You can reap great rewards with wildlife photography, but you must be willing to put in significant behind the scenes work to get the perfect shot. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
1. Snap away
When photographing wildlife, the more photos you take, the better. Don’t check to see if you got that perfect angle after each photo you take because you might be missing the best shot yet! It’s almost impossible to judge the subtler movements of an animal (such as eye, paw and shoulder position), much less the larger movements. As a result, you could wait hours for an animal to move in a certain position only for him to move again a split second later. Generally, if only one in a dozen of your landscape shots was to your liking, then you’ll probably like only one in several hundred shots of your wildlife shots. Needless to say, come prepared for an intense photography session with extra memory cards and batteries.
2. It’s all in the eyes
Of course, you would love to have an animal to look directly at your camera lens, but wildlife doesn’t always cooperate. Instead, ensure that the eyes of the animal are in focus. While the capabilities of cameras have grown so that you can now zoom in on the smallest of details, viewers are still drawn first to an animal’s eyes. If they are out of focus, the chance that the viewer will connect with the animal—and by extension your photograph—are slim. Adding a small amount of fill light to a flash (1.5 or more notches below the suggested fill flash exposure) will produce a sparkle in an animal’s eyes to further attract your viewer.
3. Do your homework
Before photographing wildlife, especially larger animals, do some research before hand for the safety of everyone involved (animals included) as well as for the betterment of your images. How far should you stand from the species? Are certain movements indicative of the animal feeling threatened? These are some of the questions you need to ask—and find the answers to—from the safety of a computer. In terms of taking a photo, keep in mind that some animals, birds especially, will flee if you come too close. According to the time of year, you may even capture some animals at obscure times.
4. Give some space
As is the case with human portraiture, attention should be paid to the direction and space of wildlife as it will appear in a printed photograph. As a rule of thumb, photos of moving animals should have significant room in front of the animal (and certainly not in back). Whatever direction the animal is facing, give more space on that side of the composition and if the animal is looking at something interesting, go ahead and show it, otherwise leave it up to the viewer’s imagination.