One of the most common difficulties encountered with wildlife is photographing them in low light, such as in rainforests or on days with dark clouds overhead, or even at dusk when they might become more active. It can be especially difficult to get decent shots when hand-holding a large lens in such conditions – the result can be blurry shots. If your lens has the function, using Image Stabilisation (called Vibration Reduction for Nikon lenses and Optical Stabilisation for Sony lenses) really helps to get sharp shots where shutter speeds are low. You can generally hand-hold two to three shutter speeds lower than would normally be necessary for sharp shots, when you’re using image stabilisation.
However, another way to stabilise your hand-held camera and lens is to use a photographer’s beanbag. This is usually filled with seeds, rice or beans and can be placed on the ground, on a post or rock and even on the roof or bonnet of a car. Your camera and lens are then nestled into the beanbag to give great stability. For the Little Egret image that I photographed, I placed the beanbag on the ground so that I was at eye-level with the bird. I was easily able to move my camera/lens and follow the bird until it spread its wings and pounced on the tiny fish in the water.
It can be quite tricky knowing when an animal will perform a particular behaviour. One of the crucial aspects of capturing great behavioural shots is to spend time beforehand researching the particular species you might wish to photograph. Having a bit of prior knowledge of the species’ behaviour gives you a much greater chance of predicting what it might do. I would also advise you observe the behaviour of each individual first. You can then wait patiently with your camera until something happens, with some chance of anticipating its patterns of behaviour. This is exactly what happened with a Lace Monitor I was photographing at Rocky Creek, in tropical North Queensland. I spent many hours, over period of a week, observing the behaviour of a male monitor on a property where I was staying. When another male appeared anywhere nearby, the subject I was photographing would often rear up in a territorial stance. So I waited, and as soon as the other male appeared, I had the camera ready and focussed on my subject.
A wildlife behaviour shot which is very popular with photographers, but often seems to be in the ‘too hard basket’, is a breaching whale. In Australia, there are quite a few whale- watching cruises which operate both on the east and west coasts of Australia. No one can guarantee if and when a whale will breach, but when it happens, knowing certain patterns the whales often follow increases the chance of getting great breach shots. Often when there is a breach, it will be followed soon after by more. By noting where the first breach occurs and then pointing your camera just in front of the breach (in the direction the whale is travelling), your chances of getting more breach shots are greatly increased. This happened on one of the whale photography workshops I presented recently. A calf breached and this was followed by a succession of over 20 more! Each and every participant managed to get a series of great shots of whales breaching, just by following this simple instruction.
Another challenge for the wildlife photographer is getting close enough to a subject without scaring it away. For wildlife which often visit one area, using a camouflaged hide is a good strategy. There are many portable hides on the market that are quite light and easy to set up. I recommend positioning the hide a reasonable distance from your subject and then leaving it a while. That way the subject can get used to it and continue with its normal behaviour. If you see the animal is taking no notice of the hide, move it closer still, until you’re at your desired distance. This is how I managed to shoot the rare and incredibly elusive Albert’s Lyrebird, in south-east Queensland. Without a hide, the lyrebird wouldn’t have ventured anywhere near me and my camera. Bear in mind that councils and conservation groups also set up established hides at some locations, often in parks where waterbirds frequent. These are also great spots to shoot from, as long as you’re prepared to exercise patience. Make sure you bring snacks, drinks, and warm clothes if the conditions are cool – and possibly a cushion for those hard wooden benches!
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.