Wildlife Photography Tips
Here are 10 simple wildlife photography tips for the aspiring photographer.
1) Go on a wildlife photography course. Whether you are a beginner or at an intermediate level, spending sometime with a professional wildlife photographer can kick-start your hobby. I run a variety of wildlife photography workshops – contact me so that I can help you with your photography.
2) Get the right equipment and learn how to use it. A common question I get is “what camera equipment should I buy”. There is really no easy answer, and it is largely a function of ones budget and level of expertise. It is a reality however that you will need some specialized equipment like a telephoto lens and perhaps something like a macro lens too. Again, some expert advice can save you a great deal of heartache, time and money.
3) Importance of light. Be aware how light can effect the quality of your image. With a few exceptions nature photographers are looking for great light and are shooting early in the morning and late in the afternoon in order to get the warmth and texture of the sun close to the horizon.
4) Africa is full of great wildlife destinations and we are spoilt for choice. However it is quite easy to go to a great destination at entirely the wrong time of the year or even the wrong place within the park. Do some research or ask wildlife photographers for tips on your intended destination.
5) Be creative and look for different angles and try different techniques. One of the great advantages of digital photography is the ability to instantly see your photograph, so this makes experimentation easy.
6) Practice on domestic animals and pets. When I get a new camera or perhaps want to get proficient with the auto focus system I don’t wait for my next trip to the bush. I simply get hold of someone’s dog and practice on the animal running around the garden. Admittedly its not very glamorous but it’s a great way to get in some practice and get familiar with my camera.
7) Wildlife photographs need to be sharp. (Unless you are deliberately shooting motion blur for example) Learn the basics of camera settings to ensure you have the correct shutter speed and depth of field. It is also important to learn how to steady your camera to ensure sharp images. Once again, a photography workshop can help you with these techniques.
8) Persistence and patience is essential. Yes you can be lucky but generally it’s a matter of getting out there for long periods and waiting for animals to do something interesting. Many animals, like lions for example, will spend hours sleeping and sometimes it is a matter of just waiting for something to happen.
9) Do not over look the smaller animals, which can be just as much fun to photograph and are usually much easier to find. Perhaps even in your garden. As much as I may like to spend time photographing an elephant it can be equally satisfying to photograph a small reptile or insect.
10) Anticipate what an animal is going to do. If you are driving through a game reserve for example and see an animal walking towards a waterhole then get into position before it starts to drink so that you are ready to take advantage of its behavior.
Landscape Photography Tips
Landscape photography is by definition the photography of landforms and can include natural or man-made forms.
With improvements in digital technology, anyone can go outside and shoot a landscape photograph, but a great picture takes some planning, preparation and composition.
Here are 10 tips to improve your photography.
1) Go on a landscape photography course. This will kick start your creativity and give you some grounding in the essentials. Understanding the basics like, f-stops, ISO and shutter speed is fundamental to landscape photography. I run one-on-one photography courses, so contact me to get help.
2) Visit some great locations and take pictures. Some of the most popular areas with landscape photographers in southern Africa include the Drakensberg Mountains, coastal areas near Cape Town and the Namib Desert of Namibia.
3) Plan your trip. Find out from nature photographers when is the best time of the year to photograph a particular location. Years ago, I went to Patagonia in the month of October, only to have three weeks of non-stop rain. With a little research, I would have found out that the autumn months of March and April are generally the best time.
4) Having said the above, bad weather can sometimes produce the most interesting landscape photograph. A beautiful blue sky can make for a nice but boring landscape, whereas a dramatic sky full of stormy clouds could make a great picture of the same location.
5) Consider the light. With a few exceptions, most landscapes are at their best in the early morning or late afternoon. So plan to be at your destination well before the optimal light. This will also give you time to look around and see your location, and look for different angles and compositions.
6) Study and understand the rules of composition (easily found on the internet), something I cover in my photography courses. Although all rules can be broken, on the whole they generally make for a good starting point.
7) Enhance your creativity. Although most of us are not born with much creativity, it is something that can definitely be learnt and enhanced. Look at the work of great landscape photographers and get inspiration. Then practice by taking lots of pictures. As with most things in life, the more you practice the better one gets.
8) Do not be put of by some physical hardship. Landscape photography is one of the more difficult genres of nature photography. Not only is it challenging to one’s creativity, but it can also be physically difficult. It is not unusual to have to walk long distances and it inevitably means getting up early in the morning, and frequently one can be either cold, hot and sometimes wet.
9) Be persistent. Although you can be lucky, more often than not one will have to visit a great location several times to get a really good picture. Great landscape photography usually take some time and patience.
10) Embrace new technology. New developments in technology and software have meant lots of exciting possibilities, and it is now comparatively simple to shoot a panoramic, an HDR (high dynamic range) image or perhaps the night sky with the Milky Way.
Patagonia is the southern part of South America and encompasses some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. To me, the word “Patagonia” has that exotic, wilderness like association similar to Borneo, or the Kalahari and in fact it really is as spectacular and wild as the name implies. (unlike Borneo which sadly, isn’t very wild).
It’s a landscape photographers dream and nightmare all rolled into one. Nightmare, as the weather can be appalling with persistent rain and winds that will literally blow you off your feet, but a dream when on the odd day the sun rises and bathes the mountains in light so golden that it’s a photographer’s fantasy come true.
Recently I had the privilege of traveling to the southern Andes with landscape photographer Hougaard Malan www.hougaardmalan.com – we visited two areas, Torres del Paine National Park and , Los Glacieres National Park which is a bit further north.
