Winter is a testing time for all living animals, always remember when working with wild animals they come first and the last thing you want to do is to impose yourself to quickly or scare the animal you’re wishing to photograph. It’s also very important to know that calories are burned off more quickly during the winter months so fieldcraft and respect have to be the first priorities of any wildlife photographer.
Intentionally overexposing a photograph can create a fascinating image that tells a beautiful story. High key photography can be achieved very simply by adjusting your camera settings. Everything you need to know about High-key photography is actually in the name.
I’ve been working on another project in the beautiful Peak District National Park photographing one of the UK’s most beautiful and stunning summer visitors; the Redstart. This attractive cousin of the Robin and Nightingale is one of my favourite summer visitors to our shores. They travel all the way from North Africa to the UK to raise their young before leaving for Africa at the end of summer which I find amazing.
In March’s issue of the BBC Wildlife magazine I have one of my favourite photographs featured as part of their “Inside the image” article. The image was taken on my two week trip to the Falkland Islands last year. In the article I go through camera settings, my vision and thought process to help the readers to understand what was behind the image.
I have always given alot back from my own photography since turning professional in October 2009 making my living solely from this industry that has changed so much during that time. Anyone that can see can take a photograph, what takes time is learning to see, I truly believe in this saying when it comes to wildlife photography.
On the second week with my clients I decided to restrict myself to one lens on each safari and post my favourite image from that day along with how I took the image, the settings behind the image and my thought process behind the image. This will I hope help you to get into the mindset of a working wildlife photographer and hopefully inspire you to think, see and take shots differently.
I have decided to post just one image on my blog from each day which will be very different to my previous trips to Ranthambhore. Hopefully it will demonstrate how one image can really speak for you, how it can tell a story at the same time making you a better wildlife photographer, restricting yourself to one image and thinking more about angles, composition and not just snapping away and thinking first and seeing the image within the image or the story as the title says.
The beauty of photographing wildlife is that it is always changing and evolving, encountering the unexpected. In this environment the wildlife photographer must learn to work with these changing environmental conditions and behaviours. Make best use of those and capture that wild encounter with your camera and the result cannot always be predicted .
The first safari of the second week started on Tuesday with new clients and the following images I hope will inspire you, help you and above all go someway into seeing a different way of thinking when you’re looking through your viewfinder. At the same time learning you so much about the subject, the environment it lives in and above all more about you and your own photography.
Tuesday 21st April 2014
Camera Settings – nikon D4S, nikon F2.8 300mm, F4, 1/200, iso 400, matrix metering, -0.3ev exposure compensation.
A mother Bengal Tiger and her one year old cub drink from a small forest pool in the late afternoon sun. On our afternoon drive with temperatures reaching nearly 42 drgees we came across this female and her two cubs. We parked up in a postion away from them and turned our engine off. She was sleeping for round two hours on and off and we just watched her and the cubs it was just magical. After they started to become alittle more active and they moved around and played before heading towards this small pool.
I was working with a fixed focal lens so I couldn’t zoom in or out and I was framing them the best I could. I focused my camera on the cub in the foreground and followed them down to this pool through my viewfinder. I was running out of room and did my best to keep them both in the frame very aware not to clip or cut one out and this was the result. Making best use of what angle you have is key when working with a fixed focal length. Soon after then moved off and all three vanished back into the forest.
Two young Bengal Tiger cubs sit waiting for their mum after they heard her calling for them in the morning light. I was only going to get focus on one and depth of field so I choose the front one. This resulted in the cub in the background being burred and giving a strong outline of another tiger. Both soon moved off into the undergrowth and later found their mother who took them off into the forest.
Thursday 23rd April 2015
Camera settings – nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f5.6, 1/2000, iso 400, matrix, +1.0 exposure compensation.
A Black headed Ibis feeding in the dawn light. I followed the bird through my viewfinder from right to left and placed the subject over the the right so the bird would be walking into the frame.I used continuos servo mode to capture any movement and freeze it with a high shutter speed. The result is seen here with the birds beak open and foot raised which adds a sense of movement to this image. I chose to under expose a little too to gain a strong outline creating a wonderful silhouette.
Friday 24th April 2015
Camera settings – nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f4, 1/500, iso 1000, matrix metering, -2.0 ev exposure compensation.
A Black Drongo bird taken in the morning light. We parked up to just take in the surrounding then this bird landed feet in front of me. I really love these birds and their fork-shapred tails that live in the national park. This bird landed on these naturally occurring grasses and I composed him over the the righthand side of my viewfinder giving space to the front of the bird as I watched through my viewfinder. I waited for a little interest in the form of action or a certain look. Then the bird looked straight at me in something I call first contact. When a wild animal makes first contact with a human and this was the result.
Saturday 24th April 2015
Camera settings – nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f8, 1/1000, iso 200, matrix metering, -1.0 exposure compensation.
