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Wildlife Photography Tips

Few destinations rival Southern Africa when it comes to offering a wide range of attractions combined with easy and convenient regional travel. Home to the Big 5 and breath-taking natural beauty, a safari experience is ideal for families, honeymooners and adventure seekers of all ages.

It’s the total experience of being in the wild, and ultimately it’s about the images that are captured, irrespective of whether you have a smartphone or the latest piece of kit. Unfortunately, wildlife shots can resemble photos that were 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 put together a few photography tips.

1. Get out early and stay out late
Light plays an important part in photography – purists will often speak of the ‘’golden hours’’, the hour after sunrise and just before sunset, and, to be fair, nothing beats the sheer beauty of an African sunrise / sunset!
While this is technically sound advice, in my experience, there will be sightings through the day that will result in shots that are just as good. Be patient and keep your eyes peeled!

2. The lower the better
While not always possible, I try to shoot as low as possible to the ground – an eye to eye angle definitely gives the image a much more dramatic impact and will give the right perspective, helping to show the dimension of the animal. This is also the benefit of having a longer lens. The further you are away, the angle at which you shoot gives the impression of being lower to the ground. This also allows you to zoom out and capture some background, giving a more complete picture.

3. The rule of thirds!
For me, the composition is probably the most critical element of photography – this is where you tell a story with your images. Even with tight close-ups, by using the rule of thirds I make sure that my subject or the eyes aren’t centred in the image when framing my shot.
Why? This helps draw the viewer’s eye into the composition, instead of just glancing at the centre. By placing the subject off centre, you also embrace more space and potentially highlight an interesting background. Off-centred subjects tend to convey more of a feeling of motion than centred ones.

4. Look for the eye
When a portrait opportunity arises I like to “look for the eye”. The eye is considered the “key to the soul”, depicting mood, focus and intent. For this reason alone, it is vital that the eye of your subject is sharply in focus.

5. Action! Choose the correct shutter speed
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.

6. Patience!!
I’ve been at sightings and waited 4 hours to get one shot! As a wildlife photographer, I often sit and wait for that perfect moment. I generally use that waiting time to best effect: I’ll take a shot of the scene and see how it looks on the camera’s screen, adjusting exposure settings so that the shot is exactly what I when the action happens – these few minutes always pay off. It’s not just the settings though – waiting and watching how animals interact often leads to some surprisingly good results.

7. Look for frames with the frame
Another great composition tip! I often use environmental elements to frame my subject. 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.

8. How to capture moving subjects
If my subject is moving, I change the autofocus setting from, ‘One Shot’ to ‘Servo’ for Canon (‘AF-S’ to ‘AF-C’ for Nikon). Check your camera manual for other manufacturers. I keep the moving subject in my 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 the subject’s movement. Every few seconds, it is important to remove your finger completely from the shutter button and to refocus your subject.

9. Work with the environment
Working in the bush means that conditions are not always conducive to the perfect shot. There are no studio lights, and the subjects, quite frankly, couldn’t give a damn! More often I find it is these imperfections that combine to make an image beautiful, and it’s the one thing I love about wildlife photography. Shadows, dust and rain create an atmosphere. It is the branches and the leaves, the glare or filtered light that often give the emotions to an image. Why not use the elements to your advantage and play around with them a little more?

Do you want to get to the bush to start taking amazing photographs? Contact me to plan your next African adventure –

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