You thought you had planned the day well: you had scouted the location, brought the biggest telephoto lens you had, set up your tripod and waited to take some of your best wildlife shots ever…only to have the animals come so close that your long lens was useless and you should have considered all the possibilities!
Photographing animals, especially wildlife in their natural environment can be some of the trickiest shots to take. Depending upon the circumstances they can be moving at high speeds, flying through the air at difficult angles, or stationary one moment and chasing something at a great speed the next. They might be coming straight at you, moving away from you, or a bit of everything!
About the only thing we can say about animals is that they are unpredictable, and that means being ready for anything. That requires us as photographers to prepare for the most difficult of shots and to count our blessings when an easy one is presented.
To help you do that, here are our top ten tips which may just help you when setting out on your first wildlife photoshoot!
Ten easy tips to help you prepare for that shot include:
- check out the area beforehand if possible so you can plan where you will be located, whether you will be standing or laying flat, and where the animals will be in relation to you and the sun. You may be stationary for a long time so you need to be comfortable, near-invisible, and of course safe. Ensure you bring sufficient nourishment and water to drink, and protection from the weather
- decide beforehand whether you will need some camouflage gear or a ‘blind’ to that you blend in and allow the wildlife to move more naturally around you. I have known some people to wear waterproof gear and get up to their necks in water to grab good shots. If you think you might need something then bring it on the day
- take the very best lens you can afford that will give you the sharpest photos at the distance you will be shooting. Know your lens ‘sweet spot’ and understand how the focal length will impact on the depth of field. Check all the equipment before you set out and clean those lenses well so you are not removing spots later in post processing
- have a spare camera body attached to a second lens if possible to give you the best options in the field. Unless avoidable do not change lenses on a camera when out in dusty or wet environments. And if the action happens quickly and the focal length change you will not have time to change your lens over
- develop your panning technique before you go out. You might be amazed at how quickly some wildlife can change direction and suddenly run or fly towards you, then head sideways and back again before you have had a chance to blink. The smoother you can pan, the better chance you have of grabbing ‘that’ shot
- be prepared to be there before the animals are at their most active. This might mean 5am in the morning, when you know food will be available, or when they will be performing, say like horses at an equestrian event
- if you can, study the animals you will be shooting that day – what are their characteristics and mannerisms? You will need to be very differently prepared to snap photos of lions than you would pet cats. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you will be prepared
- remember your compositions rules throughout the day and think about the type of shots you want. Don’t just get closeups all day and nothing else. Try and capture their environment and ensure some shots place the animal in its environment
- if you are taking shots of pets then be prepared to talk to the owner to see what the animal’s preference are and what you or they can do to create the best photos in the time you have
- know your camera settings very well and understand what you will need for the day. I always allow for a fast shutter speed if I think the animal may be moving. The last thing you want is to get home to find that 90% of the shots are blurred and useless. You can always adjust the shutter speed as you go, but it’s better to set your camera initially and adjust later. I prefer to have my camera in manual mode and make adjustments to speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and the like as I go.
Photographing animals is a little like taking photos of small kids: they are totally unpredictable, you often cannot get them to perform on cue, and the best shot is often the last one you take!
Chris and Trev Barre
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