I have to say that I love to take wildlife photos. They are one of my favorite subjects to shoot and over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Wildlife is not the easiest thing to photograph however. Animals are kind of like photographing a two year old, they will do what they want and there’s nothing you can do about it. So what do you do?
Know your subject
Wildlife can be pretty predictable, the animals days have very common cycles and if you know them you can be in the right place at the right time. Spend some time getting to know the animals habits. Ideally you can get to know the specific animal you will be shooting but that isn’t always going to be possible.
Animals are like people, when it’s hot they get lazy and will search out a cool shady spot. Don’t expect them to be really active if it’s raining, although there are exceptions to this rule. Knowing how the animal will respond to environmental conditions will give you a huge advantage. If you find yourself in less than ideal conditions make the most of them. If you take the time to learn their habits you’ll know that they enjoy taking a swim while it’s raining. When everyone else runs for cover during that afternoon shower, you might just be able to get some great shots of them.
Photograph now, eat later
In most cases when humans are having breakfast and dinner the world is at its most lively. When everyone else is inside eating you’ll want to be out with the animals. Take a snack with you if you must, just don’t let the animals get it.
Each day just as the sun is rising and just as it sets there is a period called Golden Hour and Blue Hour. There are many apps available for your phone that will help you know when it will be on any given day. This is when the natural light is at its best. The light from the sun is diffused by the atmosphere making shadows softer and warming up the scene and depending on the conditions you will get an amazing range of colors from bright reds and oranges to deep purples and pinks that are not available any other time of day. Additionally, cloudy days are perfect for photography for the same reason but you won’t get the beautiful sky backgrounds like you will on a clear day.
Set that alarm early
I am not a morning person. I have no interest in being awake before at least 10 A.M. but the animals don’t seem to share my fondness for remaining in bed. If you’re anything like me and you want to get great shots of wildlife you’re going to have to just suck it up and get out there early. There are numerous benefits to being in the field early. Since it’s cool the animals will be at their most active, waking up and getting breakfast in their bellies. This is a great time for photographing birds especially.
You may come across insects in your travels and if you enjoy macro shots of them early morning is the best time to do it. They are very inactive in the early morning hours since they have difficulty flying when covered in dew from the night before. This makes getting these kinds of shots much easier than trying to catch them as they are flying around.
You must be patient with wildlife
I tend to be a very impatient person, I just hate waiting. When it comes to photography however something in me changes. I can sit and wait for the perfect shot all day if I have to and I don’t really mind too much. When it comes to animals patience is key. You just never know when they might decide to move into a more interesting position.
Play with your focal length
I’ve always loved unique shots that don’t fit the standard rules of composition. Many times photographers fill the shot with the animal, maybe following the rule of thirds and make a nice, albeit boring photo. Don’t forget to show the animals in their natural environment. Zoom out and let the viewer see their world, there is a lot you can do using the environment as a frame.
On the other side you can get really close with a long zoom lens and go for the abstract composition where you focus on a small part of the animal, an eye or nose or maybe only a small part of the face. These kinds of shots can not only draw the viewer in but give them a rare glimpse of the detail of the animal.
Don’t be afraid to get dirty
Sometimes to get the shot you want you just have to lay down in the dirt. Using a variety of different angles can make a world of difference to the shot. By getting down low or up high you are giving new perspective to the subject. This is especially important with smaller animals that are already close to the ground. Taking a photo of an animal on the ground, a squirrel for example, from a standing position makes the subject look small and insignificant. If you get on the same level with the animal however it’s like looking at it from within its little world, you get a whole new perspective and look to the shot.
Using these tips you will be able to more reliably get great shots of wildlife, whether it be on the African Serengeti or just in your own backyard. Get out there and be creative!
Want more tips? Check out my other guides!