Let’s start with a hypothetical. You’ve planned to do some wildlife photography and on safari hoping to photograph a lioness. It’s raining, there is thick overcast and you’ve had no luck finding any animals whatsoever. After hours of waiting you finally spot one, you take out your camera and just as you’re about to take a photo, the clouds open up and the sun shines down on the lioness’s face, then you press the button and the magic happens.
Some may say that is just an unpredictable phenomenon that leads you to get a good picture. A good point and no rational man, woman or child would argue that luck didn’t have something to do with it. However, there are elements to this equation you have control over.
The three most important things in photography are luck, patience and knowledge:
For wildlife photography the ability to wait. A good-natured tolerance of delay will prove a useful skill on any photoshoot. Some of the world’s best wildlife and architecture photographers have admirable amounts of longanimity and are capable of waiting hours for the right picture.
You will likely be spending a lot of time sitting/standing around, the best advice I received was to learn to be content with waiting. This composure will only be beneficial for you, your work and your life outside of photography. That being said, you can mitigate how long you have to wait with the right knowledge.
‘Knowledge is power.’
Knowledge is being aware of the information.
Power has 3 definitions:
- Physical strength.
- The storage of energy (i.e.: a battery).
- The ability to control.
We will focus on the latter. The more you know, the more you can control.
There are many factors you, the photographer, should consider and research before embarking on a wildlife shoot. Knowledge in these areas will positively impact your work and your efficiency:
- Your objective
- Your prey
- The location
- The weather
- Your equipment
Setting an objective is always critical when it comes to efficiency. If you don’t know what you are shooting for then by definition you are aimless. What do you want to photograph? What are you trying to do? What are you trying to say? Whether this is for a client or just a personal project, what are the objectives? Create a purpose for the photoshoot, something to accomplish. It will be more rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically.
Wildlife photography is, to all intents and purposes, the humane version of Game Hunting. These are wild animals you want to find and shoot, but instead of a gun, you have a camera.
In this example, you have decided to capture a lioness (with your camera). This is your prey, so learn about it. Daily habits, sleeping schedules, eating habits.. etc. This will narrow down where and when you are likely to find a lioness. For example, lions living in hot and arid environments will rest in the shade when the sun is at it’s highest to conserve water and energy, so your chances of finding lions roaming the plains are slim.
You know your prey, you know where you’re shooting, now you need to focus on logistics and terrain.
Logistics: What time do you want to get there? How long will it take to get there? Is there parking? Should you pack food the night before? Be prepared for it.
Terrain: If your location is in the mountains, you should take hiking boots. If it’s a hot desert, pack extra water and sunscreen. A cold desert, bring extra layers! Etc. Here you should prepare for your journey and pack things you may need. With that being said… try to pack light.
The weather is your friend. Regardless of the weather, you can get some stunning pictures of wildlife, which is one of the things that attracts photographers to wildlife photography. Rain especially. When it’s raining, the overcast means soft light is evenly spread across your subject, and the rain itself wets the fur, creating a more detailed and stylised look. I’d highly recommend checking the weather reports a week prior to the shoot so you can prep for the right weather, then check again the day before as the forecast will be more accurate.
Pack light, pack simple. Use natural light whenever photographing wildlife so there is no need to pack lighting gear. A single body and a couple of lenses will suffice. Things to bring:
- Motion sensor (For trapping)
- Housing (For trapping)
- Flashes (For trapping)
A brief note on traps
Motion-activated Camera traps are an effective tool and capture lit portraits, they are a good alternative. You can carefully compose the scene and even control how the light spills onto the subject before you even take the picture. Gear needed for camera traps:
Camera and lens
The main challenge is getting close to the animals. For this, I use telephoto lenses. However, this can limit your creative options. Alternatively, 24-100mm on a full-frame camera provides a wide range of useful perspectives. You’ll be shooting ‘stopped down’.
In terms of commercially available equipment, you’re limited to active infrared (AIR) or passive infrared (PIR). AIR sensors create a narrow beam between two units (similar to a garage door sensor), once your subject passes through it, the camera takes a photo. Whereas, PIR sensors are one-piece units that detect changes in heat across a broad area.
You’ll be leaving the camera outside, exposed to nature, bugs, animals & theft. To protect your camera. Minimum you’ll want a rain cover. Full protection you’ll want a hard-bodied housing. Contraptions offer simple portable shelter, and TRL provides custom-made fully protected housing.
Flashes. These may be required when trapping as the shot may be underexposed.
Defined as ‘success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. In other words, you can’t control it, so don’t worry about it.
I hope this information has been practically usefully and inspired you to go take some photos! If you have any ideas regarding future blogs please feel free to shoot me an email.