In the second of our series on travel photography, Editorial Assistant Abi shares her top tips for snapping wildlife.
Wildlife photography is notoriously difficult – animals can be pesky subjects and have an annoying habit of wandering off just as you compose the perfect picture. As a result, many people return home from safaris or other animal encounters with nothing but blurred images of distant creatures. You might assume you need an expensive SLR camera or a telephoto lens to get anything better, but with a few simple tricks – and a lot of patience – it’s possible to take memorable wildlife pictures no matter how basic your equipment.
Know before you go
Read up on the animals you’re going to see before you leave, and once there ask local guides about typical behaviour. If you know when local wildlife is most active and where it congregates you’ll have a much better chance of getting great photos. After all, there’s no point heading off with your camera in the middle of the day if most living things will be hiding from the heat. If you’re going on safari your game drives will be timed for you, but find out in advance when they are (normally dawn and dusk) and practice taking pictures in the light conditions you’re likely to be faced with.
Practice makes perfect
Visit a zoo or shadow your pets with a camera before you go. Taking pictures of a domestic moggy or a captive creature might not be the same as photographing a lion in the wild, but it gives you the opportunity to try out ideas, practice techniques and find out just what your camera can do.
Keep your finger on the button
It’s difficult to anticipate how animals are going to behave, so keep clicking away and take as many pictures as you can. By doing this you’re far more likely to capture the crucial moment – a lion roaring, a bird diving – then waiting for something to happen and trying to press the shutter in time. Many digital cameras have helpful continuous shooting or ‘burst’ functions, which take multiple shots of the same scene in quick succession. Just make sure you have plenty of memory cards with you!
It’s all in the eyes
When taking portraits of animals, make sure you keep the eyes in focus. Eyes let us connect with the subject of a photo; they’re the first things most people notice and it’s surprising how much emotion they can convey. Capture them well and you’ll have a striking image, even if other areas of the photo aren’t perfect.
Not just a pretty face
Don’t worry if your subject isn’t striking a perfect portrait pose, though – some of the most captivating wildlife photos don’t show animals’ faces. A picture of a swishing tail, a striped behind or a flicking ear can be just as expressive and reveals a lot about animal behaviour – as this shot of a buffalo in Tanzania shows.
Capture the wider environment
Try not to focus all you’re energy on getting close-up shots – it’s very difficult without a telephoto lens and, let’s face it, there are some animals you just don’t want venture that near to. You can take stunning wildlife pictures from far away by showing animals in the context of their environment and highlighting the beauty of their surroundings. Try snapping groups on the horizon, a loan creature standing against the landscape, or a herd hidden among foliage. This trick is particularly effective if there’s a strong contrast between the animal(s) and the background colours, as in this photo taken in Namibia.
What are the odds?
The human eye is a strange thing – when looking at pictures of groups, it’s naturally drawn towards odd rather than even numbers. If you’re taking a picture of a group of animals, try to include 3 or 5 individuals in the shot rather than a pair or a foursome.
Don’t delete anything!
Finally, don’t discard any shots until you’ve had chance to view them on a computer when you get back home. What looks boring or blurred on a small camera screen can look entirely different when enlarged, and you’ll be surprised at how much retouching and cropping you can do using consumer software like Adobe Photoshop Elements. I almost deleted this picture of a flamingo at the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in Gloucestershire because it was underexposed, but a few adjustments to bring up the colour and enhance the light created one of my favourite images.