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The ABCs to improve your wildlife photography

April 13

8 min. to read

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In the wild life, we can not make the "models" pose for our shots, but we try to learn to speak their language.

Being out in nature among wild animals with camera in hand, perfect weather conditions and lighting is something that is hard to beat! But more often we have to struggle with the environment and the animals don’t always present their best side. We can’t just tell our subjects to turn around or stay, but we can practice our ABCs to give ourselves a better chance at getting an award-winning photo.

A - Anticipate

Getting to know your subject will really benefit your wildlife photography. It takes practice and going back out again and again with your camera to get really good at anticipating when a moment happens. Spending time watching and studying a particular animal will help you realize when you should press the shutter. After a while, you will learn to anticipate when an animal will move or do specific behaviors.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Hummingbirds often have territorial flight paths that they repeatedly fly
  • Lions will greet each other by rubbing faces
  • Ducks will rise out of the water to flap wings after dipping water over their backs

The ABCs to improve your wildlife photography Image1

This also means really getting to know your camera. You should get to the point where you don’t have to think about the settings… your fingers will just take over and you’ll know instinctively when to change the ISO, Shutter or Aperture settings depending on the situation.

You will also need to have a lot of patience. Make sure you have time set aside so that you are not rushed to get the shot.

Laurie Rubin More times than not, if you are rushed, that special moment will come after you pack up your camera and you are off to another location.

If you have plans for an upcoming safari or trip to see wild animals, you might want to consider practicing photographing animals at the zoo, birds in your backyard or even your own pets. This will help you to learn more about animal behaviors and to make the most out of your equipment.

The ABCs to improve your wildlife photography Image2

B - Be Aware

Photographing an animal resting or standing quietly in one position might be fine, but don’t you want your photos to stand out from the crowd? To get that ‘wow’ moment takes more than just luck.

Have you ever wondered how wildlife photographers such as Art Wolfe get the shot? It took years of practice in the field and being very aware of what is going on around them. Whether you are in a jeep on an African Safari watching a herd of elephants or along the banks of an Alaska river waiting for bear, it could take an hour to half a day or more. Learning to watch and wait is a key ingredient to capturing the shot!

Try doing these several techniques while being aware.

ONE. Watch your background. This can be as important as your subject itself. Move if you have to for a clean background without distractions.

TWO. Take the ‘story-telling’ image. Shoot wide-angle and include the environment and then start zooming in closer to isolate a few of the animals or just one.

THREE. Get eye-to-eye. If you can, get eye level with your subject, this will make for a more intimate photo.

The ABCs to improve your wildlife photography Image3

C - Connect

The magic ingredient for a wildlife image is having a connection with your subject. There is something incredibly amazing when you are looking through your lens as a lion turns to look right back at you.

There have been times when my eyes have literally teared up because of that brief connection between a wild animal and knowing I captured that moment. If you don’t ‘feel’ their presence at an emotional level, how can you expect your viewers to see anything particularly special about your photos?

When photographing wild animals, I like to wait until I get direct eye contact. I’m not saying that side profiles or 3/4 view portraits are not the way to go, but my most emotional and connected photos are those where the animal is looking directly into the camera.

The ABCs to improve your wildlife photography Image4

The next time you are out photographing Wild Animals, I encourage you to wait patiently until the animal turns to look at you. Go ahead and take some side profiles and then compare the two when you get home in front of your computer.

I like sharing on several different Social Media sites to get an idea what people like. After doing this for over 10 years, I’ve learned that people tend to like animals that are doing unusual or interesting behaviors. Plus, you can use post-processing tools such as Luminar to enhance colors, sharpness and to help direct the viewer’s eye with creative techniques like vignettes.

And one more thing: E - Enjoy

Be sure to enjoy the experience! This will reflect in your photos, both when you are behind your camera and when you are in front of your computer. Looking at your photos once you have downloaded them onto your computer is a lot of fun! It is like reliving the experience all over again.

Written by

Laurie Rubin

award-winning photographer specializing in wildlife and nature photography

Her career includes working for some of the most recognized photo software companies in the world as an Education Manager and Mentor. Her work has been displayed in the Smithsonian and published in books and magazines. Besides her love for wildlife and zoo photography, she is also a licensed drone pilot who enjoys photographing the world from above.

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