10 Tips for Creating Interesting Wildlife Photographs - Part I
Wildlife photography is a field of photography that has specific features of its own. The photographer should pay attention to the framing, the composition, and the choice of the point of view. In addition, the photographer should have special equipment, and this has to be set up with specific settings. To create interesting wildlife photographs, a photographer must be patient, persistent, and, above all, humble when facing nature. A wildlife photographer must be a good photographic technician. He also must be a good naturalist. He must have a well-developed artistic sense. Finally he must show great respect for the environment which surrounds him when he takes pictures.
Tip 1: know the species you want to photograph well
A wildlife photographer must be a good naturalist. He must know the habits of the animals he photographs. For example, knowledge of mating and migration data is essential.
It is impossible to photograph bluethroats in France in February. These sparrows arrive in April from Africa. Another example: it is not worth it to try to photograph newborn fawns in April, because the first fawns are born in May. These two examples illustrate perfectly that a good knowledge of animals’ behavior is imperative if you want to create interesting pictures.
However, this knowledge should not be limited to migration and reproduction data. A wildlife photographer must know where animals eat and when they come out to feed. For example, many animals, like badgers, are nocturnal and come out of their burrow in the early evening.
Finally, a wildlife photographer must know where to find the animals he wishes to photograph. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but a photographer can spend days or even weeks in a field, waiting for an aquatic warbler to appear, but it is a bird that is found in coastal wetlands.
The best advice we often give to participants during our courses is that we take good pictures of things that we know well. The technique is of secondary importance.
If the photographer has to go to an unfamiliar area, he must be accompanied by a local guide who will lead him to the right places and give him all the information he needs to be in the right place to take pictures. Even though good luck is an important factor in wildlife photography, it is still much less important than preparation.
Tip 2: use slanting light in your pictures
Land animals, whether birds or mammals, are highlighted well by the slanting light of the morning or late afternoon. At midday, the light falls vertically on feathers and fur. They are less interesting because the contrast disappears. Contrast is needed to bring out the details of the animals. At this time of the day, the light is harsh. When it is slanted, the light is said to be soft.
The morning and late afternoon are also favorable for photography because many animals are preparing for their daily departure. This is the case for many species, such as cranes. Some mammals, such as red deer, come out of the woods to forage in open areas. They come out in the dark because then humans cannot see them, so they are safer.
Similarly, many birds have a period of intense activity early in the day, especially when they are feeding chicks. A wildlife photographer must favor the beginning and the end of the day as times for taking pictures, because the lights are beautiful and the animals are active and feeding.
Tip 3: look for unusual behaviors and attitudes
An interesting wildlife photograph must show either a specific behavior or an animal in an unusual attitude. It is certainly not always easy to create a simple portrait, but such a portrait does not have enough interest. In general, a portrait of a single animal is not dynamic even if it meets the general rules of composition and has the point of interest placed on a line of force or a strong point.
A wildlife photographer should not take a picture just because he has an animal in front of him. He must take time to highlight the animal and to create energy around it. Very often, wildlife photos are more interesting when they show relationships between animals or scenes of motion, or record a specific behavior, such as feeding or mating.
Static portraits are mostly used for illustrations or identification books. Usually, such pictures are not creative. When a photographer first starts taking pictures, he is often satisfied with this kind of picture, but soon the lack of creativity will make wildlife photography boring for him.
It is true that a portrait of an unknown or rarely photographed animal can have some interest, but this type of picture is unusual.
To create pictures which record a behavior or an attitude, the photographer must know the habits of the animals well. For example, to highlight a male bluethroat, the photographer will seek to photograph the bird when it is singing, so he has to know where and when it sings. We return to our first tip about naturalistic knowledge.