Nature is amazing, beautiful, educational and interesting. Now that cameras are readily available to most people, it seems like everyone is taking photos including pictures of wildlife.
Smart phone cameras, point and shoot cameras, right on down the line to DSLRs and more recently mirrorless cameras, all have amazing capabilities. This means that to take a wildlife photo that will interest others one needs to think more about what makes a good shot. I just purchased a new camera and zoom lens so that I can get better, sharper photographs of birds and other wildlife. However, having the best equipment doesn’t always mean better photographs. Some of the things I try to remember when taking photos of birds and other wildlife are the subject of this article. I am by no means an expert photographer, but I enjoy it and work hard to take the best and most interesting photos I can. Here are a few tips that I hope will be useful.
Good light is essential. While bright sunshine is thought to be the best, overcast skies can also be ideal for photography. Colors are often more accentuated, or the color deepens. The look of the picture is softened too when the light is less bright. Related to this is the position of the sun. It is recommended that the sun is best when it is behind the photographer. Shooting into the sun makes for unwanted shadows on the subject.
Busy backgrounds such as a dense tangle of branches and twigs may detract from the subject. Plainer backgrounds show off the wildlife and draw the onlookers’ eyes straight to what you want them to see. Check for the whereabouts of things like branches, utility poles, grass, and plant stems. If any of these are covering part of the bird or animal or seem to be growing out of its head or body, for example, change your position to eliminate the distraction.
Recently I photographed a raven sitting in an aspen. Many of the leaves had fallen from the nearby trees so blue sky was a possible background. However, a more interesting option was to position myself so that a few of the remaining golden yellow leaves in the trees behind the raven formed the background along with a bit of blue sky.
Still and quiet
Being still and quiet when photographing wildlife is essential whether you are taking pictures from your kitchen window, sitting on the deck or out in the field, camera in hand. Movement will generally spook the subject. Sitting still and being quiet requires patience, but after a while the bird or animal will reward you by continuing to go about its business while you snap away with your camera. A blind is a useful tool in the effort to be still. Sitting on a stool inside a blind definitely facilitates being still and silent.
Hold the camera still
Hold the camera still to avoid out of focus or blurry photos. Even though many cameras or lens have image stabilization, it is still necessary to hold the camera still. Most professional photographers use a tripod. This eliminates any movement on the part of the photographer. Monopods also work. If you have a steady hand, then take photos handheld. Taking photos from a car window works best if you can support the camera. A large and heavy bean bag placed on the edge of the window works very well to stabilize a camera.
Do not disturb
Take care when out in the field not to disturb nesting birds or young in the nest. Follow the general rule of not disturbing any wildlife. This includes not trampling vegetation near nests or staying in your vehicle if a grizzly or black bear strolls by. In this case take photographs from your car window so as not to disturb the bear and to keep yourself safe.
Tell a story
The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words is still true. It is important that your photos tell stories. Stories include things like wildlife behavior such as a singing bird, a bear eating flowers, or a loon in a penguin pose. It is easy to take a photo that looks as if the bird, animal, insect etc. is posing, but now that nearly everyone can take portraits of wildlife, these types of photos are currently a dime a dozen. Telling a story with your photos is now an important aspect of the art of photography. One way of telling a story is to try to capture action. Another is to photograph habitat.
These are only a few basic tips that I hope will help with your photography. No matter where you live you can find amazing subjects of nature. You’ll find an abundance of things waiting to be photographed right on the Peninsula. Go outside and explore your own surroundings and take photos in the best natural places close to home. Capturing photos of nature can be truly rewarding and can provide a great opportunity to be outdoors.