We spent a wonderful few hours in the morning sitting and watching this family of Bengal Tigers. There were three cubs and a female Tigress that would come from the safety of the long grass, then play and then vanish back into this long grass. So I chose the aperture F8 so I could gain more depth of field. Under exposing for the light as it was very bright and we were shooting into the light.
Once all three cubs came out from cover composition was hard as I was using a fixed focal length lens and so I had to really try to keep them all in the frame. I placed my focus spot on the cub in the middle and this was the shot I took. I have changed it to black and white because more often and not images that are contrasty look better in this format.
Sunday 28th April 2015
Camera settings – nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f 5.6, 1/1000, iso 400, matrix metring, -0.7 exposure compensation.
A young Bengal Tiger cub sitting near a forest pool makes first contact with me. A saying I describe when human meets wild animal and for a split second theres an intense stare that can often look straight through you. Composition wise I composed him over to the right, placing my focus spot on the eyes and leaving negative space over on the left. I took a few images and was carful not to spook him with the noise from my cameras shutter button.
Those are my images from week two, I have lots more but I wanted to post these hoping to inspire you and try different things within your own photography. Being more selective and disciplining yourself to a few images or using one lens I feel makes you work harder and inevitably a better wildlife photographer. two weeks and twenty-four safaris for me have flown by once more and Id like to thank everyone one of my clients for your time and I hope you enjoyed the time you spent searching and photographing Bengal Tigers here.
Thank you to Sealskinz for the products that have helped me on this two week trip to India which have really protected me and my gear in some hot and tough conditions.
If you’d like to join me on my 2016 trip then please see the following link, many thanks.
One of the most important tools in wildlife photography is fieldcraft. Getting to know the subject, spending time watching, listening and looking, learning its behavior, its habits and calls. In turn all of this will reward you with a far better chance of capturing images that show the subjects natural behavior.
Regardless of the level of photographic skill your at you will need to learn fieldcraft to capture those images you see while among Mother Nature. With this though comes a great responsibility and integrity to your own work and your own foot print you’ll leave behind you when you leave the wildlife and go home.
Wildlife photography’s power rests on the belief that it represents an event that occurred naturally in the wild, something witnessed and recorded by the photographer with his camera at that given time. Clever use of friendly animals, hot spots, bait and the per-arranged perches or props along with digital technology has forced everyone to re-evaluate and question the validity of images they see now.
Living animals have feelings, emotions not to dissimilar to our own, tap into that whatever the subject maybe and you will see the real and true beauty of wildlife unfold in front of you. Apply your passion and respect on top of fieldcraft and the images will come.
Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see what’s in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone.
All wild animals that have no or very little contact with humans are scared and fear man. They see and smell us the moment we enter their world of which they are designed for and we aren’t. They have an in built fear of man and see us as a threat to their lives to put it bluntly. For me its how the person deals with that level of fear and stress using their fieldcraft that’s important.
Animal tracks tell you so much about what’s happening around you. It’s their highway, the way animals navigate their chosen habitat. Look for darkened earth a clear sign there’s life around. Just standing still for several minutes and look to see any natural lines, faltered grasses or earth moved or piled up. This then will give you a bigger picture of the main routes in and out of a forest say or farmland track leading to a wood and so forth.
Look towards the sun when studying tracks, you will see the shadows better. Footprints in soft ground will begin to deteriorate around the edges within 2 hours depending on the humidity, sunlight, and breeze giving you vital clues to what and how long ago an animal passed by that spot. The depth of the tracks and length of the stride can indicate the weight of the subject and the physical strength of the animal that made them.
Find out which way the wind is blowing making your approach better as most animals have a great sense of smell and it’s the first thing to give you away. The wind always wants to be blowing into your face, this will blow your scent away and remember to forget the aftershave or perfume along with soaps that are high in perfume as these will be picked up from great distances away. It is also important to recognize and learn the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave the animal well alone. The last thing you ever want to do is cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions in order to get the shot.
Clothing, wind direction, covering the ground, shape, shine, staying low, can all help in capturing those moments in nature where you have to work harder with some animals than others. Some species will accept human presence quicker, taking only hours, where as other more sensitive subjects will take weeks if not months.
It’s the way I work while capturing wild animals in their their natural habitats while working very ethically alongside nature. Composing the wildlife to show others how they go about their lives,where they live and conduct their lives. So correct fieldcraft is an integral part to the way I work as a wildlife photographer. Being at one with nature is amazing and with time and effort and applying good fieldcraft everyone is capable of capturing those beautiful moments I am blessed with seeing each time I enter the natural world.
In July’s issue of Practical Photography I give my top ten tips and advice in order to help you, whether you’re just starting out or more accomplished in regard to fieldcraft the article is written passing on my many years of experience in this field over the years. Fieldcraft is the foundation to my work and style as a wildlife photographer today and has been since the moment I picked up a camera.
