Whether you have a penchant for puffins or pike, photographing wildlife requires understanding, planning and quick reactions.
Get down low
Unless you’re working from a considerable distance away and the angle is in your favor, all wild life images are best taken at the same height as your subject: nothing is more effective than being at eye level, and conversely nothing looks less so than an image taken from a steep downwards angle. For birds on the water, a lower level makes the water more mirror-like in terms of reflections, and on land it creates the opportunity for some ‘mush’ at the bottom of the shot (out-of-focus foreground) which is creative, too.
For most wild life photography I use aperture priority, my fastest frame rate and single spot auto focus. I have found this combination works best for me but others will have their own preferences.
Create a pool
Garden birds likeand bathe so try to create a natural-looking pool. A shallow tray from a garden centre sunk in the ground close to cover and decorated with moss and stones will make a photogenic set-up. But beware of attracting local cats that may try to make.
Check wind direction
Depending on its direction a strong wind can give rise to some great bird pictures. In summer seabird colonies bustle with life, but trying to capture a puffin coming towards you at 30mph on a tailwind can be frustrating. On the other hand, give that same puffin a decent headwind to fly into and, if the light is right, flight photography can become a breeze.
Pre-visualise your image
Give the project enough time. When working with outdoor elements and wild animals, tight schedules will work against you. Markus Varesvuo.
Think about the background
When positioning perches for garden birds think about the kind of background you want and adjust accordingly. If you cannot get a clear background you could consider using an artificial background such as a print of muted green or other colors.
Using back-button focus can greatly increase the chance of capturing sharp images. Switching to back-button focus means I can keep my camera in predictive focus mode at all times. As soon as I release the focus button the focus is locked so it can be used for both static and moving subjects.
Focus on one species
Start a project that involves photographing just one species. It can be a great way to develop your portfolio beyond standard images. Whether it’s a specific bird mammal or even just an area focusing your time will stack the odds in your favor.
It’s important to show gratitude and respect for your subject. If you feel connected to your subject it will show.
Approach people for portraits
You’ll meet some interesting characters on your journey but many travelers are shy about asking them for a picture. Most people are flattered to be asked and say yes to such requests especially if you have taken an interest in what they are doing or selling. In some touristy places locals will want to charge for photos and you may consider a modest payment to be a fair trade. Alternatively if the subject is a trader buying something from their stall or shop may be preferable.
Go at the right time of day
Wherever you go during your travels will look completely different depending on the time of day that you visit and the direction that the light is coming from. If you’re taking the trouble to make a special visit to a major landmark look to work out whether it is best visited in the morning or afternoon. Otherwise be sure to explore your subject from a variety of angles to capture the way the light falls on it. Don’t do to shoot into the light too – you can get some very atmospheric images this way – while side-lighting is great for revealing texture and casting long shadows.