7 Tips for Photographing Wildlife

YELP photo

Photographing wildlife is not easy

Photographing wildlife is no easy task, but in most cases your hard work and patience is rewarded. Here, Jeff Parker of Explore in Focus gives 7 very useful tips for the budding wildlife photographer.

1 Background, background, background!

A busy jumble of sticks, bright spots, or other distracting background elements commonly ruin otherwise fine photos. Sometimes you can’t do a thing about it, but quite often you can. Don’t spend an hour in Photoshop doing something you can easily do in mere seconds in the field!  

For example, a simple change of position or waiting just a bit for an animal to change its position frequently does the trick. A bird in a tree with bright spots of sky showing through makes creating a non-distracting background extra challenging. Try moving until a solid clump of leaves backs the bird. 

Bottom line: you want the viewer’s eye to go to your subject first, not to undeserving distractions.   

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2 Get that eye sharp.

When photographing animals at least one eye must be sharp.  Even if you don’t have enough depth of field to cover the entire animal you can still create a keeper if the eye is sharp.

Viewers look to the eye first & if they find fuzziness there they intuit that the image lacks “life.”

3 More than one’s merrier.

When photographing wildlife remember that it is, well, wild. Therefore you can’t dictate how many subjects show up. But if you have a choice of photographing a loner or aiming your lens at two or more go for the plural. 

While one animal can certainly exhibit action (e.g., eating, hissing, posturing, etc.), when two collect, action can become interaction. That tends to make more compelling images.

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4 Get on your subject’’s level.

Mammal, bird, insect, frog, even flower images feel much more intimate if shot at their level. Doing so helps put viewers emotionally into the scene.

Shots taken from above or below, on the other hand, reinforce viewer-subject separation.

5 Be patient.

Waiting for the right light, waiting for an animal to do something besides sit there, waiting for the best head position—we could almost call nature photography “The Waiting Game.” 

But you’ve heard the saying “Good things come to those who wait,” right? Well, it especially applies to photographing natural scenes & subjects.   

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6 Come to grips with exposure theory.

Today’s digital cameras do a very good job when left to their own devices. However, there are still times—many of them—when you need to help your camera out with exposure compensation.

In particular, when faced with bright backgrounds (e.g. snow, white skies), auto modes tend to underexpose. In such situations, it’s up to you to take charge & tell your camera to expose for the subject. 

(Your histogram is your friend!)

7 Start before you arrive.

Photographing wildlife not only requires a lot of time in the field, but you also need to take time to learn about your wild subject before you arrive to shoot it.

Understanding how it utilizes habitat, recognizing body language clues that signal impending action, & knowing when the animal is most active are the type of info that helps you get shots that stand apart from the rest.  

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Explore in Focus

About Jeff Parker

Award-winning  photographer Jeff Parker specializes in photo tours & workshops for the naturally curious throughout the U.S, Central & South America.  Jeff lives in central-Texas on his nature preserve, the Red Belly Ranch (so named for the Red Bellied Woodpeckers that call the habitat home).

(512) 378-3355