Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Shy, elusive and nifty on their paws – animals can be tricky to photograph. But there are steps you can take to better your chances of capturing a great wildlife image. Two award-winning photographers and BBC Wildlife Magazine’s picture researcher share their tips…

First off, you have to love it 
“You’ve got to be passionate because it’s frustrating," says Steve Mills, winner of the Birds: Behavior category in the 2011 Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. “There isn’t an album in the world big enough for all the photos I’ve missed through not quite being in the right place or not having the right setting.”

Fancy kit is less important than dedication
“Having a long lens can help, but obviously not everyone can afford long lenses,” says Richard Shucksmith, overall winner of the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards 2011. “If you’ve got good field skills or you’ve got good composition, you can take decent pictures regardless of what gear you have.” This is a view shared by Steve Mills: “There are plenty of people out there with loads of gear but no idea.” Whatever camera you’re using, Steve recommends you make sure you’re completely comfortable with its settings. “Understanding your camera is vital in wildlife photography because, unlike in for example landscape photography, you don’t get a second chance,” says Steve Mills. “I can’t come back in 10 minutes and take the picture because the creature’s gone.”

Start local
“Photograph your local patch, rather than taking expensive trips to Africa or the USA – or to the zoo,” says Wanda Sowry, Picture Researcher at BBC Wildlife Magazine. “There’s not much need for captive zoo animals or captive birds of prey. Concentrate on British wildlife, bugs, plants and landscapes and get to know your local wildlife groups or projects.”

Research your beasts
“If you’ve chosen a species of bird [to photograph], the more you understand that bird, the more likely you are to get success,” stresses Steve Mills. “For example, birds always take off into the wind so by positioning yourself you’ve got more chance of a bird flying towards you initially.” Richard Shucksmith agrees: “You’ve got to know your animal inside out. You need to know its behaviour and what you need to do to get close to it – obvious things like being down wind of the animal so the wind’s always blowing your scent away or, if you’re stalking deer, using all the trees around you as natural screen. You just have to be quiet, be careful, patient and persistent – you don’t want to spook the animal.”

Think about what you are capturing 
“Portraits are nice, but they can be a bit dull if you’re not careful,” says Richard, who advises keeping your eyes peeled for, “Interaction between individuals of the same animal or with other different animals, feeding behavior, grooming, fighting.” And remember to pay attention to lighting. “Get up early in the morning, just before sunrise, so you get the sun coming up and the lovely orange light and the nice glow on animals' faces,” he says. “Light’s really important – it can make or break a shot.”

Take LOTS of photos - and then edit 
“Don’t expect to go out and shoot the best photo in a couple of hours,” says Richard. “Sometimes, if I’ve been out all morning with a family of otters and I’ve got 2,000 images, I flick through them very quickly and every now and then you hit one and it just catches you. Once you’ve picked them, you can go through and edit the others.” Richard has another tip for selecting your best pictures: “Get several images together and send them to 10 friends and get them to rank them one to 10. Sometimes what you find is that they’re all picking the same image as the top two or three – then you know you’ve got something with a more general appeal.”

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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