If you are like many photographers you will eventually find yourself trying to capture great images of wildlife with your camera. Because you might want to take pictures of hummingbirds, bison, or whales there are no “standard” settings or rules that apply. There are, however, some good tips followed by leading photographers who are known for their wildlife work.
The primary tip given by any photographer who makes a habit of photographing creatures in their natural environments is to get to know the subject. Only by understanding such things as day and nighttime behaviors, preferred diet, and even whether or not the creatures are solitary or group oriented can a photographer hope to be in the right place with their camera at the right settings.
Photo by Amyn Kassam
Let’s consider birds as an example – someone photographing owls and someone else who photographs hummingbirds will both have widely different needs for their sessions. The owl photographer is going to have to master low-light photography and know where to position themselves to get a few good opportunities at a single instant. For example, they could scout out the nest of a large owl, and wait for them to emerge at dusk. They could possible get a few shots before the bird heads out for a night of hunting. If they positioned themselves with the dusky sky as their background, however, they might get a few good pictures of the owl in silhouette as well.
The hummingbird photographer, on the other hand, may need to use powerful zoom (or even macro) lenses and decide if they are going to freeze the bird in motion or allow their wings to become a blur in the image. They would have to have studied the foods the birds prefer and found public garden areas where they were welcome to setup their tripod and any reflective devices.
Clearly, this means that a dedicated and thorough study of the animal, its habitat and its habits is vitally important to successful photography.
Photo by Keven Law
The next wildlife photography tip has to do with the setting and the setup. Some wildlife photographers equip themselves with the same gadgets and devices as hunters, including blinds, camouflage clothing, and more. A car can often be just as good as a full-blown blind because many wild animals are actually quite used to vehicles. If the photographer doesn’t live anywhere near the animals or birds they want to shoot, they can also visit a zoo or aquarium where their subjects are captive and in some fairly optimal shooting conditions.
Regardless of the environment and habits of the animals, the photographer must always consider the safety of the setting – for the subjects and themselves. If interested in getting good photographs of somewhat unpredictable or even dangerous animals the photographer should get proficient with their zoom or telephoto lenses and keep at a controlled distance from the subject.
Top image by Greg Smith