British photographer Richard Peters has won awards for his wildlife photography, including GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015. Here are his 5 practical tips for great wildlife photos
Snow pounce (Richard Peters)
It’s essential to understand your camera inside and out. A lot of people think you have to have the greatest camera and the greatest lens, but that’s not strictly true. Good equipment certainly helps. Good equipment makes it easier to get certain photos and give you higher image quality.
But understanding your camera and how to change settings quickly is more important than the camera itself. You need to be able to react to what’s around you. You can lose good shots if you can’t react quickly. An animal may only do something for two seconds before it’s gone, and you’ve got those two seconds to change your settings to get the picture you want. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re going to miss the picture, regardless of whether your camera cost you five grand or £100.
Whatever you deem the most important functions of your camera to you, you should know how to operate them, ideally without taking your eye away from the viewfinder, so you can operate the camera ‘blind’. Then, you can react faster to what’s happening around you.
Read our full INTERVIEW with Richard Peters
Pigeon (Richard Peters)
Working with the light is far more important than the subject you’re photographing. An exotic subject in boring light is still going to make a boring photo. Whereas what people might class a boring subject in good light is going to make a better photo that’s more memorable.
A lion asleep in the shade of a tree is going to be a boring photo. Whereas a pigeon in really spectacular light is going to be an interesting photo.
I always tell people not to get too hung up on what you’re taking a photo of, and concentrate more on how you’re taking that photo.
Angles definitely come into it when you’re working with the light, including where you position yourself in relation to the light and the subject. You can position yourself with the light behind the subject to get nice back-lighting, or at 90 degree angles to get side-lighting. You’re going to change how the shadows fall across the subject and all kinds of things that will make a photo more interesting.
It also involves working with the light, the skies, and going out at the right times. The best light is traditionally when the sun is low in the sky, sunrise or sunset, which is also when animals are more active. In the winter, the sun never really gets too high in the sky, so winter is a good time for photography in terms of interesting lighting conditions.
It’s also helpful to understand how to read the lighting conditions and to get to the point where, even before you put the camera to your face, you think about where the sun is coming in from, where it’s hitting the subject, where you need to stand… It’s about reading the scene and knowing how to set up your camera, which takes time and practice.
Little owl (Richard Peters)
Getting at eye level with your subject gives more intimate shots. If you’ve got a squirrel on the ground and you take a picture while standing up, it’s going to be a very unflattering shot, because you’re looking down on it. Whereas if you lay on the ground, so your lens is eye level, it instantly transforms the picture and gives it a whole new look.
That’s something a lot of people, especially when they’re starting out, don’t consider: the angle at which you’re pointing the camera at your subject.
Get at eye level whenever possible. You’ve got to be ready to get muddy. In workshops, I always tell people, “The dirtier you get, the better your pictures will be.”
Puffins (Richard Peters)
A lot of people hear ‘wildlife photography’ and they instantly think of the compressed foreground and background, with the subject isolated in the middle, taken at distance with a telephoto lens.
But wide angle lens shots that show the environment and habitat are just as important, and can often be a more interesting picture, because you’re telling a story. The surroundings are as important an element of the picture as the subject itself.
That also helps with people who can’t afford to spend £5000 or £10,000 on camera equipment and these really expensive telephoto lenses. If you get yourself a wide angle lens and maybe a shutter release, put a camera on a tripod pointing at a fence where you know a bird lands, fire the camera remotely, and get the surroundings as well as the subject… That’s a good approach, as well as the telephoto shots.
Check out: Remembering Elephants Photo Gallery
Shadow Walker (Richard Peters)
People shouldn’t get hung up on exotic subjects. It’s really important to understand what makes a good photo, rather than worrying about what the subject is in the photo.
A lot of people won’t get to see elephants or lions in the wild, for example. Not everyone can get on a plane and go to Africa. That sometimes puts people off wildlife photography, because they think, “I can’t get to these exotic locations. I can’t do this.” But you don’t need to.
I’ve been doing a project in my back garden for a year where I’ve been concentrating on foxes that visit and badgers, pigeons and squirrels. My Back Garden Safari project produced an image, called Shadow Walker, that won me the 2015 European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Even your back garden can be an interesting place to photograph wildlife.
Explore your environment. Subject and location don’t have to be exotic animals on the other side of the world. It can be something that’s outside your back door or up the road, in the local park.
It’s important not to get hung up on those expensive notions of wildlife photography: the best kit and the best locations. Cheap kit and a location just up the road can be just as rewarding, if you know what you’re doing with your camera.
Born Free Foundation’s new photography book Remembering Elephants by Wildlife Photographers Unlimited, featuring the work of 65 international wildlife photographers, published Sept 19 by Envisage Books, priced £45. 100% of the proceeds will be used to fight poaching. For more, see www.rememberingelephants.com
The Remembering Elephants exhibition will run at La Galleria in Pall Mall, London, from Sept 19 to Oct 01, 2016, 10.30am to 6pm. Free admission. For details, see www.rememberingelephants.com
For more on Richard Peters, see www.richardpeters.co.uk
For details of Wanderlust's Photo of the Year 2016 competition, see here: travelphotocompetition.wanderlust.co.uk