In this article I am going to share you the secrets to stunning wildlife photography. Wildlife photography is perhaps the most difficult type of photography. But at the same time, the wild nature can give us so many ideas and plots that you will definitely not find repetitions in this genre. How to correctly reveal the magnificence of our planet and its beautiful inhabitants? Let’s figure out together.
1. Work on The Idea
Any photograph cannot exist without an idea. Working on a clearly defined theme or subject is much more fun. It doesn’t matter where you are: on a safari tour across Africa or on an expedition to Europe. The main secret of an ideal “photo shoot” is a certain attitude and desire to create unique shots.
Some photographers take one trip to shoot their story, but my approach is different. I love working on one big storyline with recurring heroes. Usually I completely immerse myself in the topic, study the animals that I am going to photograph, read many articles about the chosen location.
Knowing everything about your heroes and the shooting location is one of the tasks of a photographer. Explore the area in which you plan to shoot, read about the basic habits of your characters, about their behavior at certain times of the day.
And be sure to take into account the seasonality: when migrations occur, droughts, the rainy season, and so on. For such preparation, books, films about nature, other people’s photographs are perfect. At the same time, remember that individual shots with documentary fixation of all animals do not carry any special artistry.
Work through the specific story to the end before embarking on your next fun photography tour. You can film the same location at different times of the year to show your story from different angles. You will get a real photo story about a lion’s pride or a baby leopard growing up.
2. Prepare Carefully for Filming
When you have found the main idea of the story, it is time to directly prepare for the expedition. You need not only to buy inventory, equipment and a grocery kit, but also to find a competent guide who knows the local territories very well, get permission from the selected reserve to take pictures and even order a helicopter.
In doing so, be sure to take into account the seasonality. “First of all, I try to choose the best time for the trip. There is nothing worse and more offensive when you get to the place in an unsuccessful season and all the best shots have already been taken by others.”
If you are traveling in African countries, be prepared for some difficulties. In these days, it is now quite difficult to find competent specialists who will help in preparing, organizing and conducting filming in the field.
Here, basically, everything is focused on the massive flow of tourists and popular routes. Therefore, try to ask the travel agency representative additional questions about unknown routes. And try not to listen to loud promises - more often than not, you will still be taken along the same hackneyed paths. That is why you should only trust trusted specialists who have already dealt with the organization of photo expeditions.
At the same time, it is very important to think over and control each stage of the journey yourself, regardless of location and country.
3. Choose the Right Arsenal of Equipment
Preparation is half the success of photography. The technical arsenal should be chosen depending on the location. Remember that during your photo expedition you will have to carry a heavy backpack with camera and equipment. In such conditions, a mirrorless camera, for example, Nikon Z 6 can help you out. It is much lighter and at the same time perfectly copes with its task. The 45.7-megapixel full-frame, back-illuminated CMOS sensor with focal-plane phase-detection AF delivers extremely clear images.
I choose the lenses according to the specific task: for example in forest, you can shoot with medium zoom, but for shooting in the open area of the Arctic or during a safari tour in Africa, where, on the contrary, animals are very shy, it is better to use a powerful telephoto lens.
You may also like to read: Telephoto Lenses for Canon: Best Telephoto Lens for Wildlife Photography.
Where there is a lot of bushes and vegetation, the AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens is optimal. You can also take the standard AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.
Clothes also need to be chosen according to the season.
You may also like to read: The Art of Camouflage in Wildlife Photography.
4. Be Prepared for The Unexpected
Nature never shows a person everything and at once it reveals its secrets gradually, so it is impossible to calculate in advance exactly how long it will take to shoot and when it is worth ending your journey. You need to spend a lot of time with wild animals. Only by watching them, you can catch interesting moments of their life: hunting, playing young animals or going to a watering area.
Very rarely, good shots are taken by accident. Basically, the best shots are the result of painstaking work, waiting a long time for the right light and moment. On top of that, you need to have time to frame the shot correctly and press the shutter button.
There is always a place for unpredictability in the wild. You will not be able to follow a strict plan. I work intuitively and love the unexpected. It so happens that I go to a shoot with only thoughts and ideas, but something completely different strikes my eye, and I work in the opposite direction. Always be open to surprises.
5. Do Not Be Afraid of Difficulties
Remember, the most popular photography is the one that is new. Do not be afraid of difficulties - always take on the most difficult tasks and come back to them at different times. Try to shoot in locations untouched by tourists - this can be a great advantage for you.
Try new angles to make your photo stories dazzle. For example, an animal can be shot from the bottom with a wide-angle lens. Thus, you can show all the power and grace of the beast from a completely different angle. Shooting from a low point and using a wide-angle lens can produce unexpected close-ups.
I rarely shoot in popular tourist spots. For me, the beauty of wildlife photography is freedom. This is why I try to work alone.
You will not be able to capture good wildlife shots if you are traveling with a large group. Firstly, the crowd will scare away all the animals, and secondly, each tourist will have their own needs and goals. Therefore, try to work with minimal support. Try not to overload your shot. The background should be simple and the color scheme should be 2-3 colors.
6. Get Inspired by The Work of Others
Buy or bring back from travel albums of animal photographers. Watch them filming. To understand in which direction to go, you need to be inspired by good photography. One should know well the tendencies in the world of animalistic art.
I have a huge collection of photo albums from the world's best wildlife photographers. I know many personally. From every trip, from every festival, I bring new albums. Often I just open them and get inspired for new projects.
Try to analyze the frames of other photographers, study the technical component of the images, think about how to apply similar techniques in your case. It is always worth noting for yourself the strengths in other people's pictures. In the future, it will be easier for you to correctly frame the frame in order to shoot something new. However, you do not need to create idols for yourself. Remember that all photographers are equal and are able to convey the beauty of this world in different ways.
7. Shoot for Your Own Pleasure
The unique style is the result of painstaking work: "Only after a thousand presses of the trigger, after hundreds of photos, after a meticulous analysis of the pictures, you can understand that wildlife photography is your genre."
Remember not to leave hundreds of photos of the same type. It is better to leave one and delete the rest. Only the best should be shown to your viewer.
Don't chase popularity. Shoot for your own pleasure. Mastery will surely come to you over time. After all, if you know exactly what should be shown to people and how you can surprise them, they will definitely recognize you, and your photos will be appreciated.
Patience and the ability to wait are the secret to a brilliant result.