Wildlife Photography – Rule Number 9 – Eliminate fences
When you deal with a fence between you and your subject get as close to the fence as possible without touching it (legal moves only, please :-). Extend your zoom to the largest tele setting and open the aperture full. The ideal situation is for your subject to be in the middle between the front fence and back
No Fence? Yellow-billed Hornbill at Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Wildlife Photography – Rule Number 8 – Avoid flash – use a flash-light!
I do not like flash pictures. They are mostly flat and have no depth. In wildlife photography you have seldom the time for good flash setup (with multiple flashes). I’d rather use higher ISO and try my luck without a flash. A standard, handheld flash-light can help producing a glint in the eye of an animal and lighten up a dark corner.
Small female Leopard at Londolozi Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Wildlife Photography – Basic Rule Number 7 – Get down there!
If you want tension in your pictures you need to get on eye level of your subject or even below. I find myself often laying flat on the floor when shooting in zoos. Many exhibits are below the observer. Good for observing, bad for photography!
Eye Level! Corn Snake or Red Rat Snake (Pantherophis guttatus) from a private collection. Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Wildlife Photography – Basic Rule Number 6 – Higher ISO – a friend?
With animals you need short exposure times. I very rarely use a tripod, sometimes a monopod. Most of the time I shoot without any support with fairly long lenses (300-500mm) – animals move – so we need to as well!
Short exposure times are crucial. With full aperture set, I am not afraid of using higher ISO (800-1600 or even above). Especially in decent light conditions the results with modern digital SLRs are not bad. Better to have an image with a little more noise than a picture out of focus.
Lioness hunting at dusk. This picture was taken with a setting of ISO 3200 at Phinda Private Game Reserve, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
Wildlife Photography – Basic Rule Number 5 – Learn how to over- and under-expose with your camera!
Your camera is smart, but not smart enough. Once you have your standard settings only concentrate on one adjustment while you are shooting. If the object you are interested in is much darker than the surrounding you have to over-expose. If the object is much lighter, you will need to under-expose. This takes training; so get out there, make some exposure mistakes and learn from them.
An African Elephant bull waking in a straight line towards a waterhole.
This picture was taken at Etosha National Park, Namibia.
Wildlife Photography – Basic Rule Number 4 – Keep the eyes in focus!
Make sure the eyes of the animals are sharp and in focus. With using “center point focus” you are in control of the focus, not your camera. Make sure the eyes are in the center of your picture (and therefore in focus). Leave a bit of extra room around your major object. You can crop the image on the computer. An animal is not a cathedral – the time for composition is mostly measured in seconds, not minutes or hours.
Round Eye! Uroplatus fimbriatus (Leaf Tailed Gecko) – native to Madagascar.
Picture taken at a private breeder facility in Nashville, Tennessee, USA (Uroplatus Specialties).
Wildlife Photography – Basic Rule Number 3 – Set your camera to a standard!
Animal photography is motion photography. Being ready is very important. Wild animals are not posing for you. So set your camera to standard settings (see below) and return to these settings if you had to alter them for a specific situation (in case you had time :-).
The settings below work for me.
Shooting mode: Aperture Control A or AV (P for flash use)
Image recording quality: JPG best quality (or RAW)
White balance: Shade (outdoors) – AWB (indoors)
ISO: 400 (good weather) – 1600 (bad weather and indoors)
Metering mode: Center weighted Drive mode: Single shooting AF mode: One shot/AF-S (AI Servo/AF-C if object is moving towards you or away from you)
AF points: Center point only
American Alligator at Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Give up your old “film” habits and shoot a lot. I often take dozens of pictures of one scene. Like humans animals have “good” and “bad” expressions and postures. Shooting a lot and selecting the right image later on your computer will get you there. In a four hour game drive I will sometimes shoot 500 images.
Don’t worry about all the “bad” pictures you take, the good ones will make up for it!
Two Elephant bulls sparring at Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa
This was part of a large series of images. Only a few of them I would ever show to anyone!