The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 1

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 1

Photographing Wildlife walrus

Photographing wildlife can be loads of fun, but also very challenging. By following the pieces of advice set out in this article, and backing this up with lots of practice out in the field, you can’t help but take great images.

01 – Watch and Observe

It isn’t just the technical information that will help you get better images of wildlife. Even before you pick up a camera, there are some important things you should do. Getting to know your subject gives you a much higher chance of ‘nabbing’ that shot. Observing an animal before going out to photograph it is very important. In a lot of cases you will see a pattern emerge. It could be a specific movement the animal makes just before jumping away or flying off. Or it could be the fact that each day, at a particular time, the subject (or subjects), turn up briefly at one spot to feed, preen or perform a courtship display.  By knowing this daily ‘habit’, you can set yourself up with a camera in hand, and wait….

02 – Aperture Priority or Manual Setting

I strongly recommend using aperture priority when photographing wildlife. That way you are in control of the depth-of-field required and camera’s shutter speed will change accordingly, depending on the light conditions around at that time.  If wanting to photograph a moving animal, a higher shutter speed is needed. With aperture priority, this can be done by increasing the ISO, which in turn increases the shutter speed.  It is easy enough to increase the shutter speed by increasing the camera’s ISO, but there is another option. If your camera has the feature available, you can also use the ‘Auto ISO’ setting. I suggest setting the ISO parameters so that it won’t allow a high ISO, which can result in images with too much ‘noise’ (or grain, in the old film terms). By using the auto ISO setting, it’s one less thing to think about when out in the field. The camera’s shutter speed will remain at a minimum speed, no matter what the lighting conditions are like. You can also set your camera to manual, choose the aperture and shutter speed you require and select the auto ISO option. By doing this, you are in control of both the depth-of-field you require AND the minimum shutter speed, while letting the ISO change accordingly.

03 – It’s all About the Eyes

When I started out in wildlife photography over 21 years ago, one of the very first things I learned was to focus on the eyes of an animal. Whether it’s both eyes staring straight at you or just one eye side-on, it’s paramount that the eye(s) are sharp and clear, otherwise the image is ruined. You can do this by choosing the single focus point and moving it around using the camera’s toggle, until it focuses on the animal’s eye.  Another option, when using the camera’s single focus style, is to focus on the eye using the central focus point. Follow this by half-depressing the shutter button, keeping your finger on the button, then moving your camera to recompose the image as desired.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 2

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 2

Eastern Spinebill

04 – Why Is My Image Too Bright or Dark?

If you are photographing a white animal in a bright environment, you need to use positive exposure compensation using aperture priority, as the camera’s metering turns the scene to ‘grey’. Take a quick shot and then look at the histogram or the image on the back of the camera’s LCD screen. If the image is still too grey/dark, increase the exposure a tad more, to say +1.3 , +1.7 or even +2 until you have the desired exposure (i.e. clean whites). For a black subject in a dark environment, do the reverse and use negative (-) exposure compensation. This will bring out the detail in the blacks.

05 – The Advantage of Back-Button Focusing

Many SLR camera models and makes have back-button focusing as a feature. This setting is invaluable for wildlife photography, especially for capturing birds-in-flight and other moving subjects. Explained simply, back-button focusing allows you to focus on the animal you are photographing by pressing a button on the back of your camera, then depressing the shutter button to take the shot. This setting is very useful for photographing a bird flying in a parallel line. With the camera’s focus-point on the bird, keep following it as it is flying, finger half depressed on the shutter. When the bird is in a good position, simply let go of the focus button and take a series of shots (make sure you also use continuous shot or ‘burst’). Even though you have let your finger off the focus button, your focus will remain on the bird as it is flying past, rather than focusing on the background. It may take a bit of to get used to back-button focus, but with practise it will become second-nature.

06 – Composition Essentials

One of the most important aspects of creating great photos of wildlife, is good composition. You can own the most expensive photographic equipment, use all the correct settings and have the patience of a saint, but without composing the image well, it simply won’t work. Avoid composing your subject so that it sits directly in the centre of your image. By doing this, it looks too staged or set-up. Try composing in a way so that the subject’s eye or head crosses over the intersecting ‘rule-of-thirds’ lines. If there are two or more animals in the image you are about to take, focus on the one in the front or the one that is most prominent. By using a wide aperture, you can blur out the other subjects, drawing the viewer’s eye to the one you have focused on. If you wish to have all the animals in the group in focus, reduce the aperture size (higher number).

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

The Do’s and Dont’s of Wildlife Photography – Part 3

The Do’s and Dont’s of Wildlife Photography – Part 3

King Penguin South Georga

07 – Flash Techniques Explained

Over the years, many of my photo workshop participants have said that they struggle to get decent shots using flash. The settings I’m about to explain here are tried-and-tested and work well. They are my own, personal settings that I have explained to lots of workshop students for many years and they work!

