What goes through your mind as you pull into a wildlife sighting? More often than not we tend to get so caught up in the excitement of the sighting that we end up rattling off frames with no real purpose or thought behind what we are capturing. It would make sense then that the images created would be nothing more than a mere documentary of the sighting, proof shots if you will.
During our most recent Wildlife Photography Course I spent quite a bit of time making sure that my guests grasped the concept of having some sort of thought process behind each and every frame and thought I would share an example with you.
Lets assume you are shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (AV for Canon & A for Nikon), I would suggest that your thought process follows the following steps as you arrive at that sighting of a lifetime
- Positioning – we may not always be able to control this factor as much as we like but in many of the private game reserves your guide will be able to get you into pretty much any position you see fit. Keep the type and direction of your light source in mind.
- Focal Length – sounds easy but what story are you wanting to tell? Do you want to get up close and personal or include more of your environment?
- Composition – remember to use guidelines like the “Rule of thirds” when composing your image. Also, don’t be afraid to break some of these rules!
- Distractions – keep an eye out for any distracting elements and possible mergers in your frame
- Aperture – are you wanting to isolate your subject (shallow depth of field = small F number = large aperture) or include more detail (greater depth of field = large F number = smaller aperture)
- Shutter Speed – this should be relative to your subject and the scene but should always be at least 1.5 times your focal length in order to eliminate any camera shake
- Exposure Compensation – based on the metering mode to which your camera is set, will your subject be correctly exposed within the frame? If not, you may need to manually compensate
- ISO – based on your shutter speed you may need to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor to light using ISO in order to either reduce (low ISO) or increase (high ISO) your shutter speed at your chosen focal length and aperture
Once you feel that you have worked the scene given your initial focal length and position, why not mix things up a bit by using a different focal length, adjusting your position in the sighting or getting creative with the use of slower shutter speeds. Sometimes your initial assessment of the situation and choice of focal length, positions etc is not always the best. Spending time in the sighting and trying different combinations of these variables will not only help you to grow your skills but will provide you with a range of different images for which to choose your hero shots at a later stage.
My initial decision in this sighting was to use a greater focal length and get in tight on the leopard’s face but, given the slope of the area and my elevated position in the vehicle, I wasn’t happy with my original composition. Opting for the wide angle lens I was able to tell a much better story by including more of the environment in the frame. Once I had my position, focal length and composition sorted I ran through the rest of my checklist to ensure that I got the shot I was looking for.
More Tips on How To Improve Your Photography
This is an example of a very basic thought process that one could follow before taking ANY image. Getting into the habit of checking off the items on this checklist will help you improve the number of “keepers” when you return home to download your images. This is not by any means where the creative process stops but certainly does provide an excellent foundation from which to start. Check out this blog post where I share ten tips on how to instantly improve your photography.
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