12 Pro Tips to Help Beginners Improve Your Wildlife Photography – Lesson 5
1.) Master Your Gear. The best thing you could do to ensure success before you go on a field trip, is master your gear and know all the options on your camera and when to use them. When you’re on a field trip you’ll have to understand the gear settings you could use in different situations that may pop up. There are situations you can plan for, and also shots that pop up sporadically. Know which settings you might use to capture the shot in many different situations.
2.) Research the animals you’re intending to shoot before you go out. Search YouTube and Google to find out some information on the type of wildlife you might see. Try to understand – how long do they stay in presence of people? What is their speed on exit? Where would they likely seek shelter? What do they eat? Is it really hot, and might they be seeking water? Are they easier found at night or daylight?
3.) Wearing the right gear – and bringing extras – will help you get the shot because you’ll be more comfortable. Wildlife shooting is often filled with hours of waiting or walking. The more you can do so comfortably, the better because you’ll be ready to get the shot when it presents itself.
4.) Before the shot is there in front of you – you should have already gone over what the shot is likely to look like. You should have already pre-set your camera, flash, tripod, whatever it is – and be ready for game-on action in a split second. Some of the best wildlife photographers can sit in a place for days and then instantly grab the shot when the animal arrives. The success of your trip can come down to those split-second moments when you have to get the shot – or lose it. GET IT!
5.) When an unexpected shot opportunity occurs – take a quick photo – with whatever settings you have. Just shoot it quick and get SOMETHING. The reason is, you might get nothing at all after that. Happens all the time. I have often seen wildlife in the rainforest here in Thailand and take a quick shot before I’m ready to get the “right shots” and I’ve been saved a number of times. I may not get anything usable for a client, but at least I have a shot of the animal and can identify what it is. You may shoot a new species that way.
6.) Always have a camera with you – know where it is – and know how to immediately get the settings you want so you can shoot a photo as fast as possible. There have been times when I was running up a trail on a mountain close by and I see a snake, a little deer, a wild boar, or something else and I didn’t have my camera.
One time I saw a snake that was surely a new species on the top of a hill. It was in thick brush and I had to decide – take a photo, or study it and remember as much as possible, and then try to grab it. I chose to study it instead of pull the camera out because I didn’t want the snake to move when I started fumbling with my waist-pack. When I reached for it- it dove into the leaf-litter and I lost it in seconds. I got a good look, but a photo would have been better. I haven’t seen that same snake species in 8 years now! I probably will never again… GAHHHH!!!!
7.) When bored, go small. Usually, I’m looking for snakes in the forests of Thailand near my home. At times it’s a slow night. I mean, really slow. After a couple of hours and not finding anything, I start looking for small animals – spiders, scorpions, lizards, skinks, gliding geckos and lizards, frogs, toads, butterflies if it’s daylight, moths if it’s nighttime. I’ve come to enjoy shooting more than just snakes over the years. I can often see owls, bats, slow loris, gibbons, and amazing insects of all sorts.
8.) Bring a friend, or three. The more people, usually, the better. I notice when I go looking for wildlife at night by myself, I almost always see less than I do with another person or a group of people. More eyes are always better for the type of field trips I do. Even if someone isn’t skilled at finding wildlife, they are looking in places that I’m not and they’re looking in a way that I’m not, and they always find something. I’ve noticed that my skills have grown immeasurably as I learn from each person I take out.
9.) Respect the Animals! When I first started walking the rainforest at night, I was so excited to find a snake or some other animal that I shot many photos. I might have spent an hour shooting photos. Some people I went out with would take longer than that for certain species. It was years before I started thinking that it was wrong to take the animals out of their normal flow to flash lights in their faces for that amount of time.
10.) Know the couple shots you want, and get them, and let the animal free to live life. Put the animal first, and if you can’t get the shot in 10 minutes – that’s your loss. You either need to get better as a photographer, or know your subject well enough to get the shot you want. Also, stop trying to get impossible shots – taking too long stresses the animals and really isn’t right.
11.) Be innovative with your shots. You might get a remotely triggered camera, or a motion-activated camera you can attach to a tree overnight and check in the morning. You’ll find new species that you didn’t know were in the area. You’ll get photos by accident. It’s quite a fun way to take photography to a different level. Don’t stop there. Figure out how to put a camera high in a tree, or on a remote controlled buggy.
12.) Safety first! There have been a couple of times when I found myself in a situation where something horrible could have happened. It was just lucky that it didn’t. Be extra aware when working with animals that can kill you. Not only do you need to know what the animal is capable of, but you must know the terrain you’re standing on. You have to know where rocks are you could trip over. You have that have good shoes that won’t slip. Vibram soles are really grippy!
You have to consider that while all of your attention is focused on what you’re photographing, you may become prey for something else watching YOU. Don’t forget proper hydration, first-aid kits, allergy meds, elastic wraps for elapid snakebites, etc. So much to know when you’re in the forest or on the plains. 😛
I hope these tips helped you enjoy wildlife photography a little more. There is so much variety within the field that you really shouldn’t get bored. If you’re not living in a place where you can find different subjects daily, get out on the three-day weekends at least, and this will inspire you to go further – like here in Thailand, or Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam… etc. Don’t forget Asia!