Wildlife photography can be the most terrifying, most exciting, and most rewarding form of photography that exists, and typically these emotions are experienced in one chaotic rush. It strains one's emotions to the extent that it is very hard to focus on the job at hand-capturing great images of an animal in its native habitat.
The best way to become a wildlife photographer is to first become familiar with the subject. Following are some tips to help you in this endeavor:
- Find information on wildlife and their ecosystems in the library or on the internet
- Focus on animal behavior
- Be aware of the "fight or flight threshold of animals
- What are typical behaviors for the time of year (rutting, calving, etc.)?
- Take note of how the animal reacts to your presence
The most important rule of wildlife photography is DO NOT HARASS THE WILDLIFE. You are entering their world. Respect them on their home even more than you respect your own. The most important thing to remember is to keep noise to a minimum. When approaching wildlife, remember to:
- Shut car doors quietly, talk in a whisper, and walk as noiselessly as possible
- Keep a respectful distance between yourself and the wildlife
- Approach any wild animal slowly and quietly
- Stay low, but not too low (you might be mistaken as prey)
- Don't approach from a high or low point - stay on middle ground
- Do not push the animal; often if you stay still, it will pass by you
- Wear clothing that blends with local foliage
- Use natural obstacles to obscure your form
Large predators such as bears are a totally different scenario. Don't ever look a bear in the eye. Bears take stare-downs as a direct threat (although I recently read an article on grizzlies that quoted a researcher stating, "eye contact is useful for a bear in trying to read a person's intentions." I still would not feel confident in trying this with a bear, since everything else I have read states the opposite.) Most people in the presence of a great predator find it hard not to be afraid. This is a natural response; the animal that is in front of you can kill you, but try to focus on not being afraid. Animals have a sixth sense of sorts, and can pick up on that fear. Of course, use the previously discussed behavior analyses techniques with wildlife, and pay attention to what is going on with the animal. Pepper spray is good deterrent to carry when photographing in the presence of predators. It can save your life if all other techniques that you have learned have not been successful.
Now that you are feeling more confident in the presence of wildlife, what are you going to look for photographically in the scene? There are three factors that must come together to produce a great photograph: light, clarity, and composition. Following are tips to perfect each factor:
- Be aware of the different types of light: front lighting, side lighting, and back lighting
- Play with the affects of the different types of lighting to produce different photos of the
- Pay attention to what the camera is focusing on
- Be sure the eyes of the subject are in focus; this is where most viewers look
- Avoid distractions such as tree branches, grasses, and complicated backgrounds
- Try both horizontal and vertical shots
- Remember the "rule of thirds"; divide the photo frame into three sections both horizontally and vertically and place the subject at one of the cross sections
Now go out and look for some wild animals to learn from and remember if at first you are unsuccessful, try, try, try, again and again. Eventually, you will walk away with images that make people say, "Wow, how did he get that image?"