Both areas are stunningly beautiful. Torres del Paine has the advantage of a road running through it, so for the lazy like me it is a bit more accessible. It also has some wildlife and its possible to see condors, guanacos and even the occasional puma. Los Glaciers on the other hand is perhaps a little more scenic but to get to the more beautiful parts it requires some serious walking. Because of its spectacular beauty, Los Glacieres National Park is a World Heritage Site.
One morning after slogging up the side of the mountains in pre dawn darkness to catch the sun rising on Lago de Los Tres, we were lucky enough to get the beautiful light on mount Fitsroy – I couldn’t help but think of David Livingstone’s famous quote of Victoria Falls -
‘Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by Angels in their flight’
Not that I’m a great believer in angels but the sheer jaw dropping beauty of the place, in those few short minutes of sunrise, certainly had me going for awhile.
After many years of photographing animals from the back of a vehicle, working with habituated animals that are used for film shoots is a whole new exciting experience. Being eye to eye with a lion or leopard or any one of a number of species is more personal and gives you an adrenalin rush like no other.
Combine this with a photo workshop, its not only great fun but is a good way to get some quick photography tuition with your camera and great preparation for an up coming holiday or photo safari.
There are several facilities close to Johannesburg that have habituated animals used for film shoots and these offer excellent photo opportunities for a variety of animals.
Animals available vary as they grow up or move to other facilities but there is normally a number of species available. Contact me and I can organize an animal encounter that is both fun and enjoy a day learning about animal photography.
Recently I have been fortunate to do two photo trips to the Lewa and Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancies which are private reserves on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.
Although they don’t offer the spectacular photographic opportunities of some other reserves in Kenya both are wonderfully scenic with Mt Kenya as a constant backdrop to the idyllic fever trees and wide open plains. Best of all they are “far from the madding crowds” of Amboseli and Maasai Mara, so it is still possible to have something approaching a wilderness experience.
Like all parks with rhino they have also had some poaching problems, but Lewa is certainly one of the best parks in Africa to see both black and white rhino. Both species are very habituated so it is possible to get close views and great for photography.
Many years ago my conservation thinking was influenced by Aldo Leopold’s “A sand Country Almanac”, probably one of the most important books on conservation philosophy ever written.
There is something very profound about the opening sentences and for anyone who has a love of wilderness and for wild animals it resonates strongly with how we feel about wildlife.
“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot …….. Like winds and sunsets wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”
To slightly misquote Aldo Leopold, I suppose there are two kinds of people – those who mourn the loss of a species and those who don’t.
I have had the great privilege of having travelled the world and seen and photographed some of the world’s rarest species. A few days ago I picked up the book again and the opening passage made me think about how little has changed in the past years – in fact how his words seem more prophetic than ever. We are of the generation where these “wild things” are becoming so rare that very few people will ever see them in the wild, and the saddest fact is that by far the greatest majority of people really don’t care.
Recently I traveled to Kenya to see and photograph three very rare “wild things” black rhino, the northern white rhino and the Grevy’s zebra, all endangered.
While there I could not help but reflect on a few statistics regarding the number of “wild things” compared to humans -
But ponder on these numbers below !
Humans 7,102,561,363 ( 7 billion) and growing by 75 million a year.
Northern white rhino – 8 and extinct in the wild. Captive population only.
Black rhino – 3500
Grevy’s zebra about 2000
Cheetah 7000 to 10000
Bonobo chimps 30000 to 50000
Mountain gorilla – less than 700
Ethiopian wolf 360 to 440
Scimitar-horned oryx – extinct in the wild. Some captive populations only.
Gelada baboons – less than 250 000 and declining
Aldabra giant tortoise – less than 200000
Some photographs courtesy of R.C. and Isak Pretorius.
I have over the last few years, been fortunate enough to be invited as the photography guide on a number of helicopter safaris’ in Kenya and Namibia.
Of all my travels over the last few years nothing comes close to this as a photography adventure. What is normally tedious hours of travel by road becomes a short helicopter flight, usually with an opportunity to photograph something unusual or from a totally different perspective.
To see videos of these helicopter safaris click on these links -
It is expensive obviously but if you are working on your bucket list then a helicopter safari just might be something you want to consider. There are incredible aerial photography opportunities, and its also just a great adventure.
Not all countries are suitable for this type of photo adventure. Ideally you need a country which still has some wilderness left so Kenya, Botswana, Namibia are ideal. Ethiopia is an option too although I personally haven’t done a helicopter safari there.
A great advantage of a helicopter photo safari is getting access to remote areas that are rarely seen and are virtually inaccessible by any other means of transport.
If someone asked me what is my favorite place on the planet to photograph it would be hard to single out any one place but Cousine Island in the Seychelles would certainly be high on my list.
Cousine is a small island just off the coast of Praslin and is a combination luxury resort and private nature reserve.
Like most islands its natural fauna and flora had been decimated by the introduction of alien plants and cats. In 1992 the island was purchased and a conservation programme introduced to protect nesting sea turtles and maintain existing populations of endemic land birds including the Seychelles Magpie Robin, the Seychelles Warbler and the Seychelles Fody.
Feral cats had been present on the island but were eradicated in 1985. Luckily, Cousine Island has never had the misfortune of having a rat population present on the island, hence the large numbers of ground nesting sea birds like White-Tailed Tropic birds, and Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters. It also has a population of Aldabra giant tortoises. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on this island.
The island has undergone an extensive vegetation rehabilitation programme which involves planting of indigenous flora and the removal of alien plant species.
It is now restored to its natural state and the best way I could describe it is a miniature Galapagos Island. There are animals everywhere you look and what is more they are relatively tame. A photographers dream.