Beginners Guide to Wildlife Photography
Wildlife Photography is something that I love doing, and certainly one area I don't do enough of. I have a list of things I want to do and an African Safari is certainly up towards the top.
o me, the key to great wildlife shots is to include some of the location and to create some kind of atmosphere in the image. In this article I hope to give you some key points regarding kit, camera settings and some hints and tips on the types of photography that are available to you.
Firstly lets talk about kit.
Some wildlife you will be able to get up close and not have to worry about spooking it. For instance, you will be able to get much closer to a duck, than you would a deer, so the type of lens you are using will play a big part in the type of wildlife you are going to be able to snap. If you only have a kit lens like 18-55mm then you are only going to be able to shoot certain types as you are going to have to get fairly close to your subject.
If you have a 70-300mm or larger zoom lens, this will open up more doors, and enable you to keep your distance from the subject.
Some of the larger lenses are very heavy. My 500mm zoom is not something that is easy to keep still when you are zoomed in at that level, so by placing the lens on a tripod I can make sure that it is as still as possible which will help keep my images nice and sharp. Sometimes tripods are just not practical and so things like bean bags are a great way of supporting your lens on gate posts or tree branches.
I always try and shoot wildlife from their level. So sometimes that means that I need to get my knees dirty. By getting down to their level you will keep the perspective of the animal right and also can help you to hide and not frighten the animal.
Don't always go for the close up shot, by including it in its natural habitat can help to add some atmosphere to the shot. Remember the rule of thirds and maybe add some other features of the landscape into the shot. When doing this though, always make sure you are focusing on the animal itself.
For most of my wildlife shots, I use Aperture Priority mode (A / Av) so that I can control my depth of field. Most of the time I will have the apperture wide open (f2.8 - f5.6) to allow as much light in to the camera to give me Faster shutter speeds to freeze the action in the picture. If you are out shooting in low light you may need to push the ISO up to increase the shutter speed. Sometimes though, you can get great results by adding some blur into the shot. For this I would use Shutter Priority Mode (S / Tv) and key in a slower shutter speed.
A lot of wildlife shots can be ruined by focusing on the wrong part of the animal. Make sure you have the focusing mode in single point and that you have control. Especially in close up shots, you need to focus on the eyes, a lot of auto area focus systems will focus on the closest part of the animal to the camera, this can give you sharp beaks or noses and out of focus eyes.
Also, whilst we are on the subject of focusing, we need to have the camera set to continuous focusing mode. This will allow the lens to keep focusing on the animal if its getting closer or further away from us. This is a must for bird photography. With birds the distance between us and them can change very quickly, so by having the camera set to continuous focusing, this enables us to concentrate on keeping up with the bird in flight.
For the guys who only have a kit lens of 18-55mm, dont panic, there is still great opportunities to capture wildlife shots. If you have a garden, try setting up a bird feeder close to a window. If you haven't got a tree to hang it on, get yourself a branch and fix it close to the window. After a few days the birds will soon realise that they have an easy feeding opportunity and will all be hanging out at their newly found fast food joint. This will enable you to shoot through the glass and capture them. You may find that you need to get in position for a while until they get used to you being there. Shooting through glass will have its problems, but as long as you get close and that the window is nice and clean you should be able to get some great shots. Other things you could try are insects and butterflies, although we are a thousand times bigger than they are, they don't get spooked very easily.
For the guys with the zoom lenses, you have the opportunity to shoot a wide variety of wildlife. I think one of the key things to this type of photography is patience. You are going to have to wait to get the shot. Animals are not like humans, we can't ask them to 'stand there' or 'hold that pose' so we are going to have to wait for them to get in the right position.
Want to learn more? Check out the wildlife workshop that I run.