As the (insert amazing wild animal of choice here) steps out of the edge of the woods into view and you prepare to capture your award winning images of it, you suddenly are confronted by a vast array of choices on how to make the images, with only a short period of time to make them.
What aperture should I use…what ISO…should I try to move closer…should I shoot it as a vertical…should I put on a teleconverter…should I take off the teleconverter… should I switch my car insurance to that company run by a lizard…
In this article we cover some of those decisions you face when photographing wildlife. While many of the same types of decisions have to be made for other nature photography subjects like landscapes or macro, the decision outcomes will often be quite different. Remember these are not rules, just guidelines, and that every opportunity needs to be evaluated for the conditions presented, and what you hope to achieve as a photographer.
I often joke that I do know how to work a camera unless I am wet. I spend a lot of time in the water wading after shots, both in freshwater and salt. Wading gives you some unique opportunities to approach wildlife or capture scenes that you simply can’t get from dry land. I find most animals will allow me to approach closer, and I am able to get better angles, interesting behavior, and pleasing compositions. However, wading can be difficult and dangerous. This article is a guide to get you started wading, avoid or identify common dangers, and provide tips to help you make great shots from the water.
1. Know your equipment. When it comes time to take a picture the settings and operation should be instinctual. If you are fumbling with buttons and settings, you will miss the shot. Read your manual, twice, and practice, practice, practice!
2. Take Control. Especially with the newest generation of digital cameras coming out, the cameras try to do all the thinking for you. While they have become “smarter”, the best images are made when you take control of the settings. Know how to properly expose a shot, and when to override what your camera is telling you to do.
3. Know your subject. When working with wildlife there are certain behaviors that indicate what the animal is about to do. The better you know your subject, the more of these behavior cues you will pick up on. When you know what an animal is about to do, you can be prepared for the decisive moment to capture that behavior on film. Whether it is a person, place or animal, knowing your subject will help you make more natural and dynamic photos, capturing the true personality and life of your subject.
Whether it is landscapes or wildlife, the sharpness of an image is often the difference that separates a keeper image from those getting sent to the recycle bin. Many workshop participants state that getting consistently sharp images is a concern for them and something they want to improve in their photography. No single technique will give you sharp images every time, but a combination of techniques will make your rate of success skyrocket.
As I was walking down a trail at one of our local state parks last year, I came across a gentleman lying on the ground. Worried that he was injured I ran over to him, noticing also the tripod and camera set up a few feet away. My initial concern was quickly replaced as I saw he was not hurt, but rather had his arm shoved down a gopher tortoise burrow, all the way up to his shoulder. I cleared my throat to get his attention, and asked if everything was okay. He replied, ”Yeah, this turtle just went down this hole, I want to see if I can pull him out to get a picture of him”. He figured he would just pull it out and set up in a good spot to get a few shots. Shocked into silence I did not know how to respond to him, this was someone who had a much different set of ethics than I did for dealing with wildlife, and also did not know a whole lot about gopher tortoises and their “roommates”. Taking a deep breath, I then asked him how much he knew about gopher tortoises. He gave me a funny look, arm still in hole, and said “Not much.” So I told him that the gopher tortoise burrow is shared by many other animals (one study found 360 different species used gopher tortoise burrows as shelter). Still getting the funny look, I then said one such animal that particularly favors it is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, and I saw a 6 foot one not 20 yards from this burrow two days ago”. I have rarely seen a human move this fast, but he was able to go from prone to standing 10 feet away from the hole in the blink of an eye. Then I had the dilemma of whether to tell him about the poison ivy patch he had landed in or not…
One of the most difficult aspects of wildlife photography is finding and getting close to willing subjects. The ability to achieve frame-filling images is often a challenge and is the goal of almost all wildlife photographers. This can be accomplished by working with habituated animals, shooting from your vehicle or even hiding from your subject so that they are unaware of your presence.
While I typically prefer to work unencumbered and free to move about, this is not always possible. I am then required to hide from my subjects and this can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Donning camouflage clothing and blending into the natural surroundings is one option. Quite often I will build natural blinds using sticks, grass or reeds…anything I can find in the immediate vicinity. But more often than not today my choice is to use a portable pop-up blind that enables me to not be tied to one specific area and I can easily move the blind to a new location if necessary. A good blind allows for more freedom of movement than camouflage clothing; you are more comfortable yet you remain completely undetected.
Introduction The Chair Blind from Ameristep is a relatively new type of blind option, offering a one person blind built around an integrated seat. My first introduction to the Chair Blind was last winter in South Carolina on a trip to take pictures of wintering waterfowl. Several of us had been invited to the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s private properties to take pictures of the ducks there, and fellow photographer Doug Gardner, the trip organizer, had obtained a few of these blinds for us to try out. We put them through the paces in some pretty rough conditions, and by the end of the trip I had ordered two of them for myself.
At least once per week I hear someone comment about those “tame” Florida birds and how easy it is to shoot in Florida. Each year droves of photographers come to Florida, many unprepared for the conditions they will encounter here.
For all of the beauty and abundant wildlife, Florida can be a difficult, and at times dangerous, place to be a photographer. There are certainly many places where you never have to leave a boardwalk or the comfort of your car to take a picture. However, for those willing to venture into the real Florida, there are some precautions that should be taken. The climate and critters of the “Sunshine State” can imperil both the photographer and his or her equipment if they are not properly prepared
Put it on your calendars, we are heading back for another Birds of Prey Workshop, April 6, 2012. Our group had so much fun, we just had to go back for another round!
Join us for a unique opportunity to photograph birds of prey such as Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Swallow-tailed Kite, Barred Owl, Short-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, American Kestrel, Eastern Screech-owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Merlin as well as falconry birds such as the Peregrine Falcon and Harris’ Hawk. And, if weather allows, the Harris’ Hawk and Peregrine Falcon will be free flown by the falconer! Falconry tools such as jesses, gloves, and hoods will also be available to photograph.
You will have two photography sessions with the birds, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, placing the birds in several different realistic situations with natural backgrounds. The hands-on, in-field instruction will allow you to transform your animal portraiture skills for not just birds, but all manner of widlife. A mid-day classroom session is also included.
Check out the complete details on our site by clicking the ad below, and let us know if you have any questions or are ready to sign up. Email us at email@example.com or you can call Nicole at or (813) 956-8702.