Top 5 Tips for Wildlife Photography
In the Morning LightThe golden hour is one of the best times for wildlife photography. This occurs in the first hour of morning or the last hour of noon where the light is low and gives this beautiful orange glow to your subject. Sometimes a 5am start can be justified, just maybe not when the alarm goes off!
I am often asked if I have any 'tips' for how others can improve their wildlife photography, and it really can be a difficult one to answer. Photography is a very subjective medium and what is liked by one person may not be liked by another. Finding your own style is personal to you as the photographer and there are no tips that can be given to help you do that. Shoot what you like to shoot and practice. You'll find your own 'style' developing before you know it.
That being said there are a number of basic 'tips' that can help rapidly improve your wildlife images when starting out, and although this is by no means an exhaustive list, my top five tips are given below.
NUMBER ONE - GET ON EYE LEVEL
This is one preached by everyone in the wildlife photography industry, and is the best tip to get instant results in your own work. The angle of your shot dictates to a large degree the mood that you then take from the shot. If you shoot from a high perspective looking down on an animal then you immediately put the viewer as a dominant power over the subject. There is no intimate connection as the image then seems to 'overpower' the animal that you want to focus on. As wildlife photographers we want to connect with out subject and record them, not be seen to be 'looking down' on them. The opposite is then true for angles looking up at the subject. The power and dominance is then placed into the hands of the subject, and although this can be used to great effect, the opportunity to do this is rare.
This then leaves us with our perfect middle ground - taking a shot at eye level. Not only do you then lose the focus on the ground (which is much more aesthetically pleasing), but you place yourself and your viewer into the eyes of the subject/prey. They can see things from the point of view of the subject, and this creates that powerful connection we look for in a wildlife image. Take a look at some of your favourite wildlife shots and most of them will be at eye level!!
NUMBER TWO - USE NEGATIVE SPACE
After the angle of your shot, the use of negative space is the next most important thought in wildlife photography. When we take a photo our subject is 'crammed' into the aspect ratio of the shot - a box in a way, and it is this that we need to think about when using rules such as the RULE OF THIRDS or the GOLDEN RATIO. When we compose, do we want our subject looking into the box or out of it? Negative space refers to the 'blank' part of an image - the part that isn't occupied by the subject or anything of importance (to a degree), and so your subject should be typically looking into this space. If you compose with them looking outside the framing lines then the viewer will always wonder what they were looking at - what interested them and why? It takes the concentration and focus away from the image, and draws the viewers eye away from the image whilst following the gaze. When the subject looks into the frame you have that line of interest pointing back into the image, holding attention!
NUMBER THREE - SHOOT A MOMENT
How can you set your shot apart from others in the genre and get something that is truly 'yours'? Yes, your own personal style, playing with light and all of that has a heavy hand in this, but the biggest thing that sets a great photo apart from a good one is the moment captured. You can take the best photo of a foxes head in the world, and it's a really good shot, but there is no interest there - no story to keep the viewers attention after a few seconds. Try and take images to record things that many people never get to see. Fighting, playing, hunting, eating and even mating can make photographic subjects - just because they tell a story and show a single moment. A good shot of a unique event will always do better than a perfect version of a shot everybody has seen before. Instead of taking a single, more simple photograph and calling it a day try and take something away that you have never seen before.
NUMBER FOUR - DON'T OVER EDIT
As wildlife photographers our job is to record nature as it is and as we see it, and this is not only true for how we take photos, but how we edit them in post-production. The editing process is not to make an image - that should be done in camera. It's only to correct the colours/contrast etc to make the image like you saw it when you pressed the shutter. You see all too many images posted on Facebook and other sites recently with very heavy artificial vignettes, 'haloing' caused by brush work or fake painted-out black or coloured backgrounds, and it is not only obvious, but really takes away from what could be a great image. Keep your editing natural and respect the animal as it was in its environment! The removal of certain items (dust spots etc) is perfectly fine, and in most cases (though this is not allowed in competitions) editing out a distracting stem of grass will also be ok, but don't try to make the moment you caught something it never was.
NUMBER FIVE - BE PATIENT and KNOW YOUR SUBJECT
Wildlife photography is synonymous with patience, and it may be cliched to say again but it really can help. I've seen all too often people arrive at a site, wait five minutes then get bored and leave, only to have the animal appear seconds after they left! Now this is not to say that you need to wait 24 hours in one spot to see anything, but unless you know 100% that something won't appear give it chance. It may have seen you or smelled you, and a few minutes more can make all the difference! Before you go out look up your planned subject. Find out when is peak of activity is and scout out your location. Learn their behaviour so you can tell if there might be a fight or they've sensed your presence - you'll get better shots without the disruption!
BONUS TIP! - DON'T SHOOT FOR OTHERS
With so many photographers engaging in some way with social media it can be very easy to feel obligated to shoot images that will either go down well with your followers (based on previous uploads) or even shoot based purely on the likes and dislikes of a very select group. Whilst this may mean you get more 'likes', it will begin to heavily restrict both your personal development and the diversity in your portfolio. Yes, by all means take and share the photos you know will go down well, but never be afraid to experiment, and if you like a certain style or photograph but someone else doesn't, remember that it is still your work, and don't be pushed into changing your style that easily!
Do you have any more tips that have worked for you? Feel free to share in the comments below or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lbraileyphotography!