Whether you’re a professional photographer, or simply want to take home a few snaps to show friends and family, there are a wealth of photographic opportunities out there, whether you’re at home or on location – stunning scenery and exciting wildlife encounters. Here are a few wildlife tips written with digital photographers in mind.
1. Know Your Equipment
Be sure to familiarise yourself with your camera settings and accessories, so that you know how it all works. You don’t want to be fiddling with dials and buttons or tripods when you’ve got an exciting wildlife moment right in front of you! For nature photography, knowing your camera should be second nature... The beauty of digital means you can practice with all the settings very easily, with instant feedback on what they all do.
2. Eye Spy!
Try to photograph your subject at eye level - It makes the shot more intimate and appealing, it catches the character of the subject too. So whether you're photographing in your garden or somewhere more exotic, get down to the level of the animal or person when you can.
Always be on the look out for that special moment - whether it’s animal behaviour, a person’s reaction, or simply great light conditions. Quietly wait for the right moment to press the trigger, rather than rushing around and trying to cover too much ground in too short a period. It’s often worth waiting in one spot and really looking around you for the best shot.
4. Ready, Steady, Shoot!
Unsharp pictures happen for three reasons: the camera isn’t being held steady enough; the subject is moving too fast and so is blurred; or the picture just isn’t in focus. So make sure you either use a tripod or use a fast enough shutter speed to get your subject in focus and freeze the action. I always travel with either my Gitzo Traveller Tripod GT4552 or my Ocean Traveller tripods. They're both strong and light and compact.
5. Lighten Up!
Be aware of where your main light source (usually the sun!) is. Often it's good to have the light behind you so that your subject is illuminated, but sometimes it can be good to have your subject with the sun behind to produce a nice "rim light" effect.
6. Compose Yourself!
Think about the composition of your shot. What looks pleasing to the eye? Is your horizon straight? Where is your subject? Think about “the rule of thirds” (and if you don’t know what that is, find out!) – does it work for you when composing your shot or do you want to break the rules?
7. Animals First!
Remember that the welfare of your subject is the most important thing about your shot, whether you're taking a photograph of your pet or a wild animal. Do your utmost not to cause disturbance. By moving slowly and quietly, you will get closer to the subject. Treat animals with the respect that they deserve and you'll be rewarded with some special wildlife encounters!
8. Look After Your Kit!
Look after your kit properly and it will last for years. Kata make great camera bags, big enough and comfortable enough to carry 2 bodies and several lenses. Be sure to clean your camera kit at the end of the day to remove excess dust etc. When I’m travelling on safari I like to have a pillowcase or similar to put my camera in while I’m driving around so it’s easily accessible but won’t get covered in dust!
Try to anticipate what your subject is going to do next – whether it’s a person or animal. This can make for a great shot! I was watching this polar bear mother suckling her cub, balancing my long lens on the side of a zodiac (inflatable boat). I knew that at some point the cub would stop feeding and anticipated some sort of interaction between mother and cub. Sure enough, the cub stopped feeding, turned round and touched noses with his mum, before feeding again. I was ready and got the shot.
Likewise I put myself in the right position when I saw some elephants in Zimbabwe coming out of the forest in a dust storm to drink at a nearby waterhole – this made for a very atmospheric shot, with the dust and setting sun.
10. Sense Of Scale
Try to give a sense of scale in your shot. Carefully positioning something in your shot which gives an idea of how vast (or tiny) your subject is will make your shot more powerful.