Wildlife photography is a tough undertaking. Between the long jaunts often needed to find the wildlife you want to photograph, the long hours waiting patiently for the shot, and the great likelihood that you’ll end the day without getting the images you really wanted, it can be a frustrating task. Yet, when everything works out, the images you create have a better chance of being something that takes your breath away.
We’ve put together a few easy tricks to help you find more success in wildlife photography that will also get you much more dramatic results.
Find Ways to Capture Emotion
Nothing connects people to wildlife quite like a photo that exudes emotion. Whether that’s the loneliness of an orphaned fawn or the triumph of a baby bird taking its first flight, wildlife images are much more engaging if you can find a way to help viewers connect with it on a deeper emotional level. Look for those moments as you scan the surroundings for wildlife to photograph.
Use Dramatic Lighting
We’re often told that the best lighting of the day is during golden hour - that sweet spot each morning and evening as the sun rises and sets. And while golden hour does indeed have amazing light, if you want even more drama, try photographing wildlife before the sun rises or especially after it sets. That 15-20 minutes after the sun has dipped below the horizon usually gives you incredibly saturated skies full of warm colors. It’s the ideal backdrop for a silhouette shot of wildlife.
Zero In On a Specific Behavior
Setting your camera to burst mode and rapid firing shots of animals is certainly one way to get the shot you want, but if you work with more purpose and observe the animal for a while, you’ll be able to zero in on a specific behavior, hopefully one that is especially dramatic or interesting. For example, taking a photo of an antelope grazing in a valley could be a great picture. But waiting for the antelope to raise its head, for the sun to glisten off its eye, or for its breath in the cold autumn air to billow around it will be a far better image. This kind of patient approach, paired with always being at the ready to fire off your shutter, will get you much more dramatic photos.
Be Purposeful in Your Composition and Framing
While there are certainly opportunities to photograph wildlife within seconds of opening your car door, typically, these rushed images look just that - rushed. The background might not be the best, the lighting off, the horizon tilted, and the like, all of which detract from the natural beauty of the animal you’re photographing.
But images that really have a punch are those that have been composed with purpose. Just like being patient and zeroing in on a specific behavior, exercising patience when composing and framing your shot is essential for creating a photo with the most impact. Of course, this is extremely hard to do, given the quick movements of many animals. However, being purposeful in your research about the animals you photograph will help you get the shots you want. Learn about the animal’s eating habits, when they rest, and when they are most active. If you can time your photo shoot such that you’re able to observe the animal during a period of the day in which they are less active, you’ll have more time to compose and frame each shot.
Above all, wildlife photography should be about having fun, about being in awe of the beauty of nature. The more fun you have in the process of taking your photos, the better it will translate into your images. Even though they are merely two-dimensional, photos can take on a life of their own, and one of the best ways for that to happen is to enjoy your time. If you do that, and follow the other tricks we’ve outlined here, you’ll have more dramatic photos that more deeply engage viewers.