There’s wildlife all around us, from chipmunks at the local park to fish in the oceans. It makes for great photo opportunities, but getting a great shot of animals takes some practice and a whole lot of patience. Before you head out on your next wildlife photography session, take a look at these five useful bits of advice to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time.
1. Observe, Don’t Engage
First and foremost, be an observer. Being an observer means not interacting with the wildlife in any way, rather, sitting on the sidelines subtly snapping photos as they go on about their lives. You may be tempted to engage or prompt a wild animal, but in almost all cases, this is a bad idea. When it comes to wildlife photography, candid shots are the way to go.
2. Look For The Big And The Small
Familiarize yourself with your surroundings and keep a sharp eye on everything that’s going on around you so you’re not missing out on any great wildlife action. Though shots of big, powerful animals like bears and lions make great shots, there’s a lot of smaller wildlife species that go largely unnoticed. From small birds and rodents to tiny insects, there is a lot going on outdoors and if you remember to look for the small stuff, you’ll give yourself more opportunities to capture some truly unique shots.
3. Use A Long Lens
It’s not impossible to capture great wildlife shots using a wide lens, in fact, there are plenty of really great ones, but it does take a little more work to nail composition–and when you’re photographing unpredictable wildlife, you don’t always have the luxury of time. That’s why I recommend using a long lens. You’ll be able to keep a safe distance from the animals while being able to zoom in for tighter shots where the animal is filling the frame.
When you are using a wide lens (and there will be times that call for it), make sure you pay extra attention to the background and foreground and try to place yourself in a spot where they won’t become a distraction in your photos. Try to find a solid composition that doesn’t take away from the wildlife–since you won’t be filling the frame with an animal, this gets a little trickier to do!
4. Be Prepared
Chances are you’ll have some downtime in between shots–you can take advantage of it by using it to dial in your exposure settings to where they will approximately need to be given the lighting conditions. Do this periodically throughout the day as the lighting changes. That way you won’t miss out on any shots because you were too busy changing your ISO or other setting. If you already have your camera set within a good range of where you think they’ll need to be, in the worst case scenario you’ll end up with a fairly well exposed photo which is much better than no photo at all.
5. Carry Extra Memory Cards
With wildlife photography, there’s potential for high action shooting situations which means you’ll be taking a lot of photos in short amounts of time. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to call it a day because you filled up the only memory card you brought with you. Be sure to carry extras and keep them in an easy to access location so you can get to them quickly and easily. They are inexpensive, compact, and lightweight–there’s no reason no to have extras!
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to do some research before you head out so you know what kind of wildlife you can expect to see in the area you are in. Taking some time to learn some information on certain species will increase your chances of finding wildlife because you’ll know more about their eating and sleeping habits which will give you clues as to where to look for them. Being able to distinguish between different tracks is also helpful for when you’re out there looking for a good place to setup.