Wildlife Photography Techniques

Wildlife photography techniques

Wildlife photography techniques

Wildlife photography, as the name suggests, involves photographing wild animal, birds and wild landscapes. As compared to other genres of photography, wildlife is very different and takes practice to develop these skills.

What makes wildlife photography different ?

  • Finding specific or your desired subject in the wild can be a task. There are animals and birds which are either extinct or near extinction, which makes it very difficult to find them in first place.
  • Your subjects may not behave in the way you want them to. (i.e. They may not hunt in front of you, no matter how desperately you want to witness the hunt!)
  • In studio environment we can ask our human model to smile or look in a particular direction but we cant request that to the wild animals.
  • It takes patience and multiple attempts to get the desired picture, once you track the wild animals one again!
  • Taking multiple attempts/trips can be time consuming and very expensive.

Preparation before starting your travel:

Practice :  Getting used to your camera, lenses and accessories is crucially important before going on expensive trip of  a lifetime. We recommend going to your park or zoo to practice and get used to the weight of your camera lens combination. You should also make yourself familiar with the frequently used buttons/controls  eg. Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO controls. Ideally, you should be in a position to change Aperture and Shutter speed while you looking through viewfinder and without looking at your camera body. This will particularly help you when there is fast action happening when you are looking through your eyepiece.

Get camera/lenses cleaned:

If there are visible spots on your pictures,  it is always a good idea to get your camera and lenses cleaned before you set on your journey. Once you are in the wildlife destination, it is very difficult to get these services there. After all, you don’t want to capture the dream shot and notice dust spots on it. Its the attention to smallest details that counts.

Setup your Camera : Please see my post on setting up your camera for wildlife photography. This way, you will be ready to start shooting in the field, and not struggle with settings.

Multiple Batteries & Memory cards:

Any camera body usually comes with one battery only. However, once you are at your wildlife destination, and your battery runs out in the middle of an interesting sighting, you would have no choice but to take pictures with you mobile phone! Since we are NOT in the field for cell phone photography, that is a disastrous situation to be in!

These remote wild places may have power cuts which may put you at risk, so we recommend carrying at least 2 extra batteries (CHARGED) and at least 32 GB each memory card (Compact flash cards , if your camera supports)

Preparation before the game drives:

Night before game drive :

  • Clean you camera and lens with a blower to get rid of outside dust. Please Do NOT touch the camera sensor under any circumstances.
  • Set your ISO to a high value, in case you spot interesting activity early in the morning. I recommend setting ISO to 3200 in full frame bodies and ISO 2000 on Crop sensor bodies. High ISO value would allow you to capture shots even in low light situation. As the sun rises, you can keep DECREASING your ISO because the natural light will be increasing gradually.
  • Take your bean bags with you, its a great support to take steady shots even in low light situations.
  • Take a camera cover or at least a clean towel to wrap your camera and lens body covered and protect it from the dust inside national park.
  • Remove any UV filters you may have put on the lens. We do NOT want to add glass in front of the lens and degrade image quality. (However, during storage of lenses, I recommend putting on UV filters, as a extra layer of protection for the front element of glass. I have dropped lenses few times but only the UV filter was smashed and the lens worked fine.)

During your game drive:

  • Always stay on your vehicle, do not get down, unless instructed by your safari guide.
  • Do not risk your/other’s safety, just to get a picture, its not worth it.
  • From the vehicle, try to get down as low as possible and always aim for an eye level image.
  • Keep an eye on the background. If its too messy or busy, that will distract your viewers from focusing on the subject.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up! If you have grass or leaves in front of you, do let your photography leader know so that we can find a suitable angle for you. There is no point in going back to your resort and regretting the missed opportunity so be please speak up.
  • Be steady, this may sound very obvious but you should hold your breath (literally) while pressing the shutter button. This will ensure minimal camera shake. Keep high shutter speed to counter for small shakes.
  • Request your driver to turn the engine off at the animal sightings. It is important that the vehicle engine is switched off , otherwise it may add shakes to your photographs and they will not look as sharp.
  • Use your bean bag for support.If bean bag is not available, lean on the metal bars of your open gypsy. This will give some support to you and your camera, resulting in stable and sharper images.
  • In Wildlife Photography, it is vital to connect your viewer to the animals/birds and this is usually done with eye contact. While focusing on your subject, please ensure your focus is on the nearest eye. Also aim to get some light in the eye, which is called “Catch-light”. Photographs without catchlight look dull so that should be avoided.
  • When animals / birds are doing something interesting, you should shoot multiple frames by keeping the shutter button pressed. This way you will capture the sequence of images and not miss the key moments.
  • Try not to take every photo as a close up. Variety is spice of life. Try to bring variety in your shots. Try Portraits, Wildscapes, Macros, patterns, panning shots, zoom bursts, wide angle shots. We organise photography safaris and can help you to improve your photography techniques.
  • Human mind connect to emotions instantly. Capturing an emotion or emotional moment between animals gives an edge over simple portrait photographs of animals.Eg. A lioness looking for her cubs will have the emotion on her face, two lionesses licking each bother before starting a hunt is bonding emotion as compared to a sleeping male lion, where there aren’t any.
  • If possible, avoid sharing safari vehicle with young children. They are innocent and may not understand why you want them to be stable. They may get bored if you stop longer at once place to experiment with photography. Children may cry or need nature’s call frequently which may distract you from photography.

After your game drive:

  • Soon after coming back from your game drive, take a backup on TWO DIFFERENT devices of your memory card EVERY NIGHT. Two Different devices means, you can copy your images to your computer’s hard drive as well as to external hard drive OR you can copy your images to TWO different hard drives so peace of mind. By using two different devices, you are ensuring your images are safe, even if one of the devices is damage/lost/stolen or malfunctioned. This will ensure you have space on your memory card for the game drive next morning and you know that your images are securely stored at two different places.
  • Clean your camera lens and body with a blower and keep it ready for next morning.
  • Set the ISO to about 3200, so that you are ready for any action next morning.
  • Charge ALL of your camera batteries and keep them in your bag for next morning.
  • Enjoy your evening and have fun with other participants of your group/family as well, but make sure not to have too much alcohol. Next morning,Alcohol may adversely affect your mood and ability to take decent pictures, so be sensible with that.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance that when the animals are in front of you, our photography skills are up to the mark, so that we don’t have to make multiple attempts to photography the animals. In this article, I have mentioned a entire workflow which we personally follow and it gives us the desired pictures. Hopefully this will help you too.

If you have further questions, do get in touch by filling up the form below.


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