Animals, especially wild ones, are going to do what they please and when they please. Unlike humans, you cannot ask them to pose one way or face the light source. You have to be quick on your feet and as well as with your fingers. It’s not just important to know how to work a camera, wildlife photographers need to acquire other skills too, some of them life-saving.
Before modern cameras were invented, wildlife photography wasn’t as efficient as it is today. With the advent of camera technology, the style and trends in wildlife photography have evolved as well. From manual to autofocus, film to digital and small to big sensors, a lot has changed. The most significant change definitely has to be the introduction of the telephoto lens in the 80s. This lens helped photographers get up close and intimate with their subjects. Animals and birds that had been nearly impossible to get a decent picture of, were suddenly fair game.
In our three-part series, we give you some pointers to keep in mind for those keen to get into wildlife photography:
Buy a professional camera
There’s no doubt that wildlife photography is an expensive hobby or profession. You’ll have to be ready to invest in good gear and in its protection as well. A regular camera if exposed to harsh conditions will not last very long, hence you need a weather-sealed one so that can perform well in different conditions. Some versatile camera types include SLRs and mirrorless cameras which can be set manually and even accept different types of lenses (so you can shoot an assortment of photos ranging from insects to large animals). A camera with a manual mode is a must for complicated situations when the auto features simply won’t work out.
Study animal behaviour
Animals are similar to humans in that they all have different personalities. And it is important to show that in your photos if you want them to stick out from mundane shots. Often, a photographer will do long, extensive studies on animal behaviour in order to predict their actions.
Your decisions will rely heavily on what they are doing in that moment, so learn to spot behavioural patterns to increase your chances to get a really good shot. This includes finding out what time of the day they come out into the open, as many are very good at hiding from potential predators. You need to observe carefully and look for any clues that they leave behind, so that your time and effort are spent wisely.
Learn from the best by tagging along with local photographers and nature lovers in the area. Observe how they set up, what kind of location they choose, what time of the day they go out and how they move around animals. It’ll help you pick up new skills that cannot always be learned from reading about them.
Sharpen your stalking skills
Photographing some species may require you to conceal yourself from them (and no, that doesn’t mean dressing up in camo print) in order to get closer and take better shots. At the end of it, you will learn to be patient and hide from potential predatory animals or you might just end up getting roped in for the next season of Netflix’s YOU. Either way, it’s a win.
Photographic blinds are ways to conceal one’s presence as a wildlife photographer, allowing them to capture natural behavior while minimising disruption for the subjects. Matthew Brower, in his book Developing Animals: Wildlife and Early American Photography says, “The photographic blind is not a single object but is instead the set of structuring principles that produce a variety of apparatuses. The photographic blind provides images of the private lives of animals by allowing us to read the images it produces as if neither we nor the photographer were there. It is an essential component of wildlife photography.”
It cannot be stressed how important it is to stay calm—it could be the difference between life and death. The flight or fight response in an animal can be triggered at the slightest of things like unnecessary noise and movements. To avoid scaring off the more skittish ones, it is important to stay calm and move slowly while not making direct eye contact. The camera shutter makes a startling noise so make sure you only press it when absolutely necessary. Even better if you opt out of the noise feature if that is available in your camera. It might be tempting to use the burst mode but use it only when shooting action, when the animals are too busy to notice the sound.