Tips & Techniques on Wildlife Photography
Photographing wildlife can reward you with great photographs and memorable experiences but you will need practice, patience and the proper equipment. We offer you a few wildlife photography tips to help you become successful with wild life photography.
Use a Good Lens and Fast Shutter Speed
In most cases your subject will be far away from you and that means you will need a good telephoto lens to bring the subject up close. You should choose a DSLR camera as the typical point and shoot cameras will not have the zoom capacity required. Use a fast shutter speed and wide aperture setting for birds and running animals.
Practice Wildlife Photography at Home
One great place to practice wildlife photography is at the zoo. Budding wildlife photographers will experience the same frustrations in this controlled environment as you would if you paid $10,000 for a real safari. The larger animals will usually be quite far away, you will only have a small area to properly set up your camera and you will still need patience to get just the right shot. Another of our wildlife photography tips is to photograph the birds and animals right in your own back yard. You have wildlife just outside your door that is unique to your part of the country. Take the time to look in the trees, in the streams and under rocks.
Get as close as you can
Every animal has a comfort zone where they will accept your presence. Once you cross that imaginary boundary they will usually flee or fly. In our area near Rochester, NY we have more Canadian geese than pigeons. They are so used to humans that it is easy to get within 12 feet or 4 meters and take all the pictures you desire. However, if they have their newly hatched young nearby, as my wife found out by snapping some pictures, the human exclusion zone is wider and they will try and run you off.
Know the subject you are photographing
Wildlife photographers need the same skills and knowledge as any hunter. The only difference is that if you are successful your prey still gets away.
Since every animal has unique characteristics and habits so one of the most important wildlife photography tips is to know your subject. This will help you take the right photographs. Simple things like knowing that ground dwelling mammals will often sit on their hind legs to search for predators will give you a good opportunity to take a clear photo. Birds of prey will often been seen in dead trees overlooking fields where they can spot prey and will often use the same branch daily. The best time to see deer are early morning and evening just at the edge of woods where they can graze on grass but still be close to the woods should they need to hide.
Pre-Set Your Camera’s Settings
- Use a Fast Shutter Speed
- Open Your Aperture
- Increase Your ISO
Since most of your wildlife photography will involve motion the same adjustments apply as you would for photographing outdoor sporting events.
Shutter speed is critical to get right in action photography. A slow shutter speed will result in blurry images and a wasted trip. A fast shutter speed is required to freeze motion and will give you a sharp clear image. Set the dial to Shutter Priority (SP) and begin with 1/500 of a second. Take some test shots by photographing moving cars. If the image is still not sharp go to 1/1000 of a second.
Open your aperture as wide as you can, such as f5.6, and then take some test shots. Remember, the lower the f numbers the wider the aperture opening. You will need all the light you can to compensate for the fast shutter speed. Using a wide aperture results in a shallow depth of field, this blurs the background and results in an image with more focus and drama.
Because you will use a zoom lens it’s tempting to focus in as close as possible to your subject, but the lens’s aperture is narrowest at this end of the zoom range. You should set the lens to the middle of its range as a good compromise between filling the frame and letting in enough light.
Increase ISO Speed
Increase the ISO setting as well to increase the sensitivity and compensate for the short exposure time. Start with ISO 400 if shooting in partial sun then move up.
Because wildlife photographers use such a fast shutter speed, the camera might struggle to properly expose the scene even with the aperture fully open. If this is the case increase the ISO speed. Remember that the higher the ISO the “noisier” or grainier the photo will look so use the lowest setting you can while still achieving a sharp photograph.
Use “Burst Mode”
If your camera has Burst Mode you should use it especially for fast moving subjects. The camera takes 3 or more shoots in rapid succession giving you a better chance to capture the perfect nature photo.
Use a Tripod
A tripod is a wildlife photographer’s best friend. It is your third hand and photography assistant all in one. A tripod will not only give you a steady shot but you will have less body movement because you are not holding the camera. This means your subjects will notice you less and act more naturally.