top of page

Jameson's Top 10 Techniques to Improve Your Wildlife Photography

Introduction:

Wildlife photography is all about light, timing, and creativity. But this can be hard to learn and even harder to master. Despite this, there are ways to learn faster and help you shoot more "professionally". By learning some of my best techniques for your gear and while in the field, you can take your creativity to the next level! Let's take a look.


  1. Get your composition Down.

Composition means putting everything in just the right order to make your photo perfect. The best way to start is NOT putting all or even most of your subjects in the center of the frame. Put them in the corner of your frame or just off of center, but choose a position in the frame that best fits the setting. Use this technique in the field in real life situations, which help you become more creative, add variety to your portfolio, and help you see that "vision" before the shot. Highlighting the subject while also utilizing the background environment to create a new, unique field of view is another great way to fine tune your composition skills. Take this dusky grouse photo you see below here:


Instead of having a high f-stop and blurring the background, focusing completely on the bird, I lowered the f-stop to 11 to expose the mountain surroundings and clouds behind him, which also brings in the vegetation and colors around him. This technique acknowledges the bird's home and the beautiful terrain that surrounds him and the area I'm in. Always remember that it's not all about the subject, but also the subject's surroundings and backdrop. Take this photo as an example:




Rather than zooming in closer or cropping the photo to give the warbler more attention, i wanted to wait for his head to turn, allowing me to better position him in the right corner of my frame to also expose the branches of the cypress trees. I was also able to capture the shadow that cast across his face and body, giving the photo an incredible look and feel and making the warbler look even better with this contrast. This really allows anyone looking at the photograph a solid understanding of the environment of this warbler and how challenging it was for me to capture this photo. It's crucial to remember this technique as it will give your photos a much more realistic feel and interesting composition.


2. Make sure you know how ALL your camera settings work and how to effectively and quickly use them.


Knowing what settings your camera has and how to use them is critical. Getting your settings correct is the solid foundation of shooting stellar photos. The most important is ISO and shutter speed. In my experience, I would NEVER recommend using a higher ISO than 800. You will have smoother images and very little or no noticeable ISO noise. For action shots, try to use a minimum of 1/1000 of a second shutter speed, but it's very productive to use a much higher setting. The F-stop setting is also really important, but this may vary widely based on which specific lens you have. It's all about creating a good balance between these three critical settings and pairing them with the location you're at and the situation you're in. For example if it's really bright out than a low ISO and fast shutter speed will work well. In low light environments, using the highest possible ISO setting and a low shutter speed is a must (using the highest f-stop relates to all of this). Utilizing fill flash or flash a main light is great way to combat poor or low light conditions that throw shadows on your subjects or not getting bright enough images. Paying attention to your white balance by looking at your LCD screen and scrolling through the selections to find the right setting is another critical item to consider while shooting. After familiarizing yourself with the settings, it's time to practice so when you're out in the field, in the moment you capture that great photograph! Your backyard at your home is a great place to practice. Some of my favorite photos I've ever taken were in my backyard while practicing and learning my camera and it's settings. Don't be afraid to experiment either, trying out new things while practicing in my backyard I've found many new techniques and settings that I can lean on while in the field and I know exactly what I'll produce. Here's an example of what I mean:


By shooting a really slow shutter speed here (1/60th) I was able to show the movements in order while this hummingbird was in flight. It tells a story by showing the movement of the wings, tail, and feet, while his face is sharp and in focus. Get creative and practice, you'll be rewarded for all your efforts!


3. Shoot in RAW and use Adobe RBG Color Space, not sRGB Color Space

Shooting in RAW has an assortment of benefits. For one, it shoots the largest file possible allowing you to have the freedom to perform a lot of cropping. The original photo below, the bird was very small, but because I captured him in RAW I was able to crop it to my liking and the detail is really quite amazing.




Shooting RAW allows you to have much more editing possibilities, including in camera raw/jpeg processing. Using Adobe RBG Color Space also has benefits because this color space allows your camera to recognize more colors so your photos appear richer in color. Remember, always shoot in RAW and always use Adobe RBG Color Space, not sRGB!


4. Choose Your Camera and Lens Wisely.


I know what you're thinking, you're going to get that large 600mm lens that has all the bells and whistles, it's just simply the best! But that will be the biggest mistake you'll make starting out in photography or even when considering on another lens to upgrade your current inventory. It's popular right now to have a large set focal length lens, but they're wrong! Going that route, you're stuck with that static focal length, they're big and bulky and very cumbersome. The aperture may be better than a zoom lens, but just use flash. There are some really great zoom lenses out there and are impressive alternatives to those 'big white lenses' as they call them. I used the Canon R5 with the Sigma 150-600mm contemporary for quite awhile, and shot incredible photos. The performance of the R5 is stellar, and I've not found any drawbacks whatsoever at this point. This would be the camera to buy from Canon. As for my Sigma lens, there's isn't much to say except it's very reliable, very sharp, and performed flawlessly in the field. I photographed hundreds of incredible (professional level) photos with this lens, but I've also missed a lot. It's only drawback is the autofocus is not so fast, so action shots with birds and small, fast moving subjects was a challenge. However, as a starter lens, this is an incredible option and very affordable as well. By using this lens I was able to hone my talents and techniques and really understand the settings of both my camera and lens (as I stated in item #2 above), which has made a huge difference in my abilities and photographs I now produce. I did reach a point where I out grew the Sigma and we made the decision and to have a full Canon kit. I now use the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and it's nothing short of fantastic! Incredibly fast autofocus and stellar tracking features with noticeably higher sharpness. No better zoom lens in my opinion. It's a light 3 lbs and has all the features you'll ever need to take sharp photos in almost any situation. Nikon and Sony offer amazing options too. Just remember that you choose a lens with a least 500mm of focal length and a camera with a sensor of at least 30 megapixels.


