You’ve probably seen those great wildlife and nature shots in magazines and on the Internet, and wished that you could capture images like that too.
The good news is that you can – all it takes is a little planning and preparation, having the right settings on your camera and lots of patience. If you’re heading off on a visit to a national park, or even going on safari, the guidelines in this article will soon have you taking wildlife and nature shots you can be proud of.
Planning and preparation are the keys to getting a good shoot. The advice in this section covers getting your gear and yourself shoot-ready.
- Research your subject. Whether you’re after images of lions on safari or birds in a national park, you need to find out about the habits of the animals you want to photograph. You need to know what their preferred habitat is, and what times of day they are most active. The more you know before you arrive, the easier your shoot will be.
- Get your camera ready. If you haven’t cleaned your lenses for months, now is the time to get the glass smudge and dust free for super-clear images. Buy a special camera lens cleaning kit, and follow the instructions. They’re not expensive, and are easy to use.
- Batteries and memory cards. Always make sure you have one or more spare fully-charged batteries. If you are shooting in cold conditions, your batteries will run down much faster than normal, and you don’t want to have to cut your shoot short because you didn’t pack a spare. Memory cards also fill up fast, especially if you’re shooting in RAW format, so make sure you have plenty of empty, formatted memory cards to hand.
- Wear appropriate clothes. You wouldn’t go hiking wearing sandals, so make sure the clothes and shoes you plan to wear are comfortable and fit for purpose. If it’s going to be hot and sunny, take sunscreen and a sun hat. If it’s cold where you’re heading, wear layers of clothes and take some spares.
- Camera setup. You can’t set up your camera until you arrive at the location, as you don’t know what the light will be like, but set it up as soon as you arrive at a good spot. This means taking a few test shots and making adjustments until you are happy with the exposure. You should also have a sturdy tripod if you’re shooting in low light conditions such as a forest.
Tips for Capturing Wildlife Shots
These tips will hopefully give you some pointers to get the best images you can.
- Be patient. Animals go by their own agenda, and you shouldn’t get frustrated when they don’t act the way you want. Being silent and calm is also necessary, as noises and sudden movements will scare the wildlife away.
- Think carefully about the position you will be shooting from. Shooting down on something isn’t usually the best angle, so try getting down low to capture the animal from its own eye level.
- Try to capture a range of images, not just one or two. Take some shots of the animal or bird’s habitat, some close-up shots, and some of the animal’s behavior.
Although your settings will differ according to the light and environment you’re in, here’s a few handy tips to give you some ideas.
- Moving objects. To capture a moving object, you need a high shutter speed to freeze that movement without motion blur. If you shoot in manual mode, you may need to raise your ISO in order to get that shutter speed. Generally, anything over 1/250th second will freeze motion well.
- If you aren’t used to using manual mode, try shooting in your camera’s sports or movement mode, or try using shutter priority mode. Shutter priority mode allows you to choose the shutter speed you want, and the camera will try to adjust the other settings. Bear in mind that in low-light conditions this can be difficult, even with a tripod.
- You can increase your ISO settings to allow the sensor to become more sensitive to light, enabling you to have a higher shutter speed. There is one word of caution though. The higher the ISO, the more digital ‘noise’ you will get in your image.
- Choose your aperture wisely. If you want to capture movement crisply, choose an aperture of f/8 or more. If you want a close-up of a still subject, you can make it stand out more by changing your aperture to f/5.6 or less. This will help blur the background and make your subject the main area of focus.
- HDR. If you want to shoot some HDR images, the best way is to use a technique called bracketing. This means shooting one image around 1 stop underexposed, one at correct exposure, and one around 1 stop overexposed. You can set your camera up to automatically bracket in three shots. This technique is best used on still subjects and landscapes, as you will be combining the shots in post processing. To do this, you’ll need to load your bracketed shots into an HDR editor or plugin. Advanced photo editors like Photoshop or Lightroom can do this; you can also use software like Aurora HDR, Photomatix or Google’s Nik HDR Efex Pro that are dedicated specifically for working with HDR images.
Respect the Environment
It’s common sense, really, but if you’re going out into national parks or other areas to photograph wildlife, you should respect the animals and plants that live there so that they are around for future generations to enjoy.
- Keep your distance. Some birds and animals may become frightened if you come too close, and abandon their eggs or babies.
- Never touch or move baby animals that you may find.
- Don’t force wildlife into movement by laying out bait or trying to scare them.
- Never interrupt natural behavior such as hunting prey.
- Take your litter home with you, and make sure any campfires are properly put out before you leave.
There’s a lot to discover about wildlife photography, but I hope this article has given you some inspiration and the desire to learn more. Happy shooting!