Photographing snow monkeys (Shutterstock)
Article Words : Paul Goldstein | 16 January

Tips to improve your wildlife photos

Wildlife watching on your travels? You don't need a fancy camera to get great shots – capture some great photos with these simple tips

Want to learn more about travel photography? Paul will be leading the Wildlife and Nature Photography seminar at London's Adventure Travel Show (23&24 Jan 2016) – and don't miss other expert-led workshops on landscapes, people and storytelling photography

1. Research

Investigate where you are going, find out the best time of year, what sort of place you are staying, what sort of transport you are using, and how flexible they are. No good wanting to get up with the birds if your vehicle mates are honeymooners. No good wanting to spend days with polar bears if the ship is more interested in shopping or museums.

2. Bold

It is awfully tempting to slap the subject right in the middle of the viewfinder and fire away. Almost always this approach will lead to a ‘nice’ record shot. But you need to be imaginative, think of who will be looking at the image. Think how you have to arrest then hold their attention.

Silhouette of a male lion (Shutterstock)
Silhouette of a male lion (Shutterstock)

3. Light

It is not quite everything, but it is close. Back-lighting or side-lighting is generally far more interesting that full-on front lighting.

Feeling inspired? Don't forget to enter Wanderlust's Travel Photo of the Year competition! You could win £3000 or a photography trip to Western Australia... 

4. Early and late

This is generally the best time, so make the most of it. It's no use getting up at sunrise – you have to be where you want to be by then.

Photographing wildlife, South Africa (Shutterstock)
Photographing wildlife, South Africa (Shutterstock)

5. Selective

A scattergun approach is not only moronic, it is also frequently offensive and rarely delivers. ‘If you have taken it, don’t take it again’ was once said to me – and I always remember it. A cheetah on a termite mound at 6.45am is worth a hundred at 9am.

6. Knowledge and bush-craft

The more you know about your quarry, the better you will photograph it – you cannot just rely on your guides. The really great photographers have a detailed understanding of their targets and can often predict what the animal is going to do next, getting them ahead of the game.

 

7. Slow

This is a particular foible of mine, but I love movement. People think this is just ‘blur’ – it is not! Slow panning is everything. Get the head sharp and the rest blurred. You have to move your camera and lens at the same speed as the animal.

It is hard, and you should practice back home with traffic, bikes, motor or horse races, before unleashing your skills on the more expensive plains or fjords. A walking animal is about a fifth of a second and sprinting cheetah an 80th.

Get low – even in the snow! (Shutterstock)
Get low – even in the snow! (Shutterstock)

8. Sharp

Get it sharp or get rid of it. There's no such thing as 'sharp enough'.

9. Delete

Be brutal. If you have 50 shots of a humpback doing the same thing, you only need to keep one. If you have cropped the lion or tiger’s tail off, get rid of it. If you just keep thousands of gigs ‘lost’ on a dusty hard drive, you’ll never do anything with them.

10. Long or short

The best wildlife photographs are invariably taken with a 500mm or a very wide lens – these are the lenses that should be first in your bag. When you are buying equipment, remember that the lens is more important than the camera. Most digital SLR bodies are very good now, but they're frequently let down by the rubbish kit lens they come with. Always buy separately.

Cheetah running (Shutterstock)
Cheetah running (Shutterstock)

11. Low

The lower you are, more impressive the shot. Simple.

12. Camouflage

Disguising yourself or your gear? OK, this is fine if you are lying in a hide in Papua New Guinea for five days trying to photo birds of paradise, but if not, don't bother. You look ridiculous and you do not blend in. What are you, a wannabe SWAT team member or foreign correspondent? Exactly. I feel better now.

Want to learn more about travel photography? Paul will be leading the Wildlife and Nature Photography seminar at London's Adventure Travel Show (23&24 Jan 2016) – and don't miss other expert-led workshops on landscapes, people and storytelling photography

 

Paul Goldstein is a judge for Wanderlust Photo of the Year – he is an award-winning photographer and guides safaris and expeditions for Exodus and is co-owner of the Kicheche Camps portfolio.

Main image: Photographing snow monkeys (Shutterstock)