1. Learn the rules for shooting landscapes and portraits first.
Our other blogs have covered landscape and portrait photography, the rules of which are very important here. The guidelines for taking photos of a face are no different between a human and a koala – try to focus on the eyes, remember the rule of thirds, etc. When taking a shot of, for example, elephants crossing the savannah the compositional rules for landscapes still apply. You don’t want to take close-up shots all of the time, because the environment that the animal is in can really speak volumes, so being able to shoot landscapes is handy. Keep a small assortment of wide and telephoto lenses with you so you can be ready for any compositional needs. Which leads us to…
2. Know your Gear.
I know, I say this with pretty much every blog topic but that’s because it is very, very important. You have to know what your camera and lens combination is capable of- how fast does the shutter need to be for you to get a frozen shot? What are the limits with your aperture and ISO? The more you know about your camera and lenses limitations the more likely you are to get the right shot.
If you are looking to get close-ups of wildlife then we suggest looking into a decent telephoto lens such as a 70-200mm, or even a Canon 100-400mm. Teleconverters are also very handy, as they multiply your lenses zoom with minimal loss in quality. This means that your 200mm can become 400mm without adding too much weight to your gear. Remember to keep some wider lenses handy for the occasional landscape and/or group shot too!
Another item to remember is a sturdy tripod- this can keep your shot steady and allows you to use a slightly slower shutter speed if needed.
3. Be Patient.
I cannot stress this enough- animals are going to do whatever the heck they want. It is better to stay in the one spot and quietly wait for the right moment than to run around trying to cover everything. Make sure you are always at the ready for the right moment by being set up and ready to press the shutter.
Of course this is made much easier by knowing your subject – the longer you spend photographing and studying a particular animal the easier it will be to predict their movements. Yes, some animals are more predictable than others but they all have habits and patterns which a dedicated photographer can learn to their benefit. This may mean returning to the same place for several days until you get that perfect shot, but you only get out what you put in.
4. Shoot at eye level.
This is a tip for composition. Most animals you will encounter are below your eye level and, as such, will mean you need to get down low to get that great dynamic shot. You can test this theory with your pets at home – take a photo looking down at them, then crouch to get a shot of them at eye level and you will see what a difference can be made. The eye-level perspective can really suck the viewer into the image by providing a different view to what they are used to.
There are tripods which can be positioned low to the ground which can be a real life (and back!) saver; play around with your tripod and see how low you can go.
5. Always be aware of your light.
In general the best time to shoot nature is at dawn and dusk, when the sun is low and has a more dynamic colour tone to it. Shooting when the sun is high can be too harsh, however overcast days (as I have said in previous blog installments) can be a real boon for great lighting conditions as the clouds diffuse the harsh sunlight. Wherever the sun is, make sure that you take note of it and set your camera accordingly. Remember that sometimes the light just isn’t great for what you have in mind so be flexible and maybe reconsider your options. Are you able to move to another position without disturbing your subject, or change your camera settings to turn the problem to your advantage? (For example try working with shadows to create a more moody scene.)
As always practice makes perfect so get out there, take some shots and let us know how you went. Until next month, Happy Shooting!