Every April 22, Earth Day is celebrated by more than a billion people worldwide. The environmental movement first started in 1970. Students were actively participating in anti-war protests while a budding public consciousness of air and water pollution grew.
Today, Earth Day is widely celebrated through many different mediums – one of the most popular being admiring through photographs and capturing these exquisite animals in their element. After all, it’s tough to put the beauty of Earth and its inhabitants into words.
To celebrate Earth Day, we’ve come up with some tips on how to take your photography to the next level — photographing the wildlife.
Choose a good camera
Being a photographer isn’t about the gear you own; this is true for many types of photography. But for wildlife photography, your gear matters. Shooting wildlife is tricky, and shooting wildlife outdoors is tougher, even for most professional photographers. Invest in a mid to pro-level camera.
Only some cameras are versatile enough to withstand shooting wildlife. Is your camera weather-sealed? Will it work in extreme weather conditions – the cold of the tundra, the heat of the desert? Does it have manual mode? Having complete control over your camera allows you to adjust accordingly to the situation when it becomes too complicated for the automatic features. Does it have a silent shutter? We’ll explain why this is important later.
Although the price tag of a good quality camera is on the higher side, having the assurance that the weather conditions won’t wear out your camera is a priceless relief.
Use the right lens
When we think of wildlife photography, we think of sexy close-up shots where it looks like the photographer was only several feet away from the animal. Spoiler alert: they’re not (usually). What they’re using is called a telephoto lens.
A telephoto lens is a long-focus lens that can zoom anywhere from 200mm all the way up to 800mm! Super helpful when it comes to shooting wildlife. Animals are tricky subjects; you can’t tell them how to pose or where to go. So having a more extended range lens can help when you’re shooting at a great distance.
Telephoto lenses on the higher end have an image stabilization feature, which helps minimize shakiness. For cheaper lenses without that feature, invest in a good tripod and use a high shutter speed to avoid blurred photos.
Lenses can rack up a hefty tab. If you’re tight on a budget, consider going for a teleconverter. Instead of purchasing a brand new telephoto lens, it can be attached to your current lens.
Macro and wide-angle lenses also come in handy when you want to show a different perspective of the subject.
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Check your settings
Great photographers must master their ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings. Depending on your shooting conditions, your settings should be dialed differently.
A good rule of thumb is to set your ISO around the 400-800 range. Bump up the ISO if your subject is moving fast. Another trick you can do is also placing one of those settings to automatic. For instance, if you don’t want to fuss over the ISO, set your camera settings to auto ISO. Then, you’ll only have to adjust the shutter speed and aperture.
But don’t worry as practice makes progress. Try shooting in different lighting conditions to find the best settings for those situations. Once you’re more comfortable with your camera and its settings, challenge yourself to go full manual mode so that eventually, the camera will simply be an extension of yourself.
Tripods, monopods, and a whole lot of patience
Animals aren’t always doing something; they may be taking a nap or just waiting in the waters to ambush their prey. And somewhere ten miles from them are you camping out while waiting to capture something interesting.
A lot of wildlife photography is the waiting game. The name of the game is patience, and a tripod best accompanies patience. But animals move quickly, and you might miss the shot if you don’t have your gear set up and ready to capture at all times.
So, get a tripod or a monopod. A monopod is compact but lacks the sturdiness that a tripod provides. Make sure it doesn’t budge or collapse under the heavy weight. Just remember to invest in good quality equipment suited to your needs. After all, you’re putting your complete trust in these long legs to hold up your expensive camera gear and that thousand-dollar telephoto lens.
Keep a low profile
Stay low, be quiet, and make no sudden movements. Many animals are shy and skittish, even the most curious ones. Wildlife that has rarely interacted with us humans most likely would not come out into the open if they feel threatened or vulnerable.
This situation is where you should keep a low profile and avoid any unnecessary noise or movements. Wear clothing that can provide you with better camouflage. Approach the subject slowly when they’re not looking your way. Observe how other professionals move in the field. Any sudden movements and you might scare the subject away. Keep an ear out for the crinkling of grass or the snap of a dried tree branch.
It may be tempting to switch your camera settings to the burst mode, which captures multiple shots at one click of the shutter, but don’t. Only use it when your subject is too preoccupied with their surroundings, such as being chased by a predator.
Know your subject
Believe it or not, animals are unpredictable, and they’re not that easy to find in the wild.
Before heading out into the field, watch videos, read about them, and familiarize yourself with the subject. Where do they like to go when it’s hot and sunny? What are the clues it leaves on the trail? Do they go to the swamps for specific vegetation? Understanding your subject’s simple characteristics and behaviors can go a long way and make sure your trip isn’t wasted.
It’ll also be advantageous to learn the subject’s body language. Are the animals known to be friendlier to humans? What are the chances they might approach you in the wild? What are the chances it might charge towards you when you make eye contact? Study the subject long enough, and you’ll know how to anticipate their next move.
Weather, timing, and location
Good locations like wildlife parks are great because park rangers know where to find the animals and how you can find them. But because these wildlife parks span thousands of acres, it’s easy to get lost. Once you’ve made it to the location, look around before setting up your equipment. Some animals only come out at dawn, so you have to find the right timing to capture them on camera.
People want to see wildlife in its natural habitat. Don’t be afraid to shoot in extreme weather conditions that you’re unfamiliar with – rain, snow, fog. That’s because these weather conditions might be the time when these animals thrive – and that’s when your million-dollar shot can happen.
Of course, the condition of the photographer is equally as important. Don’t forsake your health. Remember to be prepared: wear proper clothing to protect yourself from the elements, stay warm and dry, and have the necessary medications.
Bringing in the character
Animals have distinct characteristics and unique personalities. Aim to capture that in your images. A trap that budding wildlife photographers fall into is focusing too much on how cool the animal looks. Try to capture their fascinating behavior – hunting style, mating rituals, or family dynamics. You might be surprised by what you discover out there.
Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s easy to get lost in the thrill of capturing close-ups of the animal. But it’s worthwhile to zoom out to reveal the environment where the animal lives. There’s only so much that brings the same thrill as capturing a wild animal in its glory, and it’s even more thrilling when you immortalize that scene.
The razor-sharp teeth of a Grizzly bear catching salmon. The sheer quantity of Wildebeest when they migrate. Chills, am I right?
You can create an impact
Decades since the first Earth Day was celebrated, we are more environmentally conscious than ever – but are we doing enough?
This Earth Day, it’s time to create more impact with the talent and knowledge of photography. It’s a great form of visual storytelling technique to spark conversations and evoke emotions in people in a way that words cannot. Most of the public isn’t interacting with the wildlife regularly. We see photographs of the wilderness and their deteriorating habitats on the news.
Remember to practice the ‘leave-no-trace’ rule to minimize human impact in these delicate habitats and treat these animals with respect. Report any poaching activity you might come across in these locations.
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to preserve the great work of Mother Nature as much as possible.
Have you ever wondered how wildlife photos are taken? Here are 6 things you didn’t know that wildlife photographers had to do to get those stunning wildlife shots! While you’re at it, check out this beautifully curated image series of underwater wildlife.