Photography Tip—How To Improve Your Wildlife Photography, Part 1

wildlife_photo1 image Of all the many kinds of digital photography, wildlife photography can be quite exciting and fulfilling. You must also be committed and persistent, going where the wildlife lives and possibly waiting long hours for a bird or animal to appear to capture one spectacular image. By learning and using some of the pros’ secrets of wildlife photography, you will not only become more proficient, but also be better prepared to shoot that one shot when it presents itself for a brief moment. This two-part article reveals a number of these secrets that you can apply to your digital photography, immediately.

A Quick Equipment Tip.

You may not be able to invest thousands of dollars to equip yourself like the wildlife photography pros, but there is a certain minimum amount and quality of equipment you need even to approach the pros’ results. A DSLR camera will give you the capabilities that a compact, or point-and-shoot, camera can’t. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive DSLR, but should include most of the standard DSLR features and functions.

Lens selection is equally important. For enthusiasts and hobbyists, a 600mm lens is impractical, both in terms of its cost and having to haul it through the wilderness. Conversely, a standard 28–70mm zoom does not provide enough focal length to frame animals tightly and be at a distance that doesn’t cause them to flee. The pros’ advice is a minimum focal length of 300mm. For someone new to wildlife photography, a 70–300mm zoom would be a good first choice.

Pay More Attention to Focus.

Dead-accurate focus is very important to excellent wildlife photography. Too many photographers take focus for granted, as an obvious task on the checklist of every image they shoot; but with wildlife photography, you must consciously concentrate on how you focus on your subject. Start by always using the focus points in your camera focus system. You want to be absolutely sure that the points are aligned with the eyes of your subject because these are what often capture the attention of viewers first. This is especially important if you have composed a tightly framed image, or a close-up, of an animal’s head or face.

Be conscious also of your depth of field. As you fill the frame with your subject, the depth of field becomes shallower at most apertures. You could very easily record an image with the tip of the critter’s nose in focus in the foreground or its ears in the background, but not the eyes. A “don’t” on this tip list is to avoid recomposing a photo once you establish accurate focus. It doesn’t take much movement or change of composition for the eyes to be outside that narrow depth of field.

Shoot Eye to Eye.

Whenever possible, move yourself and/or your camera, so your photos are shot parallel to the subject’s eyes. Again, the more you can highlight the eyes of any wildlife you photograph, the easier it is for viewers to “enter” the photo and the environment of the animal, and for you to receive their accolades for your amazing digital pictures. This may mean literally lying in the mud or wading into a body of water to chest level; therefore, dress appropriately and add a plastic drop cloth to your gear and/or waders if you plan to photograph shore or swamp birds, for example. Choose a tripod that will allow you to place the camera very close to the ground. Look for a large stick of wood or a rock on the ground on which you can steady your lens for an incredible eye-level image. Another option is to bring a sandbag or two.

Read Part 2 of this article for more insider secrets of the wildlife photography pros.