture of your life in the next moment - then you will also be mentally ready.
3. KNOW ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
It goes without saying, doesn't it? Since a large part of animal photography is based on capturing fleeting moments, i.e. capturing interesting actions, it pays to anticipate the behavior of your subject as precisely as possible. This cannot work well for every species, but there are behavioral patterns that are deeply anchored and known. Knowing your subject can make the difference between being prepared to capture that "golden moment" or watching it fly by in agony. There is only one way to get to know wildlife ... studying their behavior in books / the internet and spending time with them. For example, many waterfowl later throw the caught fish into the air to get it between their beak, like this marabou stork. If you know this behavior and are ready as described under point 2, such recordings will succeed. But don't just stay a few minutes looking for the next subject if what you are observing or photographing does not produce the desired result. Watch you. Are you waiting. This is also related to patience, which I will go into in more detail later.
For wildlife recordings, always set the exposure mode to series image recording and shoot corresponding series. You can later select the best pictures on the computer.
4. IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Of course, it takes luck to be in the right place at the right time. But if I am generally out and about at the wrong time of day and in the wrong place, it is very likely that I will hardly be lucky.
Take advantage of the hours of golden light! Especially in hot regions such as southern Africa, most animals show up either in the morning hours or in the late afternoon. When the temperatures are bearable, the animal activities increase and the lighting conditions are best for great pictures at this time.
Photography is all about painting with light. Accordingly, you need to know how to get the most out of light in animal photography. Often times we find ourselves in a position where the light is not ideal or the mood is beautiful and the light is perfect but is coming from the wrong direction ... and we are not always able to move ourselves to a better place move. The good news is that light coming in the wrong direction can add a lot of mood to an image. It is difficult to shoot into the light, but if you stick to tip 1 (Know your gear) you can get interesting pictures even from a less than ideal light position, as shown in the examples below of oryx and giraffe in backlight.
For tracking down and photographing birds and wild animals, it is advantageous to have a local guide lead you, ideally in a special, possibly individual photo tour. Local guides know their areas, their inhabitants and their behavior very well and know who can be found where and when.
5. RESPECT FOR NATURE AND ANIMALS
Ethics is a sub-area of philosophy that deals with the prerequisites for human action and its evaluation - practical philosophy. Ethical considerations and norms shape (at least they should) our dealings with one another, but also our dealings with the nature around us. Thus, of course, nature photography is not an “ethics-free area” either.
Animal welfare comes first
Apart from legal regulations, the following applies when photographing animals: “The animal determines what works.” The interpretation of the behavior of the photographed animals requires a sound knowledge of species and behavior (e.g. knowledge of jumping behavior, stress phenomena, escape distances).
A guest in nature
Nature photographers see themselves as guests in nature - the entry into the habitat of the animal should be done with consideration and distance and if possible, leave no traces.
6. CLEAR STATEMENT - PLAY WITH THE DISTANCE
I love to take detail shots .. and I mean those in which the detail is really visible. Get up close to the face (by shifting your position or changing the effective focal length by using a longer lens with an optional teleconverter) for various and interesting studies of the animals / birds you are photographing. This will also help you think in more abstract composition arrangements. The most important thing is: focus on the eye . In the case of two animals, the eye of the animal in the foreground. Take a look at the following two photos as an example.
But also challenge yourself to shoot at a wider angle to give the viewer a better idea of where you took the picture and how your subject lives in the wild. This applies to all the species you photograph - from squirrels to deer to elephants.
The migrating wildebeest in the Masai Mara and the herd of zebras in Botswana were photographed with a 24-70mm lens to give the viewer a sense of the surroundings.
Vary - there is no right or wrong. Try to express what you want to show with the picture!
7. THE PERSPECTIVE / THE BACKGROUND
For the expressiveness of an animal photo, perspective is almost everything. How you portray your subject can make a huge difference. In short - try to be on par with your subject, or even lower if you can. This brings the viewer of your picture directly into the scene and confronts him very directly with the depicted animal. Of course, “eye level” is relative (you are almost always in a lower perspective than, for example, a giraffe), but in principle it is better to go too deep than from above. Always think about the limitations of your surroundings. For example, you are not allowed to leave your vehicle in most animal reserves in South Africa. This limits you to a certain perspective.
Check out these pictures for an illustration. The first African wild dog was photographed from a slightly elevated vehicle position. The result is a somewhat boring shot - nothing special in my eyes. The second shot was taken from a lower vehicle position, through which the animals were at eye level - the image immediately appears much more vivid.
In wild animal photography, the animal only comes into its own with the right background. This should complement the animal and not have a disruptive or distracting effect in terms of color and shape. A wild animal photo loses its effect incredibly if power lines, cars, a fence or the like can be seen in the background.
So take a little time and pay attention not only to the animal, but also to the background. If necessary, change the recording location.
With the two recordings (red cap and robin chat) it is easy to show which points are important.
Left: The bird is far too central, the foreground and background distract strongly from the object.
Right: Here the bird is in the golden section with space in the direction of vision and nicely set free from the background.
- Always try to find an optimal or even extreme perspective for your picture.
- Depending on the photo, it is worth kneeling or even lying on the floor when taking photos. Try to shoot from the lowest point.
- If you are traveling with the safari vehicle, this is of course not easy to implement. Depressions or depressions in the ground can be used here in order to come at eye level with the animal.
8. PUT EVERY ANIMAL IN THE BEST LIGHT
Better a great picture with a chameleon than one with a boring lion, better a colorful flying bird than a group of sleeping monkeys.
Every tourist wants to see the "Big 5" or at least a lion. But great sightings - of lions, for example - do not always provide fantastic images. If you've ever spent daytime with wild lions, you know that they are actually mostly boring photo models. You sleep up to 20 hours a day. On the other hand, I had great photo opportunities of impalas, the most common ungulates you can find in the bush of southern Africa. My advice to the discerning photographer is to look for great opportunities in good lighting, regardless of the species!
Learn to recognize the potential of the everyday to create amazing photographic moments. Get out there and take good pictures. The obvious motivation is to take a picture with great content in great light with just the right settings - the Utopia shot.
Practice at home with pets, birds, insects etc. in different lighting situations and with different camera settings. Try to put the object in the best possible light.
9. Patience is not a virtue ... it is a necessity
As a wildlife photographer, your images are based on the fact that things in nature are unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time ... but most things rarely happen, or at least rarely around the time that you are in that particular place. So it is imperative that you become patient ... very patient. It's something you have to practice all the time. In essence, it's almost a culmination of many of the things we've discussed so far. Observing your motives and getting to know their behavior patterns requires a lot of patience. Often times, this means going back to the same place for days before something happens ... and even then you run the risk of nothing and wasting your time. The picture below was taken from a hideout. It wasn't until the fourth day that I was successful, after having spent hours in which there was nothing to watch or photograph.
10. ENJOY IT
The last of my pieces of advice is: "Be there" and enjoy it !!
By that I don't just mean that you have to be physically in the right place at the right time - and of course that also applies - but I actually mean that you don't forget to enjoy the moment despite the camera and taking photos. We need to be aware of the privilege of spending time in nature and being in places where the human hand has not yet developed its full power. It doesn't matter if it's just the most secluded place in your local park to sit and watch and photograph squirrels and birds, or some other wonderful place in the world. How does it help us to spend so much time with this wonderful hobby if we don't enjoy the time we spend ?
I hope these tips will find you useful in the field. They help me. Good light and good sightings everyone.
Wildlife photography is always associated with great adventure and special emotions. Don't forget to take “backstage photos” of your adventure too. Such photos complement your animal pictures and make you have wonderful memories.