When you hear the words “wildlife photography,” images of moose, bears or even Yellowstone Park may come to mind.
But while it’s true that exotic locations offer ideal opportunities for wildlife photography, there are also opportunities to be found closer to home. Before heading off on a far-away adventure, you can get some practice photographing the wildlife in your area, some maybe even right outside your door.
Here are some tips for capturing wildlife—with a camera that is!
What to Shoot?
Birds make great photographic subjects. So do foxes, squirrels, frogs, and insects. Don’t rule out everyday animals. They may be common to you, but they are nonexistent in some parts of the world. And don’t forget about small creatures; spring is a great time to take macros of butterflies or bees in flowerbeds. Try doing some research on the species in your area. Where do the live? What times are they are most active? The more you know about your subject, the better your chances of capturing a great shot.
Patience isn’t always a virtue, sometimes it’s a necessity! Wild animals are unpredictable and constantly moving. Great pictures take patience, so don’t be discouraged if it takes you awhile to get the shots you’re after.
Make sure you bring enough equipment (and that it’s the right gear for the job). If you are traveling by car, bring more than you think you will need. Of course, if you are hiking, you might want to stick with just essentials! A tripod is often needed, but sometimes you can get away without using one. It’s ideal to use a fast telephoto zoom lens to take close-ups of animals from a distance, without scaring them away.
Take note of the lighting, and adjust your camera settings. Fiddling with the camera and tripod should be done ahead of time so as not to scare away the wildlife.
If you want to capture all the details, try using a smaller aperture f/11-f/22 for a larger depth of field (DOF). To focus on the subject and blur the background, try a wide DOF, f/1.8-f/8. Depending on what aperture size you decide on, to ensure your photos are exposed correctly, you’ll need to compensate by either adjusting your shutter speed or ISO setting.
Animals move quickly and suddenly, so shoot fast. Try shooting at a high frame rate. This way you take lots of pictures while minimizing camera shake by only pressing the shutter release button once.
If you want to freeze some fast moving action, try stepping your shutter speed up to around 1/500 of a second.
When trying to freeze and blur movement, set your camera to a low shutter speed like 1/60 of a second, and use the flash.
When composing photos of fast moving animals, try not frame the subject too close to the edge of the picture. Allowing space around the animal means that if it moves you will still capture the entire animal, instead of cutting off part of it with the edge of the frame.
Many animals are active in early morning or evening, making this an ideal time for photos. Be sure to use a tripod for long exposure shots in low light. Lowlight Photography is tricky, but the results are worth it.
Include Background and Color
When taking wildlife photos in a natural setting try incorporating the environment into your photos. Anyone can take close-ups at a zoo, but in a natural setting the background, or foreground, adds to the story.
Look for ways to incorporate color into your photos. Wildlife photography is fun, vibrant and full of life, and this should show through into our photos!
Respect the Environment
Take care not to destroy the animals’ environment. Don’t try coaxing the animals to you, this will only frighten them. Some animals, birds especially, will abandon an area if they detect signs of human activity. This is especially harmful when birds are nesting as they will often abandon their nest, leaving eggs or chicks on their own.
A Lesson Learned
Finally, whatever you do, don’t do what I did.
What kinds of wildlife photography have you taken? Share links to your photos in the comments.