Shoot wildlife with a camera, not with a gun. Pity the wise person who coined this popular cliche—he forgot to mention that it can be pretty difficult to get that perfect shot out in the wild. After all, animals rarely pose for the camera. If you’ve made many a trip to wildlife parks and sanctuaries and come a cropper in the photo department, here are simple techniques and some tips to keep in mind while wielding the camera in the forests.
Forget fancy cameras and lens, the first thing you should pack into your bag is patience, and oodles of it! Whether you’re trying to capture a herd of elephants at a watering hole or the squirrel in your neighborhood park, you cannot force nature to turn this way or that, or say “cheese”. You have to be there and ready when they decide to do something interesting. And remember, it takes a lot of time to get a good wildlife shot, even longer for a great one!
Understand species behaviour:
Patience is not all wasted time. The longer you spend with one particular animal or herd, the better you know them and their habits, including the personalities of different members in the group. This helps you anticipate what they might do in a certain situation or time of day, such as when the cubs are more playful or when the elders hunt. Also, pick the right time of day— keep in mind that morning and evening light provides a softer perspective whereas the afternoon sun casts strong shadows on and around the subject.
Don’t scrimp on batteries and memory cards when you’re out shooting wildlife. While you may be able to predict the decisive moment in a wildlife shot, more often than not, the perfect shot can be a lot about chance as well. Continuous shooting, extra batteries and many fast memory cards will improve your odds of getting an effective image. Most professional photographers click hundreds of photos—and pick only 5-10 portfolio shots from those. Also remember, avoid looking at the LCD screen after every shot. Not only does that waste battery power, but it will also cause you to miss great opportunities.
Depending on where you’re shooting, animals may or may not be used to human company, A good telephoto lens is important so as not to disturb the animal in its habitat (trust your safari guide to recommend a safe distance). If you’re shooting big animals, a 300 mm f/2.8 lens will suffice, but birds and shy animals need longer lens, possibly 400-600mm. Don’t even bother to check the prices of the latter online if you’re a casual shooter; they run well into six figures. Fortunately, there are a number of good lens rental firms coming Lip all over the country. This is a much more economical alternative to buying the lens. And always remember, long lenses need support—the longer the lens the more susceptible you are to camera movement, and with really long lenses, even the slightest motion can cause blur.
Invest in a good tripod. Added bonus: your arms and shoulders will thank you for a painless sojourn.
Shutter Speed is Key:
Whether you have a DSLR or a super zoom camera, shutter speed is your best friend when out in the wild. Fast shutter speed counters camera shake at long focal lengths at which you would be shooting, and since animals move rapidly and unpredictably, it also helps freeze the action. Put simply, shoot at the absolute fastest shutter speed your camera can manage, all the time. Many pros recommend setting your camera to aperture priority mode and set the aperture; to the highest setting available, which forces the camera to use the fastest shutter speed. You can also experiment with the ISO settings on your camera (ISO measures a cameras sensitivity to light) – it can be a great ally when you want to pull out a little more shutter speed even in broad daylight. But use ISO bumping with caution – too much and you will introduce digital noise into your photos.
Focus, focus, focus:
First, start by finding a good background, the simpler the better as it helps focus attention on die real subject. Next, frame your picture to include enough of the hack-ground to establish context, but remember to focus on the eyes and the face. Like human portraits, most viewers will notice faces first and look for the eyes. The image, in most cases, will not be as strong or captivating if the eyes are not in focus.
Watch The little Guy:
It’s too much of a ‘big-cat’ temptation when out shooting in the wild, but realistically speaking, tiger, lion and leopard sightings are rare. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for smaller animals and plants which may make for very interesting shots while you’re waiting for something else to happen.