Whether you actively set out to see wildlife (as you might in a safari or a trip to the zoo) or you happen to come across them totally randomly as you explore your current travel destination, it’s safe to say that taking photos of animals in their natural (or simulated) habitat can prove rather tricky. They don’t stop and smile for selfies, they have no clue that when they move your photos end up blurry (or maybe they do and just move anyway just to frustrate you?) and they have very little time or patience for you unless you come bearing food (which is usually prohibited in most places anyway).
All that being said though, there are a few things you can do to help you take some brilliant wildlife photos! And by “brilliant, we’re talking Facebook “cover photo” quality here! You know, those ones you’ll show off and in a faux-modest manner, pretend you took totally by accident whereas it was more of a rather concerted effort to get you the photos… Anyway, let’s get started –
1.) Invest in zoom lens. Most animals won’t stay around long enough for you to come very close to them (trust me, I’ve tried) so get some nice zoom lens so that you can stalk them from a distance for a truly fantastic photo. Zoom lens also don’t cost that much either – chances are that you already have one anyway but even if you don’t, companies like Tamron and Sigma make cheap lens that will definitely do the trick here.
2.) Now that the hardware bit is out of the way, the next thing to do is to try to get a sense of the behaviour of the animal you’re trying to photograph. I’m not saying you need to become the next David Attenborough but it’s important to at least have a vague sense of how the animal behaves. Some are really lazy and just sit there like they’re waiting for a photo op and some are just constantly on the move. If you have an idea what the animal’s behaviour is then you can pre-empt it or even realise when you have an ample photo opportunity and click away. Knowing your animal subject truly helps you capture that “perfect picture” you’ve been longing for.
3.) Try to get detailed photos. While it’s great to have photos of the entire animal subject, some of the more powerful photos are those where you’ve zoomed in on the animal in question and captured details that would otherwise go unnoticed (and key to capturing that detail is using your zoom lens – see why I started with that tip first?)
4.) Another trick and the exact opposite of the one detailed above is to go really wide and capture a lot more of the background along with the animal. This works particularly well if your subject is the only one in the photo and even more so when you’re subject is in focus. Play around with this after you get your detailed shot and you’d be surprised at what you end up with. A wide shot truly helps tell a bigger story and can work particularly well if the animal is left to interact with it habitat as it would without your presence.
5.) Learn how the focus on your camera works. Focusing on your subjects gets easier and easier with new cameras. In fact, it’s as simple as just tapping the area on your screen that you want to focus on with some new cameras to get the job done but fortunately or unfortunately, not everyone has access to new cameras. My old camera (bought in 2008) didn’t do that and even my new-ish one (2012) definitley doesn’t do that and so learning how to use the focus properly on your camera does not always come about naturally and instead needs to be learnt, sometimes by trial and error. The important thing is to get all this learning out of the way before you head out somewhere where you need to put your skills to the test.
6.) Find out the weather forecast and prepare appropriately. With wildlife photography, you’re most likely bound to be outdoors and as such you will be subject to the elements. Dress appropriately for the weather you’re expecting. Freezing cold? Dress warmly – goodness knows you won’t have the patience to get the best photos if you don’t. Raining? Get yourself a raincoat. Sunny? Get a hat perhaps, sunscreen and yes, even sunglasses!
7.) Get yourself some stability in your (photo) shots and try to use quicker shutter speeds. Stability ensures your photos don’t end up blurry from you moving around. Even the tiniest fraction of an inch in movement can result in some really blurry photos. How to get said stability? Get yourself a tripod or a gorillapod.
With the shutter speed, play around with it. Shutter speed settings (and indeed, results) vary from one camera to the other so play around with yours to see what the results are. Remember, shutter speed results also depend on the light available (which can change considerably if the sun disappears behind the clouds even for a few seconds) so it’s important to be flexible. The quicker your shorter speed (i.e. the lower it gets), the darker your photos become so do pay attention to that.
AN EXTRA TIP:
Edit your photos! It’s not just enough to take these photos, you need to edit them a bit to get the most out of them. I’m not saying photoshop them to give that kangaroo a butt like Kim Kardashian or Michael Fassbender’s eyes… No, I mean very simple edits like changing the lightening, increasing the colour vibrance, changing the contrasts…etc Those little edits that turns your photo from great to AH-MAZING! I recommend using Adobe Lightroom for this as it is absolutely brilliant for editing photos but if you’re not ready to shell out the big bucks for Adobe Lightroom, Picasa by Google is free and a good tool to get you started with your editing.
All photos taken by me on afore-mentioned new-ish camera and edited in Picasa.