Five Unconventional Pro Wildlife Photography Tips

A significant portion of the work I did during my recent trip to Namibia was wildlife photography, a favorite genre of mine. While doing some research on the wildlife of Africa, and Namibia in particular, I was struck by how boring most of images really were – apathetic, dumb-looking animal staring blankly into the camera, bird on a stick, etc.  As a result, I strived to come up with unique interpretations of these species we’ve all seen so many times and know so well. I came up with five unconventional tips – some less conventional than others but still concepts to keep my images from being boring like the others. Now I’m sharing them with you.

The examples here are not all African wildlife, obviously. I’m still trying to wrap up some writing and administrative duties before I can really begin processing most of the images from that trip. In the meantime, enjoy.

Coastal Brown Bear, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, USA

1. Use Back and Side lighting

Most wildlife shooters and photography instructors opt for front lighting when encountering wildlife. “Point your shadow at the subject” is their mantra since they can be sure that in this way, the bird or animal will be evenly illuminated. In other words, it’s easy. I’m not saying that shooting with the sun at your back is a bad thing; I do it all the time. But limiting yourself to only this option certainly is a bad habit.

Side lighting can reveal texture and add depth to an image while backlighting is incredibly dramatic, if not conventional.

Snow Geese, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina, USA

2. Long Exposures

Animals on the move and birds in flight present great opportunities for slow shutter speeds and camera panning. Freezing action shots with fast shutter speeds has its place, but sometimes its better to just go with the flow! Start with 1/15 second and experiment from there.

Elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia

3. Go wide. Show the environment

When shooting wildlife, the photographer’s initial impulse is to use the longest lens in the bag and go in as tight on the subject as possible. Resist this urge and try a wider perspective instead. Show some of the animal’s environment and surroundings, which helps tell more of a story about the place and species you’re photographing.

Coastal Brown Bear and Sockeye Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA

4. Show behavior and interaction

Too many wildlife images show a static image of an animal or bird looking directly into the camera. Boring, boring, boring. Showing how these animals interact with one another, play, mate, or hunt for food is much more interesting. That instant is akin to Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment. Don’t be content with a boring wildlife portrait. Wait for something special to happen and then be ready!

Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia

5. Use elements of visual design

Employ the same compositional tools for wildlife as you do for other genres of photography. Wildlife photography is sometimes fast-paced and you don’t have time to think things through completely but still try to think abstractly about shapes, lines, balance, and flow and let go of the literal. Your wildlife images will have a much greater visual impact as a result.

Next week I’ll begin sharing many other images from Namibia so stay tuned.

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| 5 Comments
Posted in Essays | Tagged , ,

5 Comments

  1. Posted June 13, 2013 at 9:23 am by Robyn OConnor | Permalink

    Enjoyed the article and wonderful advice. Also beautiful pictures.

  2. Posted June 13, 2013 at 9:41 am by Glenn | Permalink

    “Bird on a stick,” hilarious. The zebras is now one of my favorite images, ever.

    Looking forward to learning the application of these techniques with some Icelandic wildlife soon.

  3. Posted June 13, 2013 at 9:59 am by gem | Permalink

    Great tips, thanks for sharing – I have many a bird on a stick photo, myself ;-)
    Love those two bear shots, they are fantastic!

  4. Posted June 14, 2013 at 6:26 am by Terry Alexander | Permalink

    Excellent thoughts on the subject – great blogs – thanks for sharing!

  5. Posted September 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm by John Mirro | Permalink

    Just found your website. Lucky for me. Going to Africa in February and will bring your five tips with me. Thanks!

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