5. Research Your Subjects and Try to Predict Their Movements.


This is an essential part of the time and effort that goes into photographing subjects, especially wildlife. You need to know the behavioral habits, where they're likely to be or go and when the best time of day or even time of year to find them. But no amount of digital or print research will replace the need to be out in nature and exploring. Get out in nature and start taking photos. You'll encounter similar species and other wildlife along the way which makes great practice as well. With enough practice and searching for the same subject, you'll be able to almost predict their location and behaviors as if you were in their head! By getting to this level, it will set you up for some of the best opportunities to take photographs, which you'll be prepared for with all the backyard practicing you've already done! Some of this involves sitting and waiting for long periods of time. Like what I did to get this photo:




Exploring one of our favorite trails in Yellowstone National Park, by pure luck we stumbled upon this Western Wood Pewee's nest and hatchlings. The shot wasn't right and the mother was very reluctant to return to the nest while we were there. I knew from experience of previous interactions with these birds that withdrawing a little and sheltering myself from her view, she would return, but I had to be patient. It wasn't long until she did return and I was able to get this incredible shot (with my Sigma lens). This is a prime example how crucial it is to spend as much time outdoors in nature as possible to learn your surroundings and the natural world and they will react to you entering it. You must remember this with every shot and with every subject you chase in wildlife photography. This is what I consider every time I set out to take photographs of any subject.


6. Take Eye Level Shots and Make Sure You Have Eye Contact in Your Photos.


It's important to focus on quality over quantity when shooting high quality photos of your subjects. To that end it's extremely important to take the photos at low angles or at least at eye level with your subject. This gives the viewer of the photo a sense that they were actually there, in the subjects habitat having that very experience you're photographing. Look at this photo below:




I captured this photo at his level by careful positioning. I laid down in the marsh grasses and waited for over an hour for him to come within 10 feet of my lens. This is incredibly rare for a Virginia Rail (pictured here) to do, being that they're incredibly timid, but with patience and a good strategy based on research (which I covered above) rare shots like this one will present themselves to you! Many times you have to submerse yourself into the moment or the situation of the potential shot. Always keep this in mind!


7. Shoot Your Photos During the 'Golden Hours'.


The golden hours refers to the best time of day to take photographs, early in the morning and roughly an hour give or take before dusk. During these times there is a longer wavelength of light which puts out a beautiful, almost 'golden' tone of light. Look at the following photos, the first one was shot at noon and second was taken roughly an hour before sunset.




The second image is much less harsh and the lighting is warmer, richer making more appealing to look at. This will make your photographs more visually appealing and the viewer will take longer to appreciate your work. The 'golden hours' are typically when wildlife is most active, however when presented with a shot of a hard to find subject, take it! But choosing and planning your shots, the time of day is a critical component. Adding this factor to your routine will help immensely with not only opportunities for great photographs, but the quality as well.


8. Don't Just Take Portraits, Capture Action Shots.


Taking action shots is much easier said than done, especially in regards to wildlife and birds. It involves not only locating the subject but often times tracking them and waiting for your ideal shot, which sometimes never presents itself! At this point you've done your research and you're familiar with your target subject. You're out in their habitat and have located them. Now don't rush the shot, be patient, watch their behaviors and actions. Then decide the best place to position yourself in relation to their current activity and behavior. I've found the best chance at great actions shots is getting ahead of the subject and setting up an ambush to capture them in the moment, in action! This isn't easy and often times frustrating as wildlife certainly doesn't behave the way we think they should or follow any preset rules! But with practice and patience, you'll be in the right spot to capture that difficult but so rewarding action sequence!


9. Add Macro Photography to Your Routine.


Adding macro photography to your routine will bring all kinds of variety into your photography portfolio and fine tune your skills while also making you a lot more knowledgeable in the field. Macro photography is much like standard photography, you're just taking photos of something much smaller and much more acute than your average subject. You're going to employ all the same techniques and research I've covered already here, but you will need to familiarize yourself with flash photography as much of the shots will likely be done at very low light, or even at night, and the subjects are very small! But delving into macro photography opens your eyes to a whole new world that occurs mostly out of sight and out of mind that humans rarely try to seek out and observe. From all the small insects, amphibians, and reptiles living in or on the plants, grasses, trees, even sub-terranean habitats, it's a category of photography that I highly recommend you exposing yourself too!


10. Finally, Get Creative!


Photography is about expression and creativity. Anyone can grab a camera and snap some shots and receive a lot of enjoyment. But if you want to set yourself apart you must be original, and create photographs that are unique and aren't typically seen. Every time I take a photo I consider this and how I can make it uniquely me. Being unique is not limited to only photographs of the subjects themselves but also the landscape and the environment we all live in and share. Shooting black and white is also another great way to create unique and original photographs, and is very easy to do! By knowing the environment you're in, your subject(s), what goes into making an incredible picture, and how to compose it sets you up for not only being a successful photographer, but also a creative photographer as well!


That's it, my Top 10 Techniques! It's up to you now. Get out there and experience nature and all it's wild vastness, showcasing the wild things that inhabit it! Good luck!

Comments


About Us

IMG_9989.HEIC

Join Jameson and Jaxson, two adventurous brothers who are embarking on an incredible journey through the untamed wonders of nature. Their passion for wildlife, photography, and exploration has led them to discover new animals, capture breathtaking moments, and share their extraordinary experiences with the world.

bottom of page