How To Capture Creative Photos In Nature

How To Capture Creative Photos In Nature

Creative lighting

Every day, millions of images are posted and published. For your images to stand out from the proverbial ‘crowd’, it’s always a good idea to get a bit creative, when taking images. Try taking a photo of a subject from a completely different angle to anything you have tried before. Try shooting from different heights and use varied focal lengths. Don’t look at other photography competition winners and replicate his or her winning image(s), as it has already been done. Try angles that, quite literally, shouldn’t work according to photography rule books. You may take 50 shots, all from different positions and angles, yet only one of those images will be that unique one that works.

With digital photography, it doesn’t matter how many images you take. Shoot like crazy, experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Try placing your subject in direct line with the sun, using the subject to cover it. You could end up with some pretty funky backlighting and effects. For those of you that own wide lenses that go to f2.8 (or smaller), get creative by focusing on just one part of an image and blur out the rest. Some will work, some won’t, but that’s the fun part of experimenting.

If your preference is for macro photography, water has the potential creating many different moods and effects. Photographing rain drop reflections can be very rewarding and create some great artistic effects. For example, try shooting a spider’s web just after sunrise, after it has rained. The subtle light can create sublime rainbow-coloured effects, especially with the sun shining at just the right angle (see image above).

For wildlife, don’t always photograph the whole animal. Try a head and shoulders portrait, or simply take shots of a bird’s feathers or a reptile’s scales. If possible, photograph just the animal’s eye(s) for a striking effect.

Images that are perfectly sharp, well composed and photographed in good lighting are nice, but do they create a positive reaction when someone looks at the image for the first time? With so many images being posted online every day, it’s an idea to showcase images that evoke a reaction, just by being ‘different’.

When looking at the winning images of photography competitions, you will often see shots that are truly unique. Judges will always agree and disagree on what’s images are winners but often it’s the ones that are ‘out there’ that win these competitions.

The best advice I can give:

“Get on out there with your camera and give anything a try. It costs you nothing and will get your creative juices flowing”


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 Benefits Of Entering Photo Competitions

The Benefits Of Entering Photo Competitions

Laughing Baby Mountain Gorilla Rwanda Africa

Photographers regularly ask me what the benefits of entering photography competitions are. In this article I am giving advice which will help you achieve better results, as well as some common errors people make.

Set Subjects

One of the great benefits of entering photography competitions is that it gives you a ‘challenge’ to work towards, which can be quite exciting. Being given a set subject and then going out with your camera to shoot that particular subject, makes you think carefully about how you would best tackle it. I always say to photographers to ‘think outside the box’ and definitely don’t copy last year’s winners, as it has already been done!

I have judged numerous photography competitions over the past 15 or so years and to me, it’s not just the images that are technically well-executed that will win the awards. Sure, this is a good starting point but the images need to have that ‘something extra’, especially when you are judging a huge number of images.

I am regularly surprised as to the number of images entered that are out of focus. Unless you are trying to capture a certain arty effect with your image, if it’s not sharp it will automatically be rejected in the first round. Carefully critque at each image before you enter.

Think Outside the Box

In the portrait section of a wildlife photography competition, there may be 20+ well-exposed and sharp images, that make it to the final round of judging. How do you choose which one is the standout? One of the 20 or so images may have been photographed with backlighting or the subject may be looking directly at you with a certain expression – this is what makes the image stand out.

Study Wildlife Behaviour

For wildlife behaviour categories, the winning image(s) are often a split-second moment captured perfectly and often one that is rarely seen. To capture images such as this, I suggest you study the individual’s (or group’s) behaviour beforehand. The animal may perform repetitive behaviour, which you can be primed and ready for. Also, patience is an absolute must if you are wanting to capture a special once-in-lifetime moment that could win you a photo competition.

Ask for Feedback

One problem that many photographers face is knowing which images to enter into a competition. Certain images may have emotive meaning to them personally, but don’t really stand out to a judge. Why not ask a fellow-photographer to critique the images you plan on entering? They can then give you an honest opinion as to which images stand out, and why.

Read the Rules!

An important aspect of entering photography competitions is to READ THE RULES CAREFULLY. You will be surprised at how many great images have been disqualified from competitions, simply because the photographer didn’t read the rules properly.

Read the Fine Print!

Another point worth considering is whether the competition organisers are using your images for commercial gain. This is becoming far more prevalent nowadays and will often be hidden in small print in the ‘Terms and Conditions’ section. Please read these terms carefully before you enter.

Most importantly, if you haven’t entered a photo competition before, get on out there and give it a try! What do you have to lose?

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 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.

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