Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
June 15, 2023
Photographing wildlife is one of the most exhilarating and challenging formats, there are usually more epic failures than spectacular successes! However, when it all comes together, resulting in a ‘money shot’, an outstanding capture that everybody heaps praise upon, it’s all worthwhile. To help you take your wildlife shots to the next level, we asked travel blogger and photographer Iain Mallory for his top photography tips.
Wildlife photography is notoriously unpredictable and success is never guaranteed! To boost your chances of capturing a perfect shot, you need to research suitable ‘hot spots’ for potential subjects, learn about the animals you hope to photograph and practice some basic tracking skills. With all of this in hand, patience is the final cornerstone.
For optimal chances of success, employ the services of a good, local guide; they will know the most likely places to see wildlife and should be aware of the locations of recent sightings. They can place the photographer in the best place at the best time, increasing the chances of a successful expedition.
Having the right equipment is obviously a major contributing factor. Unless the animals are captive, or habitualised to human interaction, the opportunities to get close will be limited. As such, a good camera, capable of shooting sharp images with a fast shutter speed, is essential. Interchangeable lenses are also preferable as this will enable the photographer to capture good images even from a distance. Most cameras now have sufficiently large enough resolution that the images can be cropped without losing too much quality. Telephoto lenses can become heavy during an off road trek so consider including a monopod; lightweight, supportive and perfect for reducing camera shake.
When shooting fast moving animals, treat it like action photography and use a fast-continuous mode, capturing short bursts of action. This will provide a story of the creature’s movements, but also help ensure at least one image is sharp. While capturing high quality images of wildlife on a basic point and shoot, with a respectable power zoom, is possible, this makes the process even more challenging. If you must use one, avoid the electronic zoom function as this will generally result in lower quality images.
Once you’re in the field, set your camera up prior to shooting and try to anticipate the kind of situation in which the animal will be discovered. Set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings appropriately to achieve the depth of field and exposure you are hoping for. This will all be dependent on the amount of light available in the environment, the kind of wildlife you’re tracking, and the likelihood of it disappearing rapidly at first sighting.
When it comes to spotting wildlife in the field, a good guide is worth their weight in gold as they are almost always able to identify animals before the untrained eye. While searching for your chosen subject, keep looking around at your surroundings as there may be other wonderful species worth capturing! Stay quiet, stay alert and be ready to start shooting at short notice.
Remember, a less than perfect shot is better than no shot at all. Therefore, regardless of settings or distance, grab a shot as soon as the animal is sighted. Post production editing and cropping could turn it into a spectacular capture. If there is time, make the necessary adjustments to settings and take another couple of shots. Providing the animal hasn’t moved, move forward as slowly and stealthily as possible to snap a few more. Keep repeating this, never moving quickly as this will undoubtedly spook the wildlife – you’ll often be surprised how close you can get employing this method! As you get closer, be prepared to capture the animal’s movement – “wildlife in flight” shots can be some of the most spectacular.
For those with more time, photographing from a hide can yield spectacular results. It is merely a matter of patience, setting up the camera in anticipation of the animal’s arrival. Take some test shots, and keep adjusting as the light begins to change. Remember, the best chances of spotting wildlife is often early morning or the twilight hours of evening and that keeping quiet is key to wildlife photography success.
My final word of advice is to listen to the advice of your local guide. Wildlife is unpredictable and, as well as being difficult to find, can be incredibly dangerous,. The risk from a disturbed mother bear and cub or a bull elephant cannot be over emphasised! A good guide will not only offer you fantastic captures, they will ensure you return safely from the trip ready to receive all the praise your wildlife photography endeavours deserve!
We would like to thank Iain Mallory for providing this guest post, his website has tonnes of great blog posts, travel ideas and photography tips. You can visit his website by clicking here!