All of us enjoy looking at images of wildlife. This world is filled with an abundance of different species, many of which we can only dream of seeing in the wild. Wildlife photography can produce some pretty spectacular results with plenty of care and attention to detail.
But contrary to belief, you do not have to venture far from your home to take images of wildlife and if you follow these tips then your wildlife photography will improve.
1. Do your research BEFORE you set off
If you go out with the aim of shooting birds of prey, do your research first. When are they most active? How do they hunt? What is their habitat? Do I need permission to walk across this particular field/path etc?
Doing the necessary research will enable you to better prepare yourself with the correct knowledge and equipment needed to shoot this particular species.
This shot of a Common Buzzard, was taken locally to me. I knew that this particular bird liked to perch on fence posts in the early evening in a field near my home. I set up a hide several hours in advance and waited. Luckily I was also blessed with beautiful backlighting which accentuated the flight feathers.
2. Choose your background carefully.
Backgrounds are almost as, if not more important than the image itself. Position yourself so there is a clear background for your subject to stand out from. Doing this one thing will greatly enhance the impact of your pictures.
The picture of a Rook below, a common if under rated bird, taken against a backdrop of out of focus reeds from a reed bed. The colour contrasts well with the blues and purples of the Rook. I used a long lens with a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus, and waited for a bird to land on the fence
3. Composition – the rule of thirds
Perhaps the most well known principle of photographic composition is the “rule of thirds”. The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 equal parts.
You then place your subject or point of interest at the point of intersection. This, in theory at least allows for a more balanced photograph which is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
This stooping Red Kite was compositionally placed, at the point of capture, in the top right intersection. Notice how the birds shape and placement lead your eye into the empty space below. If the bird was placed too centrally, or perhaps in the bottom left hand intersection, the picture would be unbalanced. (I have drawn the rule of thirds grid on this image)
4. Use natural framing
Where possible, try and use natural framing. This image of a Swallow was taken using the natural framing of a hole in a shed door. Inside the shed up in the rafters this Swallow had built a nest and the only entrance/exit was through this tiny hole in the door. Every now and then the bird would stop on the way out and perch for a split second, but mostly it would fly straight in and straight out – it took a LONG time to get this one image.
5. Get up early
Get up, get out, preferably BEFORE dawn. This just happens to be the time of day when most animals are out hunting or foraging for food. The old adage, the early bird catches the worm, is never truer when spoken with Wildlife Photographers in mind.
It’s no good just getting up at Dawn, you have to be up about and set up at the location you are shooting, at Dawn.
This image of the Gannet at Sunrise, was taken at 5.30am, looking out from the North East Yorkshire coast line. I had wanted to take this image for a very long time, but I live several hundred miles from the location. On this particular day I got up at 1am, drove to the location, was set up at 4am and waited for the sun to rise. This was the image I wanted. I then packed up, and drove straight back home again 😦
A little extreme perhaps, but the light at dawn is the most beautiful light you will see.
6. Don’t be a fair weather photographer
Don’t put your camera away at the first hint of rain/snow/hail etc. Go out what ever the weather. Animals and birds don’t stay inside in bad weather. Some of the best images are possible when you take the time and trouble to shoot in bad weather.
You can wrap up warm and stay dry, and your equipment can be protected by a multitude of wet weather protection gear sold on the internet these days. Failing that, you can always go to a nature reserve and sit in a purpose built hide.
These Lapwings were wading in a lake, oblivious to the torrential downpour that was going on. The rain drops in the water and the monochromatic feel to this image give a real sense of the harsh environment the birds were in.
7. Follow the Light
Light can change in an instant – be prepared for it and you will capture great images.
As previously stated, light can be best at dawn and often at dusk too. But at other times of the day it can be harsh and produce very unflattering results. Sometimes though, light appears when you least expect it and you need to be prepared. This image of the Drake Mallard was taken 15 minutes after the image above of the Lapwings. It’s true.
8. Know your equipment – the right lens for the right job
It sounds simple, but often it isn’t. Wildlife photography can be very monotonous, sitting in hides for hours at a time, nothing happening, then, bang, the action happens, the animal/bird appears and then it’s all over again.
Wild animals/birds, by their very nature are shy creatures and (mostly) afraid of man. It’s usually necessary to use a long lens, 500mm and above, often with a converter, to capture some of the images we see daily in books and magazines. If you have followed all the other tips and done your research you will have the correct lens on your camera for the subject.
Away from bird feeders these Great Spotted Woodpeckers are extremely shy birds. This was taken with a 500mm lens from a hide.
9. Look after the environment.
Whilst this might not affect your camera skills it is very important to realise where you are and that you should take care when out with your camera and equipment.
Take only photographs
Leave only footprints
leave it the same as you found it for others to enjoy
10. Have Patience.
Wildlife photography can be very lonely and at times boring and monotonous. You can sometimes sit in hides for hours (days even) and not see what you are wanting to see. But with a little patience and perseverance it sometimes, just sometimes, all pays off.
I had been waiting for this Vixen for days, I had learnt her route from her den to her hunting grounds, and I had set up a hide in a prime location to capture her. But the wily old fox always knew I was around. In the following image, shot from a great distance with a 500mm lens and a lens converter she sat staring straight at me, for 40 minutes or so she just sat there, looking at me (well, where the hide was).
I was about to call it a day and pack up when she suddenly yawned the widest yawn you will ever see, and turned and disappeared.
A big grin did I have that day 🙂
Best – Colin