Animals work on their own schedules and you often need to be in the right place at the right time or else you’ll lose the shot. Photographers have had to wait for days, weeks and even months in uncomfortable situations to sight a rare animal. The best thing you can do is observe your surroundings and pay attention to the animals’ movements. Studying them long enough will help you to anticipate their actions. Try not to develop a habit of only observing through the viewfinder. Expand your frame by looking at the surroundings through your bare eyes. It helps you gain perspective. Be mindful that you’re not necessarily wasting your time while waiting. The longer you spend observing, the better you get to know their habits and personalities. For example, knowing which animals are more playful and which spot an animal prefers to rest will benefit you greatly.
Cary Wolinsky and Bob Caputo are accredited wildlife photographers whose work has appeared in National Geographic and other similar publications. An extract from an interview: “I found this female cheetah and her cub one day in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. I got a decent shot of the two of them the first afternoon, but I felt I could do better. So, rather than run all over the park photographing different animals, I spent the next week—every day from before dawn to after dusk—with the two of them. And I’m glad I did. I got to know them and their habits, and they became so used to my car that I could get quite close without bothering them.”
Carry the right equipment
While most elementary photography can be done using basic equipment, a more nuanced shoot will require you to have, say, a macro lens to capture small insects or a long focal length lens to capture birds and waterproof cameras to venture out into the sea for marine life. Most lenses that wildlife photographers use tend to be between 150mm and 600mm which allows them to get a tighter image which fills the frame with the subject. Use a 100mm lens with a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8 for your macro needs. You can use in-built effects to achieve interesting photographs, like using a wide aperture of around f/4 which turns the animal’s surroundings (both background and foreground) into a mix of colours with little detail. This helps the animal stand out from its surroundings, making it the centre of attention.
Apart from telephoto lenses, the use of a wide-angle lens can allow more of the subject’s surrounding environment to feature in the shot, which can result in a striking image. Other specialised gear can include camera traps, hides, ghillie suits and flash extenders. Most often than not it just requires an excellent understanding of typical animal behaviour so that you can foreshadow interesting situations that you can capture.
Wear proper attire
As much focus you pay to the animals, do not neglect your own well-being. If you’re shooting in harsh conditions, proper attire can save you from getting dehydrated, frostbitten, or bitten by nasty insects. For cold climates, make sure you wear winter gloves made specifically for photographers that only expose your pointing finger while shooting. In more sunnier areas, a proper hat to shield your head from the harsh sun is a must. For rain-prone areas, pack a raincoat large enough to cover not just you but your backpack and gear as well. Invest in a durable, waterproof camera backpack to store your expensive gear in; with different compartments to store batteries, lenses, cameras, memory cards, clothes and a first aid kit.