Improving Your Wildlife Photography

By

Leann Walker

Mohamed Ibrahim once said “Wildlife surprises you when you least expect it” and nothing could be truer when photographing it. Wildlife photography is an exhilarating hobby, especially when looking through the lens and capturing details and beauty of a “wild” animal. Wildlife photography requires patience, research, and a few fundamental skills but minimal travel. Amazing wildlife photography can be captured wherever you are.

Research is key. Understanding animal behavior is fundamental to capture the best moments in photographs. Research animals in your area, destination areas, or to learn about a specific type of animal’s behavior. It is crucial to understand feeding patterns and best time of day to view the wildlife. Imagine sitting for hours and spotting no animals because they are not active during that time frame.

When capturing a photograph of wildlife, no matter how large or small, make sure you pay attention to the background. Many images are ruined when a tree appears to be growing out of the head or back of an animal. The background should always be free of distractions. Often, items in the background such as trash, debris, or clutter takes away from the subject of the image.

The most appealing images do NOT have the subject of the image placed in the center of the photograph. Using the rule of thirds is the best way to make sure your image has the most visual appeal. What is the rule of thirds? Simply divide the screen into nine segments using three horizontal lines and three vertical lines (many cameras have a feature to turn on a grid that demonstrates this). The most appealing images have the subjects located where the lines intersect.

Another key feature to a beautiful photograph is using part of the scene to frame the animal. For instance, an osprey building a nest, be sure to show part of the scene to understand what is going on in the image but not to distract from the osprey itself. Every photograph should fill the entire space available.

The most appealing images do NOT have the subject of the image placed in the center of the photograph. Using the rule of thirds is the best way to make sure your image has the most visual appeal. What is the rule of thirds? Simply divide the screen into nine segments using three horizontal lines and three vertical lines (many cameras have a feature to turn on a grid that demonstrates this). The most appealing images have the subjects located where the lines intersect.

Another key feature to a beautiful photograph is using part of the scene to frame the animal. For instance, an osprey building a nest, be sure to show part of the scene to understand what is going on in the image but not to distract from the osprey itself. Every photograph should fill the entire space available.

Safety first. It is important to be safe when in nature. You have entered the home of the animal; the animal has instincts of protection for its territory and its offspring. Animals, especially babies, are some of the cutest creatures, but they are dangerous especially if provoked. Human encounters can stress animals to sickness, attacks and even death. Do not encroach on the animals to get the greatest close up; instead use a zoom lens.

Even the best thought-out, researched images with the best composition are worthless if they are not in focus. Wildlife, especially birds, move quickly and it is hard to get the crisp, clear focus required for the perfect image. While there are many ways for an advanced photographer to accomplish this task; beginner and intermediate photographers should start with using autofocus to help track and capture the quick, unpredictable movements of the animals and ensure sharp photos.

Trying to achieve high quality photographs may sound impossible, but with the strategies above, patience and lots of practice every photographer will begin to see improvements.  Take your time, be safe, survey the background, remove or avoid distractions and make sure your camera settings are correct. These simple steps will lead you to becoming a better photographer with stunning photos.