This week we are going to be giving you some great techniques and tips on the best ways to take wildlife photos. What could be more rewarding than capturing a shot of a mother bird feeding her young or a deer poised for flight in the morning mist?
Photographing wildlife can bring you some beautiful memories, as well as some beautiful shots. Here are some of this week’s tips and hints on wildlife photography:
Check to see if you need permission to be there
Being allowed to take wildlife photos in the U.S. doesn’t require any type of license or permit unless you are doing so in one of the national or state parks. These may put some restrictions on getting too close to an animal or its home, so be sure to check before you take off to shot some photos.
If those animals you want to take pictures of are on someone’s property, be sure to get their permission to be there. It’s polite, plus you don’t want to get arrested for trespassing either.
No Harming the Wildlife or Their Homes
Photographing animals in their natural habitat can give you some of the best satisfaction and fascinatingly beautiful shots, but one of the most important things to understand is how to take wildlife photos without harming either the animals or their environment.
Be sure not to bother the actual den or nest of the animals. You are there to document, not redecorate it or change it according to your own whims. How would you like it if someone came snapping pictures of your house and wanted to redecorate or tear it up? Have some consideration for the animals and the environment and take the pictures, but don’t touch anything.
Be considerate and don’t scare off the animals so others can’t enjoy the same chance at taking their pictures that you have. That means take your pictures until the bird or other creature appears to get nervous or stressed, and then you need to back off. In this way, the animals won’t run off and they may be less fearful of your fellow photographers.
It’s better to stake out a spot nearby or possibly take your photos from a blind or other vantage point. This tends to give the animals more privacy and it also keeps you safer if an aggressive animal should come by as our next step will explain.
Don’t Let Yourself Get Hurt Either
You also sometimes have to be concerned as to whether or not the animal can hurt you. For instance, if you are in the wilds of Alaska shooting Grizzly Bears catching salmon, you best not get to close to the action unless you want them to change their menu to humans. This when you need to bring that 400 or 500 mm lens or better so you can get far enough away, but still get that great shot.
And don’t think those vegetarians like deer can’t hurt you. More deer kill people ever year than you may think, especially if you get one pissed off during mating season! So always pay attention to your surroundings when taking wildlife pictures no matter what the animal or animals are. Besides, that grizzly could also sneak up behind you when you are setting up a shot to take a shot of that deer!
Above all, never ever bother an animal’s babies, or you are likely to be facing a pissed off mama, not matter what the species.
Nice and Slow Gets the Job Done Right
Another thing to remember when taking wildlife photos is that you need to go slowly when you are involved with animals. This is best so you don’t scare them off and lose your chance to take their picture. If you move slowly enough and don’t seem threatening, you should be about to get close enough to take some decent pictures of your target animals.
Patience is a big key in taking pictures of animals. You have to actually watch what is going on and learn how the animal lives and what its habits are. Taking a great animal picture is a mix of total boredom and total wonder. You have to be willing to spend hours just to get a few seconds of perfection. So be ready for it.
For example, one year I spent two months watching a pair of mute swans build their nest, sit on the eggs and hatch out the single cygnet that survived their saga. One of the greatest sequences of shots I got was the actual egg hatching out and the little cygnet drying off and taking its first swim. It was magical! But if I hadn’t had the time and patience to sit out there every day for hours at a time, I wouldn’t have gotten that awesome sequence of birth.
Don’t Skimp on the Amount of Photos You Take
If you plan on taking wildlife photos, then you are going to have to stock up on memory cards and extra batteries for both your flash and your camera. It’s very likely that your “perfect shot” is going to happen in the period of just a few microseconds, so you have to keep taking pictures continuously if you want to capture that special moment.
Remember, these days we have digital photography, so there’s no worry about wasting film. You may need to shoot hundreds of wildlife photos to get two or three really great shots. Be sure to get the fastest speed of memory card and the largest one that you can afford for best results. You don’t want the disk full message to come on just when that special moment happens!
Since you are likely taking your wildlife shots using a telephoto lens, you are going to have a very narrow depth of field, so when it comes to taking wildlife photos you need to know what is important to be in focus.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul and that is true for either humans or wildlife. So when taking wildlife shots, be sure their eyes are totally in focus to catch those fascinating expressions. Try using a tiny amount of fill flash to help light up their eyes and get that enhanced look that will make your photos shine!
Do Your Homework on the Creatures You Are Shooting Pix Of
When it comes to taking wildlife photos, it’s best to learn as much about the species that you are aiming your camera at. You want to have at least a general idea of the habits of the creatures you are photographing if you want the best chance to get a great shot, plus keep things safe for both you and the animals.
For instance, remember those grizzly bears catching salmon? You need to know that grizzly bear can run pretty darned fast and if they decide to charge, you better have a safe place to get to. Plus, the mama grizzly is definitely not going to like it if you get between her and her cubs.
Learn the perfect angle for composing wildlife photos
Another thing you need to know in wildlife photography is how to take the shot at the most perfect angle. For the most part, photographs of animals moving around are best taken with additional room put in front of the creature’s direction of movement.
Plus, if it is looking around or from side to side, try to leave your additional room in the same direction the animal is facing. It’s even better if your shot can somehow include whatever it is that the animal is so interested in.
Find That Perfect Location
In order to take those great wildlife shots, you of course need to know where to find the wildlife. Don’t think you have to go far, far away from where you live in order to get wildlife photos. Some of the best photos I have taken were only a couple of miles away from my home. For example, that pair of mute swans I took photos of that year had a nest on the bank of a river literally a mile or so from where I bought my groceries every week.
So, how can you find out where all these beautiful and fascinating creatures live? One way to do this is to get out and explore the area by walking or jogging. This way you get some exercise along with finding the best places to take your wildlife photos. Be sure to follow along both the public pathways, as well as the areas off the path. Walking is going to show you far more sweet spots than driving.
Best Gear for Wildlife Photography
You may believe that you have to have a lot of expensive gear to take wildlife photos. However, expensive gear may be nice, but skill is sometimes a lot more important than expensive lenses or filters. For example, you need a good digital camera and at least a 200 or 300 mm telephoto lens to get decent wildlife shots since as we said earlier, you don’t want to get right up on top of the animals you are trying to photograph.
Get Your Camera Setting Right
Just remember too that the larger the millimeter number is, the more expensive, as well as heavier, the lens is going to be. If you can afford it, one of the better lenses you can get for long distance wildlife photography is a 400mm f/5.6 lens. Still yet, you can get some beautiful shots with even a 100mm lens under the right conditions.
You also need to pay attention to the type of camera you are going to use. For example, if you plan on taking a lot of pictures of birds flying or moving animals, then you should pay attention to the camera’s frames per second, the accuracy of its focusing mechanism, and that it has high ISO features that work well.
The rule with a full frame camera is to set exposure not longer than focal length of your lens. If you have a camera with a sensor that is smaller, you have to multiply the 200 millimeters of the lens using the crop factor of your camera. So, you have to know that to set the exposure manually.
The other thing is your ISO. For example, if you are taking a lot of bird shots, you will need to get the ISO as low as you can, but if possible, try to keep it around 800 if you want your photos to be in better focus.
Lighting is also important and the best times of the day for wildlife (or any other shots for that matter) are probably first thing in the morning, or in the evenings around dusk. This gives you some nice soft lighting and the shadows aren’t so dark. However, depending on the wildlife you are photographing, you may need to be there at a different time of the day.
The bottom line is that wildlife photography can be very rewarding and net you some thrilling photos, but you have to learn some patience, along with keeping both you and the wildlife safe and secure and as always, using the proper settings and gear.