Wim's 5 tips to becoming a better Wildlife Photographer

06th November 2011
Wildlife photography is one of the most rewarding – and challenging – of the photographic art forms.


Those hours spent waiting for the perfect moment, the fleeting instant when nature provides that unforgettable moment in a split second are well worth it when you proudly review your images and share those amazing photographs.

What makes a good Wildlife Photographer?
For me it’s the ability to successfully capture those fleeting moments that nature offers us. If you spend enough time in the field photographing at some point you will capture a good image. Does that make you a good photographer..?
In my opinion no.. a true wildlife photographer is the person that returns from every shoot with a bag full of breathtaking images. Nature only offers us a limited number of 'good' opportunities and the better you are the more opportunities you will utilize.

The following 5 tips are a few pointers that can help you to improve and develop (pun!) your skills and to utilize those elusive opportunities to the fullest.


1 Equipment

This is probably the most important bit of advice that I can share with you.

Purchase the best equipment that you can afford, and stick to the recognized brands. These are recognized simply because they invariably are of a high quality.

Make sure that your equipment is appropriate for your needs, bearing your subject matter in mind. Speed is essential in wildlife photography, so make sure that your camera and lenses are chosen with this in mind. Bird photography especially requires speed and good telephoto / zoom lenses. A good landscape image needs a good wide-angle lens. A good wildlife image under trying conditions needs good equipment to capture these difficult scenes.

I’m not saying that you will not be able to photograph with entry level equipment, I’m saying you will have odds stacked up against you and less opportunity to get that good image. If you have to wait 2 seconds before your camera takes the photograph or wait 2 seconds before you can take the next photograph you can imagine how difficult it will be to capture simple moments such as a lion yawning. Top pro cameras have duel processors built in to speed up the cameras functionality. Often one processor just runs the autofocus on the camera, which under low light conditions and difficult lighting conditions places you in a position to still capture brilliant images.



2 Knowledge

Having really good equipment is only 50% of the answer. The other 50% is your understanding of the equipment. You really need to know as much as you can about your camera, lenses, flash, tripod, and all the essential items that you need.

So, know your camera’s capabilities, and how to adjust in different lighting conditions, and how to compensate with different lenses.

You need to understand the balance between ISO, aperture, and speed so well that it becomes intuitive, and you are able to adjust these settings in changing conditions as easily as changing the gears on your motorcar. Learn as much as you can, and experiment, with the effects created when you increase or decrease your f-stop and decrease or increase speed to compensate. Use this knowledge to compose your photographs before you push the shutter.

Light is your greatest ally and you need to know how light works. The best time for wildlife photography is around sunrise and sunset. Don’t be put off taking photographs at other times of day, but be aware that you may need to compensate in different ways such as the use of fill in flash.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with both natural and flash lighting.



3 Activity

Check on the Internet and you will see that there are hundreds of thousands of photographs of static animals – doing nothing!

My third bit of advice is to try to capture your wildlife in interesting pose. Introducing action, or implied action creates drama, emotion, and atmosphere in a photograph. Snap the interaction between rivals, or between a parent and offspring, rather than waiting for them to pose and stare blankly into nothing.

You can also add to an image by maneuvering yourself into a position that places the subject in front of a beautiful backdrop – a magnificent sunset, or interesting trees. The possibilities here are endless.



4 Be there

It sounds a little obvious to say that you need to be there, but if you don’t get out you cannot get the shots.

The more photographs you take, the more you will learn. And the more you challenge yourself in different situations, the greater the reward will be.

You may need to get up really early – before dawn – to capture those early shots that have such an emotional impact, but it is well worth the effort. Besides, this is when many of the animals are very active, and you have a greater chance of catching nocturnal or crepuscular creatures.

While photographing the lions hunting at Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta, or the WIldebesst Migration crossing the Mara River, one can often find yourself on a vehicle for 12h to 15h every day. Not an easy feat as daytime temperatures can get quite uncomfortable… but you will need to have the perseverance to push through and capture those once in a lifetime images. You need to be there…!

In short you can be the worlds best Wildlife Photographer but if you don’t get out or persevere with your photography and subjects you won’t have any photographs.



5 Join a Forum

Finally, it is almost essential for you to join a good photographic forum or club where you can learn from your peers and share with like-minded individuals. Clubs are good but are limited to weekly or monthly meetings. I personally prefer a photographic forum and public gallery such as www.outdoorphoto.co.za for good solid interaction and help.

Don’t hesitate to post your images on the forum, and invite criticism. Embrace the criticism and learn from it. There are thousands of very experienced people out there who are very generous with sharing their vast experience and knowledge and you can tap into this.

Being part of a forum is an interactive experience and the results are immediate. Never be anxious about requesting advice and guidance. The others will be only too pleased to assist you and this can enhance your abilities immeasurably.

One word of caution however: Always retain your own style, look and feel for your photography. Don’t start photographing to please others – you need to be your own biggest fan.

Remember photography is an art form not a scientific formula. We can apply general guidelines and rules but at the end of the day each image is an individual piece of artwork.




Learning about Wildlife Photography is a lifelong exercise, and if you can apply these few tips, you should be well on your way.

HAPPY CLICKING.

Wim van den Heever