For SLRs, set the camera to manual mode. Use a wide aperture (as you would normally for wildlife), set the shutter speed to 1/125th of a second and the ISO to 100. Connect the external flash to the camera’s hot shoe and select TTL (Through The Lens) or B-TTL metering. Take a shot and check the exposure. As long as you aren’t too far away, you should get decent exposure, as most external flash units aren’t powerful enough over long distances. If quite close to the subject, I recommend adding a diffuser to the flash, which helps to create soft, natural lighting. If the image is still too bright, even with an added diffuser, you can also reduce the power of the flash in increments of one third of a stop, available on most flash models.

There are various ‘twin’ flash arms that can be connected to the hot shoe, which allows for two flash units to be used. The benefit of this is that the image will be much more evenly lit and also minimises the chance of Red Eye, resulting sometimes from attaching a flash directly on top of the camera via the hot shoe. The reason Red Eye occurs in the eyes of your subject is that the direct light from the flash bounces off the animal’s retina and straight through the lens, creating this unsightly effect.

08 – Common Pitfalls

There are a few pitfalls to watch out for when photographing wildlife:

1. One of the most common pitfalls is concentrating so hard on the actual individual being photographed, that your eye misses unsightly distractions in the background. Watch out for trees or other structures sticking out the back of the subject’s head.

2. Photographing a bird straight up a tree from directly below doesn’t look good. Try moving back, giving you a much better angle to photograph.

3. Watch that shutter speed! So often I see people photographing in low-light conditions and hear the sound of a very slow shutter going off. A guaranteed blurry shot!! Either increase the ISO (to increase the shutter speed), stabilise the camera/lens or use flash.

4. Don’t always try and fill your frame with the animal. Sometimes taking a shot of a stunning scene, where the animal is a very small part of it, can make for a great environmental image.

5. When photographing in a zoo or wildlife park through glass and using flash, I suggest positioning the camera/lens/flash at an angle against the glass. This stops the flash bouncing off the glass and straight into the lens, causing unsightly flares and ruining the shot.

09 – Creating Silhouettes

One of the ultimate shots for many photographers travelling to Africa, is to get a shot of silhouetted giraffes against a fiery, orange sunset. This can be achieved by exposing for the background, making for a lovely orange sunset (rather than a totally burnt out background), while at the same time keeping the giraffes totally black.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 4

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wildlife Photography – Part 4

Breaching Humpback whale

010 – Recommended Equipment

There are a number of different photographic accessories that are invaluable when photographing wildlife. Hand-holding a large lens can be quite difficult and tiring, especially for long periods of time. If your subject is stationed in one spot (the subject could be preening, displaying, bathing, feeding etc), then using a tripod with some type of gimbal, such as a Wimberley, is highly recommended. A gimbal lets you move the camera and lens in all directions quite easily, without getting sore arms and shoulders. If your plan is to walk a reasonable distance with your camera and heavy lens, searching for wildlife, then a carbon fiber monopod with a dedicated monopod head is the way to go. Much lighter than a tripod and allows you the freedom to move around. Another important piece of equipment to own is a photographer’s beanbag, used to stabilise heavy lenses. Beanbags can be filled with rice, birdseed or beans and can be placed on car bonnets or half-opened car windows, rocks or fence posts. You’ll be amazed at how much beanbags help minimise movement of your camera and lens, allowing for shots to be taken at quite low shutter speeds. I recommend using some sort of neoprene covering for your lenses and tripods, to protect them from scratches and bumps, dust, rain as well as minimising reflections caused from the sun bouncing off the metal. The most well-known and popular brand used by wildlife photographers around the world is called ‘Lenscoat’. I also suggest some type of rain cover for your camera and lens, especially if you are a wildlife/nature/outdoor photographer.

011 Shoot Closer, Shoot Further

For many photographers, it seems the most important aspect of wildlife photography is purchasing, and using, a lens with the longest focal length. As much as it is beneficial to own a lens with a longer focal length, especially when trying to photograph smaller birds/wildlife, many a great shot can also be taken of the animal as part of a larger landscape. You might be in a place like Antarctica, photographing a stunning, icy vista, with a penguin just visible in the foreground. The viewer’s eyes naturally go for towards the penguin, then at the rest of the scene.   Rather than a close up-image of an animal, photographed with a long lens and wide aperture (which creates a smooth, blurred out background), an image of an animal, taken with a wide-angled lens also gives you a sense of space. It clearly shows the environment the animal lives in and gives the image a sense of scale.

012 It’s All About Light

One aspect of wildlife photography that I have always deemed very important, is photographing, where possible, in decent light. Rarely do I head out in the middle of a sunny day to photograph birds, as it’s the post-dawn and pre-dusk light that is the most subtle and evocative. No harsh shadows and over-blown highlights, just even, diffused light on your subject.   It may not always be possible to photograph pre- dawn or pre-dusk. You may happen to be in an environment, with lots of wildlife around to photograph, and it’s the middle of a bright, sunny day. In these instances, I suggest you photograph with the sun behind you (or to the side), if at all possible, rather than directly in front of you. In these circumstances, I like to move around and take my wildlife shots at various angles to the sun, eventually settling on a position that works best.  

