Wildlife photography can be a very demanding, but also a very rewarding genre. If you’re trying to get better at it, Steve Perry has some useful advice for you. In this video, he shares ten tips that you can use at your very next shoot and get the most out of your wildlife photos.
1. Catch the catchlight: catchlights are important in human portraits, but the same goes for animals, especially important if they have very dark eyes. Steve says that the rule of thumb is the darker the eyes, the more important the catchlights are. So, keep an eye on the eyes when taking your shots.
2. Consider your height: if you shoot above, below, or right at eye level, you’ll get a different story and the message in your photos. Shooting below the eye level shows the animal’s vulnerability and that you’re dominant over it. photos taken at eye level create more connection with the animal and shooting from slightly below creates a feeling that the animal is dominant and a bit intimidating.
If you can’t get down to the eye level, move back and use a longer lens, it will appear that you’re much lower than you actually are.
3. Work the light: towards the end of the day, the natural light becomes more manageable so you can incorporate the sidelight and the backlight into your shots. Of course, it’s similar at the beginning of the day. Steve suggests working the backlight up to 30 minutes after sunrise or 30 minutes before sunset. As for the sidelight, up to 45 minutes after sunrise or 45 minutes before sunset works best. Of course, these are just rough guidelines and they’re not set in stone.
4. Put great backgrounds behind your subjects: backgrounds make or break photos, and the background should complement and showcase your subject without drawing attention to itself. Avoid busy backgrounds directly behind your subject. You can achieve this by carefully positioning yourself before photographing the animal.
5. Watch for white spots in the background: our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest areas in the image. So if they’re in your background, they will take the attention away from the main subject in your shot. This is caused by the sun creeping in through the leaves, but also by bright tree branches or reflective foliage. Again, position yourself carefully to avoid this.
6. Avoid “chunks” of another animal in the frame: another animal could be in the frame, but it should be intentional and add to the story. If you leave random “chunks” of another animal in the shot, it will only be a distraction.
7. You don’t need the entire animal: this may seem contradictory to the previous tip, but bear with me. Unless you’re taking photos for a catalog, you don’t need the entire animal to be seen in the shot. You’re looking for interesting, storytelling photos, so if your main subject is peeking through the branches or grass, it’s perfectly okay and gives more context to the image.
8. Go really close or really wide: if you’re closer to the animal than you might expect, that’s a chance for a different approach. You can still use a long lens to get a really close-up shot, or go into another extreme and go really wide.
9. Try to get ahead of the animal: if you’re photographing an animal on the move, try to get in front of it and let it come to you if it’s possible. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth a shot as it will create more tension in the image.
10. Keep your eye on the prize: with wildlife photography, you want to capture moments, expressions, and poses. So, be on the lookout for them! Keep an eye on the viewfinder while your subject is in the scene, and you’ll have more chances to capture amazing moments. Use a tripod if you’re waiting for longer periods of time so you avoid sore arms after holding a long and heavy lens.
Of course, it probably goes without saying that the main tip is to always be respectful to animals and their environment. Make sure both you and they are safe, and then put these tips into action and get the best of your shoot.