In Wildlife Photography, what distinguishes a decent photograph from an excellent one?
It is patience to wait for the right moment, the dedication to capture it and the knowledge of knowing the difference.
To predict the movements of wild animals is by trying to understand their behavior, the more time you spend the better you understand them. It’s kind of like a predators’ strategy that patiently waits for the prey to come closer & then launches the strike.
Always remind yourself of the wild animal’s ability to utilize their senses many fold than ours. Besides the techniques there are various external factors that influence making of a great shot, they are as follows:
Good idea is to position oneself keeping into consideration the following:
- Direction of the Sun; lighting your subject adequately. General rule of thumb is to have the Sun behind you; else you’ll have an underexposed image and/or unwanted highlights.
- The wind movement/downwind; that should be in your favor i.e. flowing from the animal towards you else you’ll give yourself away. Animals have a keen sense of smell.
- Keep an open view; avoid positioning yourself around trees & other Natural surroundings that may obstruct depending on what you’re photographing.
- Heavy cloud cover; one really can’t do much about it, rather use it to your advantage to get a dramatic photograph.
- Depending upon the terrain and vegetation, dress accordingly. Restrict wearing any flashy/reflective objects.
Distractions arise not only to oneself but the wild animals too, consider the following:
- Strictly avoid keeping loose change/keys in your pockets that inevitably will rattle and startle the wild animals.
- Be alert of your surroundings, tourists around most likely will get excited upon observing wildlife, you may politely hint them to hush.
- Be considerate of other equally serious photographers, if you find your view being blocked by another photographer slowly readjust your position, else wait for their shutter to go off and hint them.
- Refrain from raising an alarm verbally, gestures are more favorable. You most definitely don’t want to startle the wild animals.
- The sound of your camera’s shutter distracts the animals, think carefully because one shot is all you may get.
- Know your equipment well before you venture into the wilderness, try photographing pets/domestic animals to get hang of the equipment.
- Select your lenses depending on the subject you wish to photograph, carrying an array of lenses will just distract you from what you want to capture.
- Changing of lenses in the field may not be a good idea, besides having missed a shot your camera will be more prone to collect dust/moisture.
- Keep in mind the Rule of Thumb for *Shutter Speed i.e. shouldn’t be lesser than the actual focal length of your lens, unless you have camera support or really steady hands.
- Choose your *Aperture wisely depending upon your subject, as it will help determine the *DOF- Depth of Field. For photographing large animals at a close distance it is advisable to keep atleast 2-3 stops smaller to ensure increased DOF unless you want a selective focus. For animals at a distance you may keep a larger Aperture i.e. shallow/decreased DOF to seclude one animal from the heard/back ground. DOF has a greater range in SLR cameras with inter-changeable lenses in comparison to point and shoot with fixed lenses.
To make really good pictures of wildlife, one must make a study of animal behavior to have a better chance of anticipating action.
- A naturalist’s sensitivity is as important as the photographic technique.
- You’ll have the best possibilities of photographing wild animals when they are most active; usually early morning/evening, since the direction of natural light and hues are just right.
- Give the animals enough room to move around, never corner a wild animal. If cornered they may panic and will act instinctively.
- Never get between the animal and its food.
- Don’t drive in where you can’t get out fast.
- Always carry protective covering for your camera equipment and be prepared to encounter lots of dust/rain.
- When camera is not in use a good idea is to keep it covered with a cloth preventing dust to settle on the front lens element and the camera body.
- Keep all necessary essentials/camera accessories/extra memory cards/cleaning cloth/spare battery, etc. in your jacket pockets, from where they can be easily accessed.
- If using tele-lenses a support is a must, it can be in form of a tripod/monopod/beanbag.
- Use whatever is available to you in case you miss any of the essentials for e.g. place the camera on the vehicle’s body/window in absence of a dedicated support. Running low on memory without backup cards, reduce the resolution at which the camera stores photographs. Besides having to sacrifice at times be better prepared for next time by your learning’s.
- Most importantly display respect for the boundaries of wild animals and they shall for yours.
- A pair of binoculars
- Extra memory cards
- Spare batteries
- Camera support
- Protective covering
- In case travelling in an open jeep/gypsy, carry rope to harness the tripod beforehand on to the frame of your vehicle.
Glossary of terms
- Depth of Field (DOF): is the portion of a scene that appears sharp in the image.
- Aperture: an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels.The DOF is controlled by the lens aperture diameter, which is usually specified as the f-number, the ratio of lens focal length to aperture diameter. Reducing the aperture diameter (increasing the f-number) increases the DOF; however, it also reduces the amount of light transmitted onto the sensor. Although increasing the aperture diameter (decreasing the f-number) decreases the DOF allowing more light to pass onto the sensor.
- Shutter Speed: shutter speed is a common term used to discuss exposure time, the effective length of time a shutter is open; the total exposure is proportional to this exposure time, or duration of light reaching the image sensor. Aperture value i.e. f-number and Shutter Speed are critically dependent upon each other, decreased Aperture will result in longer Shutter Speeds vis-à-vis increased Aperture will result in shorter Shutter Speeds.
Cheers & Happy Clicking!
*Feel free to ask questions and/or comment below.