If there’s one thing that makes a safari unrivaled, it is the skill to capture amazing scenes and portraits of the rich wildlife. Unfortunately, for the average vacationer, professional wildlife photography is not a natural gift, and our wildlife snaps can resemble photos taken in a rush – all thumbs, shadows and harsh light.
To help you get the most out of your safari, and make sure that the moments you capture stand the test and can be proudly displayed on your mantelpiece at home, we’ve gathered the best African wildlife photography tips from our resident experts. Here’s what they have to say:
Get out early and stay out late! It’s all about the early morning and late afternoon light – the so called ‘’golden hour’’!
When taking wildlife picture, it is important to be as close to the ground as possible. An eye-to-eye angle will give the image a much more intense impact and will give the right perspective, helping to show the dimension of the animal. The other big advantage of shooting at a lower angle is that the background of the picture will be what is behind the animal and not what is below, and whatever you are taking a picture of will stand out much more.
When you try to take a picture of something that looks perfect to your naked eye, but boring on camera, try to rethink and recompose the photo. Focus on a small detail and put it in the centre of the photo and leave the main subject on the side, preferably choosing it in a way the subject is facing the detail. By doing this, you will give “space” to your main subject which in turn will enhance the importance of the detail. Using the same subject but different composition will change your photography.
Portrait photos are often one of our top shots as wildlife photographers and when an opportunity arises, we make sure that we ‘Look for the Eye’. The eye of an animal is the ‘key to the soul’; the eye depicts the mood, the focus and the intent. For this reason, it is vital that the eye of your subject is sharply in focus.
When trying to capture wildlife in action, choosing the correct shutter speed is key! If the shutter speed is not high enough, the image will come out blurry and you have missed your perfect shot. Shutter speed will also affect the clarity and sharpness of your photo. Play around at home with your pet or passing cars to figure out the right shutter speed for moving subjects.
As wildlife photographers, we often sit and wait for that perfect moment, sometimes inviting ridicule from traditional safari-goers who have long since moved on! Be sure to use that waiting time to best effect: take a shot of the scene and see how it looks on your camera’s screen. It doesn’t matter that the image is not the one you really want (it’s free to take a photo anyway!) and it will allow you to adjust your exposure settings so that the shot is exactly how you want it when the action happens – a few minutes spent ‘practicing’ always pays off.
Using environmental elements to frame your subject can add an interesting compositional aspect to an image. This can serve to place the subject in the context of the environment in a creative way and can give a slightly more detached, voyeuristic feel to your image.
Sharp focus is not negotiable.
If your subject is moving, it is critical to change your autofocus setting from ‘AF-S’ to ‘AF-C’ for Nikon, or from ‘One Shot’ to ‘Servo’ for Canon. Other camera manufacturers will have the same setting to change, but each will have slightly different terminology, so check your manual.
Keeping your moving subject in your viewfinder, pan with it while trying to keep the centre focus selector on its head. For as long as you have the finger depressing the shutter button halfway, your camera’s focus will track and even predict your subject’s movement. Every few seconds, it is important to remove your finger completely from the shutter button and to refocus your subject.
My personal favorite, and not entirely mainstream is the ‘panning’ shot. Technically it’s very easy and it’s also great fun and you can have many weird and wonderful results.
How to Pan: You need a long exposure – I tend to start around 10/s (10th of a second) and to make your life easier put the camera onto ‘A’ mode, or Aperture Priority, so you set an aperture which will give you that low shutter speed. Then, as an animal is moving alongside you, simply take a bunch of photos following the animal as it is moving i.e. ‘panning’ with the camera. The effect you are looking for is movement and here is a pic I particularly love which hopefully gives that impression!
Problems: There is one small problem you might encounter if you try and ‘pan’ during the middle of the day when it’s very bright. You may well find that your highest aperture and lowest ISO still gives you too high a shutter speed.
Two things to do here:
I find that a lot of people are always trying to find that clean picture environment where there are no branches in the way, no leaves and no shadows. It is of course true that the crystal-clear image where the subject is bathed in perfect light are the images where one screams a “halleluliah” to the heavens, but more often the conditions are not all that great. More often I find it is the imperfections that are the things that make an image beautiful. Shadows are to animals what mascara is to models. Dust and rain create atmosphere. It is the branches and the leaves, the glare and the dust that often give the emotions to an image. Why not play around with them a little more?