Capturing stunning wildlife moments on your vacation is a rewarding and memorable experience. However, getting those shots can be a little trickier than you may think. Composition, lighting, equipment, and patients are all considerations when striving for captivating images.
Often, wildlife photography can be spontaneous, never knowing when you may see a picture perfect opportunity. Or, you can head out for the day with a plan in mind to capture that one magical shot.
Photographing wildlife is often characterized by long periods of inaction, followed by a short period of action and then back to quietly waiting. If you need to fumble with your equipment to get your subject in focus, or to dial in the correct exposure, you’re likely to miss golden opportunities. Becoming familiar with your equipment is ultra important, and this means planning and practicing.
Plan your equipment collection for what you want to photograph. If you’re interested in photographing small birds, pack a long lens. If you’re after large mammals, you’ll often want a shorter lens, how short will depend on how close you can get. When you get really close, a wide angle aids creates a unique image. You’ll want to develop techniques for making quick lens and equipment changes.
A sturdy, lightweight tripod is a virtual necessity when working with large telephoto lenses while a gimbal tripod head makes working with those lenses a fingertip operation. If you’re shooting from your vehicle, a large beanbag is a great means of supporting a lens.
A picturesque time of the year for wildlife photography is winter, but you’ll need proper winter clothing and gloves that allow you to operate your camera while keeping your hands warm and nimble. Hand and feet warmers are great for their intended purposes and provide an excellent means of keeping spare batteries warm and functional.
There is no other commodity of more value to wildlife photography than patients, the patients to get up early and wait, and wait, sometimes only to discover that your favourite animals didn’t get the memo! The patients to find a cooperative subject who doesn’t flee on sight, the patients to watch and learn animal behaviour. And, the patients to keep persevering when all the conditions seemed perfect, but it just wasn’t the right day.
It is important to respect the life you are photographing. Word gets out there’s an owl perched nearby. Soon, other photographers are approaching and coaxing the owl with live bait. And while seems harmless in moderation, too often an animal loses its fear of humans, and that can lead to disastrous results.
Coming to understand an animal is learning to respect that animal, and do nothing that could negatively impact the animal, be that disturbing a sensitive environment or causing an animal unnecessary stress. This is especially true when it comes to photographing young animals and birds.
Like all types of photography, the way our wildlife photograph is composed creates the impact of a captivating image. The space around an animal and the angle you photograph at are important considerations.
Photographers are often taller than the animals they’re photographing therefore important to minimize this height difference by getting your knees dirty and moving down to an animal’s eye level, or by using a long telephoto lens to minimize the apparent height differences. Putting the camera lens at the animals eye level ensures a better connection between the viewer and the subject of a photograph.
The space around an animal in a photograph, what photographers call negative space, is similarly important, an area for the animal to move or look into. We instinctively feel uncomfortable when an image tightly restrains the animal. Learn both vertical and horizontal compositions to best frame your animal subjects.
Learning to see the light interpret how it will look in an image is a critical skill for the wildlife photographer (for any photographer). The early and late light of the day is often the best light of the day and fortunately coincides with the times when many animals are most active. Conversely, photographing under high overcast skies provides softbox conditions where you need not worry about harsh light and deep shadows.
Although flash can help even out the light and fill in shadowed areas, concern needs to be given as to how it affects the animals being photographed. When appropriate, using a flash bracket moves the flash away from the lens to help eliminate the eye shine that may occur with a camera-mounted flash.
Backgrounds and Environment
The first spot you plunk your tripod down is rarely going to be the best spot. Be aware of clutter in the background that might distract from your subject. The sky in your shot is another background consideration. A washed out white or grey sky seldom makes a compelling background and should have you reconsidering.
Many wildlife shots are often frame-filling shots, ignoring the environment the animal is seen in. Well it can be difficult to create an environment shot that clearly shows the animal in its natural environment, these types of images are often more compelling and desirable than a typical portrait shot.
Having a portfolio of wonderful animal shots is great, but the images that stand out are usually the images where the animals are displaying some sort of behaviour. By studying a species and researching its characteristics you give yourself a greater chance of capturing this unique behaviour in an image.
If nothing else in your image is sharp, the eyes of your primary subject need to be sharp and in focus. Watch your subject’s eyes as they tell you a story and help create an emotional connection for the viewer. Learn to watch for the catch light in your subject’s eyes.
Once you find the wildlife, getting close enough for a good shot can be a challenge. Animals often react negatively to sudden movements. Learning to move slowly and carefully is paramount. Try to avoid making eye contact or making a direct approach as most animals associate this with predator behaviour . Don’t insist on getting close for the first shot, start taking images from your original position and then slowly move in, photographing quietly and intermittently. Consider not moving for some time to allow the animals to become comfortable in your presence and determine that you are not a threat.
Consider the use of a blind. Many hunting blinds make perfect photography covers as they are extremely portable and use materials to conceal movements and sense. A vehicle also makes an excellent photography blind and will often get you closer to an animal than you can get on foot. Of course, turn the vehicle off to eliminate vibrations and pollution.
Glacier National Park is a treasure trove of wildlife to be photographed, and with some time, dedication, perseverance and patience, it can be a very rewarding experience that will last a lifetime in your photos.