The Basics of Wildlife Photography

lion pride with cubs laying around a tree stump.
Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash

Wildlife photography is one of the most challenging types of photography, but it can result in some magnificent photos. If you don’t have much experience in this field, this article will provide you with few tips on how to prepare when you decide to wander off into the wild in search for your perfect photograph.

Do Some Research

When it comes to wildlife photography, preparation is crucial. Since animals don’t like to pose, you will have to research their behaviors and migration patterns in order to know where to go and what to expect. There are many online sites where you can find this information, as well as possible locations for your shooting.

Photograph of four deers walking through a forest with the sun peeking through the tree canopy.

Secondly, be sure to check the weather forecast. Depending on weather conditions, you may need to adjust the equipment you’ll carry, such as shades, waterproof protection, different filters, different lenses, etc.

Thirdly, dress in mute and natural colors, because you want to stay unnoticeable. This will enable you to draw closer and capture more interesting scenes. Moreover, pick clothes that don’t make noise when you move.

Pick Appropriate Lenses

Since wild animals are not too eager to pose for photos, you will have to catch them from afar. This is why you’ll need long lenses. For the most cases, wildlife photography demands the minimum of 300mm.

Another feature that you need to take into consideration is focusing speed of your lenses. Since wildlife is constantly on the move and rarely stands still, you need lens that can focus fast. If you have money to spend, you should consider 300mm and 400mm 2.8s.

On the other hand, if you plan of photographing smaller objects such as insects or flowers, macro lenses are a good addition to your equipment. If you don’t want to spend too much money on this endeavour, you can consider close up rings. They are elements that are fitted between on your lens and serve as magnifiers. However, they will impair the quality of your photos.

Consider Carrying Additional Equipment

Apart from good camera and lenses, there are some additional pieces of equipment you shouldn’t forget.

  • Binoculars – Having in mind that you’ll need to scan the area and spot the animals from distance, binoculars are a must. There are many types that differ in the degree of magnification, but a general rule is that the more they magnify the heavier they are. If you like to travel light, you may even consider monocular.
  • Tripod Camera tripod is a standard tool for most photographers, especially if you’re planning on using a long lens. Make sure your tripod is sturdy enough to support your camera and a long lens. For convenience sake, you should consider tripods made from carbon fibre, since they are much lighter. Also, the head of the tripod should allow mobility and fast movement.
  • Filters – There are many filters that can greatly improve the quality of photos in different natural conditions. Polarising filter, for example, can help you with decreasing reflection from certain surfaces like water, while ND filters provide you more even exposure when taking pictures of sceneries where sky is much brighter than the landscape.

Invest In A Good Backpack

Since you cannot expect to find good places to shoot within 100m radius from your car, be sure to back everything in a backpack. Apart from a place to store your camera and other equipment, it will leave your hands free to operate the camera, and enable you to be mobile. Apply the same rule as with the clothes – pick a backpack with muted colours.

Photograph of three giraffes with a stunning sunset in the background.

Pick The Right Time

Professional photographers often discuss something that is called the ‘golden hour’. This refers to certain periods, early in the morning and late in the evening, when light has that golden quality. It is suitable for photographing wildlife because light comes from the side, and creates nice shadows. This gives subjects on your photographs nice texture.

This, of course, is not the only time you can shoot wildlife. However, you should avoid noon and hours around noon. On one hand, you camera may have problems with exposure during these hours, and on the other, objects will be lit from the top, which won’t produce nice effect on photos.

Don’t be worried if the day is cloudy. Clouds will provide more even exposure, and create conditions that are perfect for capturing certain types of wildlife photography, such as macro photos.

Pay Attention To Composition

Like in every other type of photography, it is important to invest some time and effort into finding the right composition for your wildlife photos. The easiest way is to use the rule of thirds. It is a common method used by photographer, where you imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines that make a grid consisting of nine squares. If you position your subject in one of the outer squares, you will make your photograph more pleasing.

Another good technique is to use lead-in lines. These are the lines your eyes follow to different points you want to emphasis in a photograph. They are basically navigating the viewer where to focus. In nature you can find numerous examples of this, such as slope of a mountain, edge of a leaf, or a cloud.

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