Wildlife photography can be very challenging. Animals cannot be told to pose, so the photographer must wait for the right opportunity. Africa has some of the most unique animals in the world. Therefore, as an African photographer you have a brilliant opportunity to take outstanding photos. To do this there are some simple things to keep in mind. These tips are for photographers of any skill to help you take the best pictures you can.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE SKY
The sky is one of the most important things to consider. Firstly, the sun will be your main source of light for wildlife photography. Midday light can be very harsh. Although harsh light and shadows can look good for intense pictures, waiting until morning or afternoon will give you softer light that will look more pleasing in your photographs.
Secondly, remember that early morning and late afternoon bring sunsets and sunrises. These times are known as the ‘golden hours’! These can make the sky the perfect background for wildlife photography. It can also create silhouettes of the animals, for a dramatic photograph.
DON’T NEGLECT THE ENVIRONMENT
Like the sky, the landscape can help to frame a better photograph. Interesting trees or plants can add detail. However, remember not to let these features dominate the picture. You usually want the animal to be the main focus. Little details such as a branch or flower are all it takes to add to a photograph.
HAVE A FOCUS POINT
Composition is the layout of a photograph. Each photo should have a focus point. This is the most important part of the picture and draws the eye. The focus point depends on the composition. For a close-up portrait, meaning of an animal’s face and upper body, the focus should usually be on the eyes. If the eyes are hidden or you have a side view, teeth, tusks, horns and claws are other good focus points. What you choose to focus on also depends on the mood and composition. If you want to show a fierce predator, the teeth are a good focus point. Generally for close-up portraits, the animal should be in the centre of the photograph.
If the animal’s full body is visible then the animal should be the focus point. The composition of the photograph should generally follow ‘the rule of thirds’. This means the animal should be slightly to one side of the composition. This helps to balance the animals against the background. Little background details are good, but the photo shouldn’t be crowded. They will distract from the focus point. An antelope in front of a mountain will look better than in front of a large herd of grazing antelopes.
KEEP AT EYE LEVEL
Keeping at eye level with the animal will help to show their size and will make the piece more dramatic. It also helps keep the eyes as the focus point. For smaller animals, crouch or lie down. For large animals, try shooting from a car or a rock.
CHANGE YOUR SETTINGS FOR ACTION SHOTS
For fast moving animals you will need to change your camera settings or your picture will be blurry. Blurry animals can sometimes look good to show the animal’s speed, but generally clearer pictures are better. Look to see if you have a ‘sports mode’ on your phone or camera. This will help to capture the moment.
If you can change the shutter speed, then do so. Shutter speed is how much light can enter the camera. In other words, this is how fast the camera registers the picture. Having a faster shutter speed will give you a clearer action shot.
USE MAKESHIFT TRIPODS
A tripod is a piece of equipment that keeps a camera stable. Different amounts of available light lead to different shutter speeds. When it is dark, the camera needs longer to register the picture. As hands shake normally when taking pictures it can cause blurry images. To avoid this, try using objects to stabilise the bottom of your camera, like a rock or wall.
BE PATIENT AND RESPECTFUL
This is the most important tip. Animals will not smile or pose on command. They can often by very dangerous. Remember to keep a safe distance and wait for a good opportunity. Special moments like a jump or yawn will come, and you will be ready for these with practice and luck. Keeping taking photos and you will capture something unique.
SHARE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS
The best way to improve is to get feedback on what is good about your picture, and what could be improved. You can then apply these to your next photograph.
You can share your photographs to the Afrikan Gallery on Facebook, @afrikangallery. Good luck!