January 2014_Photo Tips_Wildlife Photography

January 01, 2014  •  1 Comment

What makes animal or any wildlife photography special? What makes someone want to linger over an image? Emotion or feelings provoked by the image are often responsible. Memories also induce our minds to wonder, while good composition leads the way.

Let’s review six key elements that I believe add to this magic: eyes, patterns, reflections, action, environment and/or the young. I see youI see youLeopard cub behind a tree in sepia.

  1. The Eyes have it! It has been said that the eyes are windows to the soul. Eyes draw us in and evoke an emotional response. Eyes (or near eye) need to be in focus and best if shooting at their level and not down. Eyes need to be at a good location according to rules of composition. For example, at an intersection point on the grid for the Rule of Thirds or in the top 1/3rd if a head shot or head and shoulders. A catch light is important as well, since this conveys a spark of life and a connection. Front lighting, flash with the white card up or using the focused flash beam with or without the Better Beamer to extend this distance. Out on a LimbOut on a LimbLeopard in a tree.
  2. Patterns or Symmetry create a graphic pattern. Learn to look for patterns and shapes. Zebra stripes are like fingerprints, and are unique for each animal. If the message of the image is this pattern, think of what distracts from this. Color does, so convert to B&W with a definite white and black point but minimal in the mid-range (or grey tones). If the grey tones remain, you would just have a color photo with the colors removed. Black and white often reveals more about the subject by enhancing contrast and texture with control of the position of your light. Silver Efex Pro 2 has some great presets to try. Toned images such as Sepia add warmth and an old world feel.  Zebra watchingZebra watchingcolor version Zebra WatchingZebra WatchingBaby zebra at the watering hole in B&W and square format. PatternsPatternsZebra stripes in various patterns in B&W
  3. Reflections double the impact. Look to shoot after a rain storm or near a quiet body of water such as a puddle, pond or lake without sun shining directly on the water. African SpoonbillAfrican Spoonbillbirdersworlddaily.com Image of the Week as of Oct 3, 2011 Zebra reflectedZebra reflectedZebra during the Great Migration with reflections in a muddy river bed. B&W
  4. Look for Action that you can either freeze or blur. Avoid shooting when animals are eating with their head down or resting, usually mid day. Most activity occurs in the early hours of the day or around dusk. When light levels are lower, it is easier to use a slow shutter speed and pan. With mid day light, freezing the action is much easier. Typical shutter speeds to freeze action would be 1/125 for large animals, 1/250 for medium animals, 1/500 for small animals or large birds and 1/1000 for small birds. Use continuous servo Auto Focus with predictive focus tracking and Continuous Low or High speed shutter release mode to follow action. Choose the auto focus area mode, such as Dynamic to track action and select 21 focus point option! Read your manual, since options will differ depending on your camera. Panning for Motion requires a slower shutter: 1/60, 1/30 or slower and may require a low ISO, stopping down to a small aperture such as f/22-32 and / or using a Polarizing or ND filter. Target the subject’s shoulders or torso and keep the panning vector aligned with the animal’s direction of travel. Set for high speed shutter release, and move smoothly through he series, continuing the pan even after you releasing the shutter button. Turn off vibration reduction during panning. Lots of trial and error here.  Bear FrenzyBear FrenzyBrown bear at Brooks Falls, AK. running out of the water towards the path for the falls. FlightFlightImpala running with panned blurred background.
  5. Sense of place will help you tell a story. Environment is important in setting the stage and to create a sense of place. Dusk and Dawn, the Golden Hour, has always been important for the photographer, and getting up early and staying out late is typical. During the golden hours, the sun is at an angle where it will illuminate mist, fog or dust, giving you a great golden glow when the weather conditions permit it.  It is best to avoid cluttered background either with your position, by zooming in or by using a more shallow depth of field (shooting wide open – one or 2 stops smaller than the max aperture: such as f/4 to f/5.6 with an f/2.8 lens). Following MomFollowing MomElephants with baby at Dusk. Elephants in the MistElephants in the MistElephants walking down a path in dawn mist. In sepia. Three Bears fishingThree Bears fishingBrown bears at Brooks Falls, AK. fishing for salmon with one leaping up the waterfall.
  6. Everyone loves a baby or a family scene. Plan your trips around the time of year young can be anticipated. This generally means spring in the US but the opposite for Africa. For example on the Serengeti most of the wildebeest calves are born during a three week period, usually the beginning of February. The lioness will share the task of raising young with her sisters and multiple sets of cubs may be seen at the same time especially during our fall in Kenya. Mother and ChildMother and ChildThomson's Gazelle mom and child. Kenya. Cubs with MomCubs with MomLion Cubs with a lionese taking a walk.


Alison Nicholls(non-registered)
You make it look easy Judith, but I know how hard it is to get these shots when you have no control over your animal subjects. Great stuff!
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