If you’re into wildlife photography, you definitely love seeing animals in their natural habitats. However, getting shots of your choice is a difficult task. I am in this for the past 7 years and I understand how challenging wildlife photography can be. You just cannot predict anything about wildlife. Everybody wants to take some good shots, but it’s not that easy as we have to consider lighting, the environment, with proper planning and persistence.
During my previous trip to Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, I made a small list for those who want to start their journey in wildlife photography.
1. Use Raw
I know that JPEG is easy to process, smaller in size and show less noise, but just don’t go by this. Always click in RAW, no excuse. During my initial days, I too used to click in JPEG and trust me, I will never suggest you make that mistake. A JPEG shrinks the quality of your image as they are already processed by your camera while RAW contains all the data captured from your camera. That’s a must if you plan to post-process your images. So take the control and shoot RAW.
2. Keep a sharp eye on that Shutter Speed
When do you need fast and when a slow shutter speed, all depends on your point of taking that image along with the subject. Under most of the cases in wildlife photography, we want our images to be sharp and for that, we need a high shutter speed. As per the rule, if the shutter speed is the same as your lens’s focal length, you may not get blur image (for example, as I use 100-400mm lens, I try to keep the shutter speed to or more 1/400th of a second, by doing this, the chances are very less that the image will become blurred).
Be informed that to capture birds (especially in flight) you need a very high shutter speed. For small birds (like Prinia, few Kingfishers, and plenty of other birds, at times you need to go up to 1/4000th or even more if your camera supports that, however, for big birds, like Eagles, Owls, and similar birds, 1/1250-1600th is should be enough. In the case of animals, you may follow the above-mentioned rule.
3. Play of ISO:
Gone are the days when using ISO even at 800 used to be too much as cameras used to produce a lot of noise. Now the highly update DSLR cameras can handle fairly extreme ISOs with very little noise. You should not be worried about grains as your camera will take care. Just know the extremes of your camera. When I use my Canon 6D, I know that it can easily handle ISO up to 3200 though I try not to cross 800. For your camera, that point might be ISO 800-1600. However, at times, to get high shutter speed, we need to shoot at high ISO which is acceptable.
4. Choose an Aperture that Fits Your Vision
An aperture controls the depth of field. A low aperture (like f 2.8, 4.5, 5.6) means a narrow depth of field. A high aperture (like f/8, f/11, f/16) will give wider results. For example, if you are capturing a bird at an aperture of f/6.3, chances are that only one bird will come into focus (under normal situations, as it depends on the distance as well). However, if you are using f/9 or more, high chances are that both the birds will be in focus.
5. Use Back Button Focus
Back button focus is a game-changing way to get brilliant images.
Back button focusing can be a life-changing technique. It separates the normal function of the focus, half shutter press, focus and shoot technique into their own individual controls. It gives seamless swapping focus modes as well as improves the compositions more appropriately and makes focus lock performance better.
You can remove the focus feature from the main shutter button and can re-assign it to any button as per your hand’s reach on the back of your camera. I am using this feature for the past 4 years and have assigned it to the asterisk button. Believe me, this is a game changer! It not only gives me an opportunity extra advantage to focus and compose images but also saves the unexpected shutter click as every click matters. It helps me a lot in capturing birds as by using the back button, I can chase the birds in flight or doing any activity.
6. Know Your Camera
No point is valid if you don’t know about your camera. Read camera manual as many times as you can. Take time to understand the exposure meter, focusing points, how much ISO your camera can handle, different metering modes, and every other thing. Learn every single detail about your camera. In wildlife, there is no retake and you’ve to be incredibly fast to capture the moment. There is a saying that if you blink, you miss.
7. Try Manual Mode With Auto ISO
I have my own reasons to use this method. Manual mode gives me the advantage to control everything in the camera which means I have the access to make creative images. I use it to get the depth of field of my choice as I’ll have the freedom to select if the background should be blurring or not as well as I’ll have the access on the shutter speed too. No other camera setting gives me that kind of creative control.
Wildlife photography is not something which happens overnight. It takes time in the field and lots of experimentation. Interestingly, I have developed my own style in photography which is habitat shots. I like to capture them the most. Just like others, I too have faced plenty of failures, shooting bad compositions, excessive post-processing, testing out shutter speeds, and what not.
Not every new thing will work-out. Most of them will fail. But they’ll change you. You will learn good lessons and approach your photography in a more defined way.
Have you packed your bags? Is your camera ready??? Oh!! don't forget that extra pair of memory card, battery, hand gloves, bottles of water, and warm clothes as you going to need them BADLY. And after you do all these things, you are ready to WELCOME WINTERS which the best time of the year to do wildlife photography.