Look at the Foxes ears below, he couldn’t see me, but he could just make out the faint noise of my shutter noise from my camera. Each ear is facing in a different direction, one facing forward and the other facing towards where he heard the noise. He’s doing this to locate the sound in a bid to locate me, wonderful animal behaviour you can learn to read by using your fieldcraft skills.
Today people really want to see how you got the image and as a wildlife photographer you not only have a duty of care to your subject’s welfare but also to the general public who buy your work or follow you I feel. Showing and explaining how that image was taken, the skills you employed to achieve the image are paramount today.
The most important tip and piece of advice I can give in improving your fieldcraft is respect your subject, let wildlife live their lives without fear or stress from your presence. Apply all my tips from the article and the animal will benefit first and foremost and be able to carry on with their lives. Applying these tips will also allow you to capture images with a real story. Leaving little or no disturbance from the photographer is the best piece of fieldcraft you can learn and apply.
People then can see your fieldcraft and subject knowledge behind that particularly image. Learn the basics of fieldcraft and you can implment these to any real time situation within the amazing world of nature you will come across. I hope you enjoy the article which you can see by clicking here, many thanks.
Following on from my previous Wildlife Photographic tip ‘Back-Lighting’ which gives your subject a strong outline and adds a great atmosphere, with a great deal of impact to your image, it’s counterpart ‘Side Lighting’ emphasizes a great deal of texture from the use of light highlighting your subject from the side, and when put to use in your image carefully it can produce a wonderful and dramatic image again with bags of atmosphere, giving the image a three-dimensional feel. A word of warning though from my own personal experiences ‘Side Lighting’ gives you the best results when the sun is low in the sky eg. Sunset, Sunrise.
Side Lighting does not work very well if the background is really cluttered or messy with lots of detail and other things going on so keep it as clean as possible, the idea is to isolate the light against your subject with a clear background illuminating your subject from the side bringing out all the texture in the feathers or fur at the same time creating a great deal of depth to the image. Always expose for the sunlit side of your subject, even at the cost of losing some shadow detail.
The way you use light in Wildlife photography is very important for the overall effect you are wishing to capture, Side Lighting is really effective when shooting close up portraits of wild animals and birds. The contours of the face are really well revealed, the texture of the fur and feathers really stand out a great deal more due to this mode of lighting. Try when possible to use the widest aperture you can on your telephoto lens rendering the background blurred, creating a smooth backdrop to your image.
Use ‘Side Lighting’ alongside ‘Back lighting’ as a part of your everyday Wildlife Photography, from the garden to the air, creating two very different images through the use of natural light which is at its very best during sunrise and sunset, illuminating your chosen subject from the side or the back in the case of ‘Back Lighting’.
I hope my photographic tips on ‘Side Lighting’ has helped you understand just how important light can be and how it will change and effect your photography, should you have any questions or queries then please drop me a line here and I will be more than pleased to answer them. Lighting and how to use this to the best effect is one of many things I go through on my one to ones, where the sole aim is to improve your own wildlife photography. For more information on these days then please click here to be taken to my one to one page, many thanks.
Back lighting can give your subject a strong outline and add a great atmosphere to your image with a great deal of impact at the same time. Allow where possible you’re subject to be the main feature of your photograph with the use of simple composition with the sun directly behind it. The best times for back lighting to be at its best is dawn and dusk when the sun is low in the sky, creating the warm colours and glow from this wonderful time of the day. If the shape of the subject is easily recognizable through its strong outline it will make for a beautiful photo.
The correct exposure for backlit shots can be tricky so you will have to experiment with darker and lighter exposures in order to get the desired effect and overall feel and mood of the image you want. Use single selected focus point and spot metering where you can take a reading from the subject’s body and set the exposure in camera. Dealing with the ever unpredictable subject of wildlife though the subject may not allow you the time to take a reading for the perfect exposure. And always try to keep the affect of lens flare down by keeping out of direct sunshine as much as possible when taking the photo.
So in closing back lighting can transform an image, adding a beautiful atmosphere within the photograph with loads of impact to the main subject. Great care must always be shown not to point the lens directly at the setting or rising sun as it will damage your eyes. The lens must be clean and free from smears and dust, and sometimes the effects of flare can add a lot to the image so don’t throw the images away until you get them home and reviewed them on your computer. I hope that has helped you a little in understanding back lighting in wildlife photography, if you have an queries about anything I have mentioned then drop me a line here and I’d be pleased to answer them.
I will be presenting my presentation; Dawn to Dusk at Calumet’s spring open days in Manchester and London over the next couple of weeks. Click here for details and dates. I will be available all day to answer any questions or general help or advice you may need for your own wildlife photography. I also run one and two days seminars in conjunction with Calumet, for more details click on their seminars page.