013 Think Outside The Box

One of the joys of photography is that there are so many different ways to take images. You can try different types of composition or experiment with lighting, but there are also many ways to take the same subject, simply by using different lenses. Sure, most photographers think of telephoto or zoom lenses with wider focal lengths as the way to go when photographing wildlife, but why not try a wide-angled lens really close? If your subject is really tame and used to people, such as an individual in a zoo or wildlife park, then try getting down to eye level, very close and getting a totally different perspective. It’s a lot of a fun and you may well be surprised at the results!     I hope the photographic tips and techniques mentioned in this article, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, will help you take your wildlife photography to another level.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Photographing Birds – Capturing Behaviour

Photographing Birds – Capturing Behaviour

Adelie Penguins

Birds are found in every imaginable shape, size and colour, all over the world. Photographing them is a delight but capturing pin-sharp images of moving birds such as flying, diving into water or displaying, can be a challenge. Below are some tips and techniques that I have been teaching my photography workshop participants for the past 15 years.

1. Fast Shutter Speed

One of the most important things when trying to capture bird behavior is to make sure your camera’s shutter speed is high enough to capture the movement. For SLR or Mirrorless camera users, when shooting at a focal length of around 400mm, I generally suggest a minimum of 1/1500th or 1/2000th of second, so as to capture the movement without blur. For fast-flying bird, even higher speeds are recommended.

2. Back-button Focus

Back-button Focus is a feature on many various camera models that works really well when taking action shots. With back-button focus, you use your thumb to focus and your index finger to press the shutter button. Once focus is locked on a moving subject, when used in conjunction with continuous focus, it won’t leave the subject and try and focus on the background, especially if the subject has moved faster than you can track it. Many pro photographers use back-button focus to great effect and I have been encouraging my photography workshop participants to use this method for many years now.

3. Using Continuous Focus

To keep focus on a moving bird, it is imperative that you switch your focus mode to ‘Continuous’, so as to achieve greater focus accurately. Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax etc call their moving subject focus style ‘Continuous’, while Canon call their focus style ‘AI Servo’. It is important to lock focus on the moving bird by half depressing the focus button and keeping it that while following the subject. You can then take the shots whelp not the subject is in the best position. I always recommend using ‘Continuous Focus’ with continuous shutter mode or ‘burst’.

4. Best Focusing Method

If you are new to photographing bird behaviour, especially birds in flight, I suggest using a single focus point in the center of the frame. That way, no matter which direction the bird is flying from, you have a much better chance of capturing the perfect moment. Also, if the sky is blue and there are no distractions in the background, using 3D tracking or similar can be advantageous in helping with the focus locking onto the bird.

5. Preempting Bird Behaviour

One very important aspect of capturing that exact ‘split-second’ bird behaviour moment is to wait patiently until something happens. Recently, while presenting a photo expedition to Antarctica, we had dozens of penguins standing on the rocks near the shoreline. My group waited patiently for that exact moment when they started jumping into the water, then clicked away like crazy!! Carefully observing the penguins and preempting when they were about to jump, helped our photography group in getting great action shots.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Wildlife Photography Tip –  SLR camera versus Compact Digital Camera?

Wildlife Photography Tip – SLR camera versus Compact Digital Camera?

Osprey with fish
As far as a recommended camera goes for photographing wildlife behaviour, it is preferable to use an SLR (single lens reflex) camera. One of the reasons is that you are able to capture a certain behaviour the instant the shutter button is pressed and you can also choose the zoom or telephoto lens you wish to use. With a compact digital camera or a ‘point-and-shoot’, it is a bit more difficult to take a photo at the precise moment when a behaviour is happening. Compact cameras have an inbuilt shutter-lag, which basically means there is a delay from the time the shutter is pressed until the photo is taken. Photographers who use compact cameras often tell me they are frustrated by missing that special wildlife ‘moment’, due to the delay in the shutter button on their camera. If your subject is stationary, you first need to compose your photo then press the shutter button partially to pre-focus on it. Wait for the right moment when a behavior is happening and then press the shutter button to take the shot. It takes a bit of practice and there will no doubt be many near-misses, but once you are used to this technique, it becomes much easier.

A photography tip for photographing birds and bats in flight, or mammals running, is to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the ‘action’. In good light, it is quite easy to achieve a high shutter speed but when lighting conditions are poor, I suggest raising the ISO setting on your camera, which will subsequently increase the shutter speed on your camera. The higher the shutter speed, the better chance of capturing a sharp, focused shot, without blur or movement. Be aware that when using a digital camera, depending on the camera’s make and model, you will experience some “noise” or digital grain if the ISO setting is set too high.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.