Ever since DSLR cameras became readily available, more photography enthusiasts have started to venture out into the wild and capture nature in its raw form. It seems that wildlife photography, combined with landscape photography, have really seen growth in popularity over the past few years, especially in South Africa, where we have endless different options of game farms, wildlife reserves and, of course, the beloved Kruger National Park! Now, while taking pictures of animals outdoors can be extremely entertaining and a great way to experience nature, it also comes with many challenges that have to be faced in order to get that perfect shot. In order to capture beautiful images of animals, you must first have an understanding of fundamental photography concepts. Once you know the basics of photography, there are a few things that you can do to improve your wildlife photos!
Choose a suitable shutter speed (Fast shutter speed isn’t always the answer. To create motion blur, one shoots at slow shutter speeds from 1/15th to 1/60th):
Generally speaking, you will want to make use of a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the motion of moving animals. Try using a shutter speed of 1/250, 1/500 or sometimes even faster! The speed will be determined by the type of animal that you are shooting, the level of activity, and the length of your lens. For animals that are sitting still, you can use 1/100th, or slower if you have camera support such as a bean bag or tripod, but for animals on the go you will need 1/500th or faster of a second speed, and if you want to capture birds flying, then 1/1600th to 1/4000th or faster to freeze the motion of a flying Humming bird is required.
For birds in flight, use 1600 – 4000th/sec. The higher the shutter speed, the higher the keeper rate. For take-off, use even faster speeds. Usually 1/1250 – 1/2000th/sec is adequate for mammals but sometimes you need more! Balance this with ISO. If you have the light, go for the higher shutter speed to freeze the action. For panning or motion blur, 1/15th – 60th/sec is recommended. However, 1/60th – 1/250th/sec is best for static subjects. For more active subjects 1/250th – 1/1250th/sec is best. And when it comes to handheld, it depends on you how steady you are.
Use lowest ISO possible:
Watch your ISO in the viewfinder and adjust accordingly. Make it a habit to check your settings when you bring your camera to your eye. Watch your ISO caps.
If you want to purely focus on aperture and shutter speed, you can set the camera to auto ISO and even set a maximum for the auto so you can focus on the other aspects. When setting up Auto ISO, choose the highest ISO you would use on that specific camera. Some cameras have a lot of noise when using high ISO. Auto ISO may sometimes tend to overexpose. Use Exposure Compensation (EV) to counter this.
There are many factors to consider such as distance from the subject, subject distance from the background, available light, etc. Also, the type of lens you use. Using a shallow depth of field makes your subject stand out. However, be careful that the subject’s face isn’t out of focus. For birds, use f8-f14.
Use a longer lens:
Using a long lens allows you to take photos from further away but still get the results to look as if you were only a few feet away from the animal. For most fine art wildlife photography, photographers will use these types of lenses. This can be either fixed focal length or a zoom lens, depending on what you are shooting.
Use auto focus:
Manually focusing on a moving animal tends to be quite difficult. Sometimes it is better to switch over to auto focus and let the camera do the hard work for you. Many cameras have a couple of different focus settings that can be helpful when taking wildlife photos.
Use smallest AF point possible. Try Back Button AF if you’re experienced. For many people it is faster. Use AF-C continuous focus servo. This way, when the subject moves, it will still be in focus when you follow the movements with your camera. Focus on the eye of the subject if possible.