It may seem obvious, but in my opinion, perhaps the most important thing about wildlife photography is to have a passion for it. I love photography and wish (like many) that I had or could allow more time to enjoy my hobby. When I do get chance to get away on safari, the ultimate has to be photographing Africa’s big cats – their behaviour is fascinating, how they photograph is interesting and of course, capturing them in their natural habitat is breathtakingly beautiful.
Here are a few key tips I would offer to anyone looking to capture stunning wildlife photography.
Have a good guide
Not all of us are lucky enough to make a living in photography, so it is imperative that when you have limited holiday time that you have an expert guide and tracker and or a professional photographer/guide taking you on safari. If you talk to us about your requirements we can usually assist and get just the right balance to fulfil what you want from your safari holiday.
Know your subject
To take great shots, you have to know your subject. You need to spend time learning about the behaviours of different cats and if time permits, then try and track just one or two animals, in order to learn their individual behaviours. This is typically where a good guide is paramount.
For example, I once followed a leopard that had lost his left eye for several days. By following him, we realised that because of his poor eyesight, he was no longer able to hunt. In order to feed, he stole carcasses killed by other leopards. When you only follow one or two individuals, it allows you to really understand and tell their full story.
Be patient and decisive
Every day is different – anything can happen. It is imperative to leave camp early in the morning, before sunrise, and the first thing is to pick up tracks for the animals you are following. Sometimes you don’t have tracks, so instead there are signs you have to watch and listen for. You may hear baboons calling each other or find a strangely quiet empty space – these are both signs that a predator could be nearby. It is a mix of everything: the tracks, the sights, the sounds, the smells: you have to be alert to everything.
The best light is always Golden Hour first thing in the morning, and in the hard light of Africa you really need to be ready to shoot in those first couple of hours. When you leave in the morning and you can’t find any tracks or any signs you need to make a decision. You could stop and try and photograph elephants in the great light, or you could persevere knowing that you may miss the best light completely. It’s a big decision that you have to make.
Know what you want to shoot, before you shoot
It’s important to know the image that you want to capture before you even raise your eye to the viewfinder. This way, you will take fewer photos because you know exactly what you want to achieve when you take a photo, rather than just shooting for the sake of it. This is when shooting in full manual exposure mode comes in to play.
Take advantage of the electronic viewfinder if you have one on your camera so you can create the image you want in-camera, as close as possible to the final image. You can prioritise highlights knowing that you can underexpose the image to get a great looking sky, and then push the shadows when editing the raw image but not all of us have the this luxury
Lens and subject choice
A 300mm lens is for many of us ameatures but a 400mm lens will certainly get you up close and personal. This will allow you to capture portraits of subjects without disturbing them. One of the key elements to taking good images is to not disturb your subject, which is why the silent shutter feature on some cameras can be a great feature.
My other advice is to limit the number of lenses you use at any given time a 70-200mm lens for wider shots and a 300/400mm lens for telephoto is perfect. The last thing you want in scorching heat is to be carrying lenses and equipment that you don’t need .
One of the first things is – if you can – to get low down, so you are at eye level or below the big cat, which gives a nice perspective to tell their story. Use your electronic viewfinder to show the rule of third gridlines and look for nice diagonal leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye towards the subject. I think it’s important to create depth in the image, to have a foreground, the subject and then a background, which helps to place the subject in the context of their environment, as well as helping to draw focus on to them.
However, if you feel that you should maybe break a composition rule, just trust your judgement and get on and take it – things can change so quickly you may not get another chance.