Few professions offer the freedom and artistry that wildlife photographers enjoy but being a professional photographer is a rarefied and exclusive club that is hard to break into.
That is why most people who enjoy photographing animals do so for their own pleasure or, when they capture a money shot, to enter photography competitions.
In fact, photo competitions and selling wildlife photos at local fairs and events are two of the best ways of getting your name out there and having your work as an outdoor photographer recognised.
Of course, to have any work to show, you must first have photography gear and know how to use it – an excellent reason to attend photography workshops.
And then, you must go to where the animals are.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to take wildlife photos in your own backyard or anywhere in the UK – our cities are rife with urban wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons and even feral cats.
Birds in flight make for nice pictures, too but you have to admit that the major photography awards are seldom given to photographs of a ground squirrel munching on an acorn.
So, if you’re aiming for the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year or have your work feature in prestigious publications such as National Geographic, you will likely have to travel abroad to earn it.
For that reason, your Superprof has put together this beginner’s guide to wildlife photography.
That doesn’t mean that, if you are already a grand prize winner in wildlife photography, this article is not for you; in fact, we’d welcome your input!
What’s the Best Equipment for Wildlife Photography?
Proclaiming anything ‘the best’ opens the door to criticism and rancour; after all, what one deems premium might, to another, be utter rubbish.
In light of that, we hesitate to present favourite brands and model numbers 'the best camera' or 'the best point and shoot'. Still, there are a few names with such cachet that they could very well be on everyone’s ‘top’ list.
As far as DSLR cameras are concerned, the Canon EOS ranks in close competition with Pentax, Olympus and Panasonic (or Leica, if you are a purist).
The EOS M model, which features no mirrors and permits lens changes, debuted in 2012.
Although the higher-end Canon models can be quite pricey, if you are looking for an inexpensive entry-level camera to get started, this line of Canons may well fit the bill.
While you’re still shooting with the standard snub-nosed lens, you may not need a tripod but, once you start photographing larger animals with a telephoto lens, you will certainly want such a support.
Ideally, your tripod should be lightweight because you will carry it over long distances. It should also be rugged enough to stand up to everything the great outdoors can throw at it and stand for another session.
Mactrem is a good name to shop for and, if you want the lightest of the light but Bonfoto, with its carbon fibre construction, is also worth a look.
Don’t forget to install a gimbal stabiliser!
If you are uncertain about your chances of making it as a wildlife photographer or unwilling to invest too much at the outset, you may wait on the tripod and get a bean bag instead.
This most versatile camera stabiliser will prove useful whether you photograph close to the ground or up in a tree.
What type of lens would you use for macro photography? How many different lenses should you have and what is a teleconverter?
Whether you pursue wildlife photography purely as a hobby, an avocation or with the sincere hope to make it in the field, there are a few pieces of photography equipment you must absolutely have.
Just make sure you have a camera bag big enough for all of it...
The Most Amazing Places for Wildlife Photography
Aren’t we glad that our lovely islands are full of nature reserves which, in turn, are full of animals unique to our country?
Take, for instance, the Skomer vole, found only on Skomer Island in Wales, who has to scurry away from its many predators if it wants to live its entire two-year lifespan.
How about the Pine Marten, found only in the Lakes District? This weasel relative is nocturnal so you might set up an infrared camera trap to catch them out and about.
If photographing birds is your fancy, you might amuse yourself by photographing the water rail, who forages for food on land and water. This bird has an enviably balanced diet!
Do you like photographing wrens? If so, you should head to Fair Isle (Shetland), Scotland, while the weather is still mild. These birds are exclusive to that island and they are bigger than mainland wrens.
Isn’t it nice to think that wildlife photographers from all over the world come to our shores to capture images of creatures not found anywhere else?
We are quite fortunate indeed to have so much wildlife to track, observe and photograph. Still, you might want to find fantastic destinations around the world to take pictures of wildlife.
How to Plan a Wildlife Photography Trip
By launching into this topic, we are not implying any ignorance on your part.
If you’re old enough to possess a bag full of kit, a passport and the ability – both legal and financial to purchase a plane ticket, you are presumably able to plan a trip.
Still, there are aspects of photographing wildlife that demand extra preparation: what will you take with you? What would be safe to leave behind?
What do you know about the animal you intend to photograph?
That is perhaps the most important question: if you know little to nothing about your quarry’s habitat, habits and mannerisms, you are setting yourself up for, at best, a questionable expedition.
At worse, you could put yourself in grave danger.
Far from being melodramatic, we offer up a tale of a young boy who was mauled by a mountain lion in the US state of Colorado.
The child was playing out of doors with his brother one evening when a neighbour suddenly called for him. The eight-year-old started running...
The boy’s family lives in the cougar’s habitat and, it being dusk – one of the times of heightened cougar activity, the animal saw the boy as prey and attacked.
The boy could not have known that he was being stalked by a ferocious beast but you, knowingly entering animals’ habitat to photograph them, owe it to yourself to and to the creatures you seek to learn all that you can about them.
Besides, knowing your quarry’s quirks will not only make them more watchable but it will also help you snap a potentially award-winning wildlife photo.
Researching the animal you intend to photograph and the terrain it calls home is just a start. There is more to planning a wildlife photography trip...
Tips and Techniques to Get the Perfect Shot
This last segment might seem superfluous because this entire article is meant as a guide to your getting the perfect wildlife shot.
We have covered a lot of information so far but there is one aspect of taking animal portraits that we’ve not yet touched on: patience.
When you meet animals in their environment, you can be sure that they will not perform on cue.
In fact, they will display blatant unconcern for how far you’ve travelled, how expensive your camera equipment is or how keen you are to take winning photographs.
What comes next might be the best advice we could give you.
If you engage in wildlife photography just to win a photography competition, your enjoyment of the activity will be severely limited.
You might think of taking pictures in the natural world as a way of communing with creation; of getting back to a primal world where none of humans’ modern concerns can intrude.
Going into nature is a great way – perhaps the best way to disconnect from social media and the insistent pings of yet another message coming in, the stress of city living and the pressure of your work and social life.
So what if you bring your digital camera out there with you? No wild animal will reprimand you while you hone your photography skills, snapping only what seems worthwhile – not every little thing that moves.
Of all the skills you might learn from photography books, patience is the one that is talked about the least but is the most necessary.
- Using natural light to your advantage
- Aiming for the animals’ eyes
- Master composition
- Control how busy your background is
- Bring the right equipment for the job
All of these points and more are covered in-depth in our companion article.
Are you now ready to head out into the wild to find and capture your first subjects? You can’t take a picture of a wild animal from your settee!
It’s time to put down that wildlife magazine and go into the wild yourself; we’ll wait for your best photo.