Whether you like to take photos as a hobby or have dreams of being a pro, everyone needs to start somewhere. Just going out and shooting random images might not be enough unless you get a bit of training and support too.
That said, you should go out and shoot as much as possible, as it is in the only way to see how you are improving.
Here are a few tips to get you started…
Know the Animals You Are Going to Photograph
You need to know the behaviour of the animals you are observing and you need to know where to find them. Are they nocturnal? Are they daytime animals? Are they predators? If so are you likely to find them somewhere near their prey?
If you want to get a great image of a jaguar but are unsure where to find one, you might want to check the shore for turtles for example which they love to eat. If you notice some hints of the presence of jaguars – tracks for example, or the remains of a meal – then you know you are in the right place.
Be Prepared to Travel
You might need to take some time off to go where the animal you are interested in is, and you need to account for the amount of time you will need to actually take the shots. Which leads to another point…
No animal will jump in front of your camera and say, “Cheese!” unfortunately. You might have to wait hours, sometimes days, before the subject you want to photograph shows up. Or you might be lucky and find it straight away.
Regardless, when you finally get the shot you’ll feel quite satisfied, after all you went through a lot of preparation to do it.
While it’s okay to get excited when your animal of choice finally puts in an appearance, make sure that excitement doesn’t get in the way of the shot. You have to keep your cool so you can get the best image possible.
You might set off to shoot jaguars (with a camera that is!), but you notice that some rare turtle is actually crawling around the beach. Take the shot before it goes… or a jaguar finds it. Some of the world’s best photography images are spur of the moment ones.
Research Your Equipment and Get Familiar
Make sure you have the right equipment for the job. If you are going to be photographing overnight, you need to have a specialised night-time wildlife camera. Also you need to have enough film, unless you shoot digital in which case you need to have enough batteries!
Bring the right lenses and if need be bring a laptop or make sure you have a way to store your photos as you may run out of space. Bringing more than one memory card is recommended.
Make sure you have had a lot of practice with your camera and you know how to quickly swap in between modes as well as what each button does, because by the time you finished fumbling with your button your jaguar might have gone hunting elsewhere.
When you can, get closer to your subject. Long-distance lenses help with that, as obviously standing in front of a big cat might wind up being a documentary about how fast humans can run. In general however, getting a close up shot, while harder, makes for better photos.
Try to leave out parts of the picture that don’t really add anything to it.
Shoot your dog, shoot your cat. Do it while they are sleeping, while they are running and while they are playing. This way you learn how to capture animals at a standstill and in motion.
Get someone you trust – another photographer – to give you some feedback on your photos so you can improve.
These are the starting points for any budding wildlife photographer. Remember that as a wildlife photographer you can pride yourself of shooting and capturing the essence of an animal… without a rifle.
Photo by Brian McKay