One of the best parts of travelling is re-living the experience through your photos when you get home. And though a photo of a sunset transports you to that sublime moment of the sun sinking into the horizon, or your pictures of the ancient ruins reminds you of the history and culture of a place, mastering photos of animals in their natural habitats is a whole different skill.
Award-winning animal photographer, Alex Cearns spills the beans on her top wildlife photography tips that will put you in the right frame of mind when capturing your next wildlife adventure on camera.
Do your homework
Before leaving home, think about the sorts of animals you may encounter, then try to learn as much as you can about their behaviours. Are they more active at certain times? Do they have a specific breeding season? Does their behavior follow certain patterns? Can they be dangerous? Do they live alone or in a pack? Would we be seen by them as prey? The information you find will make it quicker and easier to locate your subject and enable you to determine the safest way to photograph them when you do.
Be a storyteller
You’re more likely to capture the shots you need if you plan the story you want to tell or the message you want to convey. Think about what you want to shoot and why that angle or scene might be interesting. Will a certain point of view help others to understand your vision in that moment? When photographing wildlife, it’s our aim as the photographer to capture the poses we see as great images and through them, tell a story.
Compose your image
I love to zoom in close and crop my subject, showing little environment and filling the frame with them. Sometimes though, there’s a need to add some of the habitat and environment into images. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, so you are free to find your own flow with the type of images you like to take.
Focus on the eyes
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and this is no different for animals. Animals express a lot of emotion and character through their eyes. Capture your subjects eyes in sharp focus if you are chasing eye contact in your resulting image.
Choose good light
Outdoor photography is a challenge as you cannot control the lighting conditions. Overcast days with a light sky are ideal outdoor photography conditions, but figuring out the times of day that provide the best light will help you perfect your exposures. Try to get up early with the sun and photograph in the lovely soft light of dawn, or at dusk, where you may score a stunning sunset as your backdrop.
Anticipation and timing
Capturing that split second moment you see as a perfect photo opportunity requires anticipation and timing. Once you see the image you want to capture, you may need to work as quickly as you can to get it, and the shot you miss could be the shot that never comes around again. The more you practice, and the more photos you take, the faster you will get at capturing that perfect moment . The beauty of digital cameras is that they enable us to take thousands of images in one sitting, so take full advantage of this to get the photos you are after.
Learning to be patient is a crucial factor when taking portraits of your wildlife. Sometimes the shots you want will come instantly, while others could take hours. Sometimes you'll have to choose which shots to sit tight for and when to move on. Being prepared to wait for an image to present itself pays off when you get that top shot.
About Alex Cearns
Internationally renowned animal photographer, Alex Cearns, is the Creative Director of Houndstooth Studio. Her images have won a multitude of awards and have been published widely across Australian and international print and online media, in books, magazines, campaigns and even in an Australia Post stamp collection.
Inspired by the joy of working with animals, Alex’s philanthropy and passionate advocacy for animal rescue has earned her high regard among Australia’s animal lovers and a strong following on social media. She is a popular tour leader with World Expeditions and escorts global animal adventure tours to various regions of the world.
Alex lives with two rescue dogs, Pip and Pixel, and one rescue cat, Macy, and claims that animals are her “favourite kind of people.”
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