Questions to Ask Yourself When Taking Wildlife Photos

In order to make wildlife pictures with impact, a wildlife photographer must always ask questions before he triggers the camera for the first time. This time spent asking questions is absolutely necessary, because it is crucial that nothing be left to chance. A photographer should have prepared and planned for everything, even the improbable. This preparation will enable him to react better to the unexpected events that will happen when he is out in the field.

This photo of a deer during the rutting season has  been the subject of many questions, especially about the choice of the scene.
This photo of a deer during the rutting season has been the subject of many questions, especially about the choice of the scene.

Which Species Will I Photograph?

The first question that a wildlife photographer should ask is what kind of animal he is going to photograph: birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. Depending on the answer to this question, the conditions under which the photo is taken and the choices the photographer makes for the lighting and the scene will be totally different. The best time of day to photograph animals is also very different for different species. Birds are very active in the early morning when they are feeding, but reptiles are hard to find in the morning. Mammals are the most beautiful in the morning and evening when the lighting is indirect.

The camera lens used will be completely different for different species.

The technique used to approach the animals on the field will also change depending on the species. For example, a blind is usually not useful for photographing birds, except for species like the western marsh harrier. However, it is often necessary when photographing large mammals.

The answer to this question will determine the material in the photograph, the terrain the photographer chooses, and the hours when he takes pictures.

What Kind of Photo Do I Want to Take?

Before leaving for a photo session, a wildlife photographer has to decide what he will use his pictures for. Will they be used for commercial purposes, such as advertising? Will they be used for illustrations in a magazine or an ID book, or for a slideshow? Will they be art photographs to be displayed in an exhibition or framed and displayed in a house?

This is a critical question because the subjects, the points of interest, and the lighting sought by the photographer depend on the answer. Also, if the goal of the photo session is to create an artistic photograph, that photo must conform to the photographer’s vision. That is not necessarily the case for an illustrative photo.

The type of photograph he wants to take will completely change the way the wildlife photographer will choose the terrain, the point of interest, and the way he takes the picture. For us, this is an essential question.

How Am I Going to Approach the Animals?

Before arriving on the field, when he is still in the preparatory phase, the wildlife photographer has to ask himself whether he will wait in a blind, go on a photo walk, or stalk the animals.

The technique used changes depending on the species. Going on a photo walk is a good technique when photographing highly mobile animals which move unpredictably. You will have to go over a lot of ground to find and photograph them.

Stalking is ideal for large mammals such as deer or wild boar. It requires a thorough knowledge of the topography and of the animals’ habits, but it produces the most spectacular pictures.

The blind is the most attractive solution for animals which follow known paths and feed in known places. A blind can be artificial, like a tent, or made from natural material such as branches and foliage (this type requires nets to fix everything in place).

Choosing the right method for taking pictures is the best way to capture unique wildlife behaviors. If a photographer does not make these decisions before he goes out in the field, he will lose a lot of time and miss a lot of good pictures. Preparation is essential for creating good photos.

What Camera and Lens Will I Use?

A wildlife photographer’s gear must always be appropriate for the photographs he is going to take. For mammals that are not easy to approach, like deer, foxes or badgers, a long lens is required. I often recommend a focal length of more than 400mm for European and American animals.

For many species of birds a lens with a long focal length, such as a 500mm or a 600mm, is necessary for tight framing.

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For insects, shorter focal lengths, such as 100mm, are sufficient. For reptiles even shorter focal lengths are appropriate.

For photographing fast-moving animals, a camera box with a fast autofocus is necessary so that the camera will focus as fast as possible. For nearby subjects that stay fairly still, a bridge camera is enough.

The camera equipment should always be appropriate for the species being photographed and the type of photos being taken.

Out in the Field: What Point of View Will I Choose?

After he has identified the species he will photograph, the type of photo he will take, the method he will use to get close to the animals, and the equipment he will use, the wildlife photographer arrives on the field. Before triggering the camera for the first time, there are still some critical questions he must ask.

The first of them is "What point of view will I choose?" The answer to this question will determine what the photographer chooses for the foreground, the background and the negative space. A good point of view will help to highlight the point of interest in the photograph. I usually do not recommend a high-angle shot, because it distorts the animals and makes them look crushed. I also do not recommend low-angle shots except for birds that are flying overhead. Photos are most interesting when the photographer’s point of view is on the animal’s eye level.

I also recommend always choosing a point of view that enables the photographer to show the gleam in the subject’s eyes. This point of light will quickly establish a connection between the audience and the animal.

What Will I Choose For the Setting, the Light and the Point of Interest?


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