Follow these shooting suggestions and you'll be bagging winners in no time
The following how-to article was written by Robert La Follette, PPSOP instructor, Wildlife Photography 101.
Photographing wildlife in nature is without a doubt one of the most challenging, but rewarding types of photography one can do if one is prepared for it. It ranks right up there with the sports, wedding or action photography, for the difference of getting the shot or not can happen in the blink of an eye, so having some basic knowledge and understanding before one sets out to take the plunge can be a huge advantage.
Here are ten tips to help you become a better wildlife photographer
1.Get To Know Your Equipment: Going out and buying the biggest, fastest and most expensive equipment doesn't equal success, nor will it guarantee award-winning results the first time you step out into the wilderness and use it. Take the time to hone your skills on how to use your camera and it's settings, for they should become second nature. You need to understand basic photography terms, such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, drive modes, focus selection points, etc. Also, know where and when you should change these settings depending on the situation, for if you are fumbling around looking for the buttons, you will miss the shot. Get familiar with your camera by reading the manual, and practice changing the settings until you can do them in your sleep.
2. Dress For The Occasion: Before heading out the door, ask yourself "Do I care if I get these clothes, shoes, jacket dirty or wet?" If the answer is yes, then you need to change before you head out. For if you are going to to get that great shot of a wading or shorebird as it is sifting through the surf looking for it's morning meal, you need to immerse yourself in their world, which means you are going to get wet. Take along a pair of beach sandals or hiking shoes, or perhaps water/mud-proof boots, and also wear clothing that is dark or blends into the environment you will be shooting in. Trust me, a bird can see you a mile away if you are wearing a big, bright white tee-shirt.
3. Know Your Subject: To get the best results when photographing wildlife, you will have a greater chance of coming back with "The Shot" if you understand your subjects. All animals have very different areas they can be found, times of day they are more likely to be seen, mating, nesting and feeding behaviors and times of the day when they rest. If you know these behaviors, you can be in a position to capture them on a more intimate level, so take the time to read about all the different types of birds in your area and how to correctly identify them. If you do your homework before heading out, you will greatly increase your success rate.
4. Change Your Perspective: I repeatedly see many photographers photograph their world from what I call the "5-foot Level." Simply put, they shoot everything about five feet off the ground—eye-level—and wonder why they can't get a good result. If you are interested in photographing a shorebird that only stands about a foot or so off the ground, you need to get down to its level to engage with your subject. The best photographs you will ever take are the ones where your point of focus is on the eyes, since eye contact will draw the viewer into your photo. It also allows you to be on a more intimate level with your subject. In addition, you are no longer a big threat to the subject, thus they will become much more relaxed around you, sometimes even ignoring you as they go about their daily routine.
5.Compose The Scene: There is a reason why some photographs are award-winners, and others are just snapshots. The answer is simple, and it is called the "Rule of Thirds." It has been around since the ancient Greeks (also called the "Greek Means"), which means scenes have been composed using this time-tested method by placing your subject in the frame so that is not dead-center, but offset. It can be in the upper or lower portion of the frame, and to the left or to the right. It also should have ample space around so it is not cropped so tightly it can't "breathe," as well if your subject is looking towards the right, more space should be given on the right side of the frame so it is looking into it's scene, not away.
6. Watch Your Backgrounds: The background is just as important as, if not sometimes more important than, the subject itself. Look for distracting elements as you compose your scene and your subject; just a slight shift left or right, up or down will eliminate any chances of a branch coming out of the birds head, or bright or dark spots that can take away from enjoying your subject. Remember, the human eye will have a natural tendency to gravitate to these objects in the background, so if they are not there, we can enjoy your subject to it's fullest. Also, look for ways to compliment your subject by the color of the background, such as a bright red bird against a bright blue sky, for example.
7. Anticipate The Action: If you know your subject, you are more likely to know what will happen next. Watch your subjects' behavior patterns, and study their body language and moods. In doing so, you will put yourself in a great position to capture that decisive moment. If a bird is feeding, take the time to study how it looks for food, whether it is wading along the shoreline, or if it is flying and circling high above. If it is nesting, watch for visual cues that it may be ready to take flight to search for food for its young, or if it's teaching its young some behaviors, and see if there is a pattern that emerges so you can put yourself into position to capture that split-second moment.
8. Have Patience: We all would love to walk out our front door and be surrounded by all kinds of wildlife, but that is simply not the case. We have to go to their homes, their territory, their places where they like to feed. Some days are going to be better then others, for nothing is predictable. Check tide reports, the weather, and phases of the moon, for all of these things will indicate the chances of finding the particular type of subjects you are interesting in photographing. If you don't see any animals at first, be patient and wait around to see what happens, and if you do see some, never run up to them. Also, if the subject appears nervous, stop, sit down, and wait them out. Once they see you are no threat, your chances will improve dramatically.
9.Respect The Environment: When we go out to photograph wildlife, we are in their world, and we should respect not only the animals, but their environment as well. This is where they sleep, eat, mate, raise their young and die, so if we abuse the area around them, such as leaving garbage, making noise or destroying the plants and trees they depend on, then they will not be around. It is also important to respect the animals as well, for taunting, yelling, or any aggressive behavior will frighten them, and they will not be a good subject to photograph, if at all. Be careful where you step, for you can destroy delicate and sensitive plants that birds and other wildlife in the area depend on to survive.
10. Smile: Slow down, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your time out in nature, for you will quickly see the natural beauty all around us and have an opportunity to learn and see things that many will never know, and it will show in your photographs!
To learn more about this topic, register for Wildlife Photography 101. Visit the Perfect Picture School of Photography to further your photographic education.