An expertly captured low angle shot of wildebeest crossing the Mara River; a close-up image of a great white shark in South Africa proudly displaying its jagged teeth to the camera; a picture of a herd of elephants walking into the African sunset. Indeed, wildlife photography serves as a lens for showcasing the domain of nature and animals to the world.
Magazines like National Geographic are seen as a standard where almost all wildlife images are to be measured. But, did you know you can easily capture breathtaking images of animals in their natural habitat yourself? You don’t need to be some big shot with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and a team of assistants, but you do need to know the basics.
Here are 7 ways you can improve your images of nature and wildlife.
Tip #1. Always know your gear.
Snapping action that lasts anywhere between 5 to 20 seconds requires timing and an inherent knowledge of which camera settings to use. Being thoroughly familiar with your gear could mean getting that perfect shot or losing it because you tuned into the wrong shutter speed or attached the wrong lens. If you are serious about photographing wildlife, a top-quality, telephoto lens will help you take great shots at a safe distance and without disturbing the animal.
Tip #2. Study your subjects beforehand.
If you plan to take pictures of animals while on a Safari in South Africa, it’s good to know beforehand how to conduct yourself in their presence. Animals in game reserves are accustomed to vehicles around them and don’t really mind these. Studying your subject allows you to predict when that ‘magical moment’ will happen. Although most animals are unpredictable, there are ingrained patterns of behaviour in every species you could use as a signal. How do you get to know your subjects? Just one way: spend time with them.
Tip #3. Be absolutely patient.
You’ve probably seen nature shows where photographers lie down for hours in dusty safari plains waiting for the right moment to click on their cameras. Every good wildlife shutterbug needs to pack a lot of patience in their gear bag. It helps if you have a love and fascination for the animals in front of your lens as opposed to being simply motivated to get a good snap.
Tip #4. Familiarise yourself with the rules (and occasionally break them).
For animal images that breathe life, you need to (at the very least) be familiar with the basics of picture taking. Proper exposure, using histograms along with creating a pleasing composition can go a long way in enhancing your shots. Practice as much as possible. Look at images online and notice how professionals frame their pictures. Keep the fundamentals in mind, but never shackle yourself to them. On occasion, break the rules and push the boundaries a bit to see if you can come up with something far more interesting.
Tip #5. Take a lot of shots.
Don’t be afraid to take a multitude of shots in a single instant. This is helpful when an animal is in the middle of an action; maybe you chance upon them fighting, mating, or stalking a prey. Take advantage of this spectacular moment and take as many images as your camera can manage. These moments will be scarce so take the opportunity to capture them. Action-filled scenes also produce some of the most dramatic images.
Tip #6. Never bribe an animal to ‘pose’ for you.
‘Friendly’ animals might loiter around in the campgrounds while you’re on your African holiday. Sometimes, animals are simply curious and will gather where there are a large number of people. It’s tempting to hand them food to coax them to hang around until you get your shot. Never do this, it could lead you (the photographer) or the animal to get hurt if things turn sour.
Tip #7. Sign up for wildlife photography excursions.
This serves as great practice if you want to hone your skills as an animal photographer. Joining a trip like this allows you to be with like-minded individuals. Generally, you’ll have the same goal: to take a stunning image. You won’t have to worry about rushing from one animal to the next. Plus, if you have an experienced operator, they can take you to the best spots where you can take great images.
Taking pictures of wildlife is a highly rewarding experience. If you are serious about becoming good at this, start by following the tips above and keep practicing. Soon enough, you’ll be doling out National Geographic-worthy shots of your own.
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