This is a guest post from photographer and writer, Max Therry.
Wildlife photography can be some of the most challenging photography of all, but it can also yield some absolutely stunning and memorable results. Animals are infinitely interesting and surprise us during every new encounter. Imagine the scene – you are camped out in a hedge bottom, covered in camouflage and a herd of deer suddenly dash past your position. Sometime later, a great barn owl swoops down in the same field and tries to catch a small mouse but misses by inches – your patience has paid off and you have managed to capture these moments perfectly.
So how do you take these superb photos and avoid disturbing your surroundings? Furthermore, how do you make a minimal impact on the environment, and cause no distress or upset to the animals you are photographing? To help, we have put together some tips and helpful pointers on how to improve your wildlife photography.
Above anything else, respect nature first
This is an absolute must! Nature can be fragile, and it is our responsibility as humans to do what we can to protect it. Whenever you embark on a photographic expedition in the great outdoors, always consider how your movements and actions will affect your surroundings. The following are some simple pointers you should remember to help maintain peace and serenity when taking wildlife shots:
Never chase an animal – if you miss the photo, let it go;
Never interfere with an animal’s natural habitat such as a nest or hide;
Always respect your subject and retreat if you sense distress;
Never alter the scene to improve the aesthetics of your photo: do not use bait (especially live bait) and do not try to scare or attract the animal.
In short, your role is as an observer – not a meddler. Take care, move cautiously, watch and observe. Think ethically at all times and if you think you are doing something wrong – stop immediately and review your actions.
Prepare for a long wait
Unfortunately, we have no control over nature (well we don’t if we behave morally and follow the guidelines above). Due to this fact, you must have a great deal of patience and perseverance. You can count yourself extremely lucky if your chosen subject happens to present itself in broad daylight in the first 10 minutes of your adventure! In all likelihood, you will have to wait…a lot!
Staying focused, and maintaining a vigil is part of the excitement of wildlife photography – when your patience finally pays off and that perfect moment presents itself, you will be pleased that you held firm and stayed rooted to the spot. If you prepare yourself mentally for a long wait and make a suitable encampment you will also have a minimal impact on your subject’s behavior. If you keep uprooting and changing positions, your subject could sense your movements and become agitated and alter their behavior accordingly.
Ensure you have the correct equipment and gear
Whilst we do not recommend taking your whole studio into the great outdoors, we do advise preparing adequately and taking the correct equipment. First, you must consider your clothing – avoid bright colors or highly reflective material. Consider wearing neutral colors such as greys, browns, and dark greens – these will help you blend into your surroundings. Second, you must consider your camera equipment.
Avoid using any flash as the bright light could startle your subject. Consider carrying a couple of lenses such as a wide-angle 22mm lens, and a decent zoom lens with a minimum zoom of 250mm. Pack light, a small tripod (you won’t be able to hold your camera still for a long time) and also consider taking some provisions such as water and some snacks – if you are expecting a long session you don’t want to dash off to McDonald’s due to hunger and miss your subject!
Research your subject
This is a hugely important pointer and many people fail at wildlife photography because they have little to no understanding of their subject’s habitat and behavior. Take time to study your subject – use the internet, read a book – learn about its common habitation, its feeding habits, and its movement patterns. The more knowledge you possess, the greater your chances are of capturing some phenomenal photos. Furthermore, you will cause much less disturbance to your subject and its surroundings.
As you can see, all you need is a little understanding, knowledge and care. We hope you have found this article illuminating – wildlife photography really is exhilarating and the end results can be simply magnificent. If you respect mother nature and cause her as little disturbance as possible, she will repay you with some once in a lifetime photographic opportunities!
You can read more of Max’s work on his website.