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Principles for successful Wildlife Photography – Part 1

This is a question I received very often. “What are the important things I need to know to be able to take a good wildlife photo”? A lot of people have already written about this. There are many different opinions about it. But I have decided to mention the ten most important points for me. These are the principles I use and I believe they give the best chance on success in wildlife photography.

1) Know the basics of photography

It is very important to at least know the basics of photography. You need to know and understand exposure.

It is very important that you know and understand the exposure triangle of APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED and ISO SPEED. How to manipulate this triangle for optimal exposure for the effect that you are visualising.

Know the principles of DEPTH OF FIELD. What is DEPTH OF FIELD? Know and understand the three elements that influence the DEPTH OF FIELD.

Know and understand WHITE BALLANCE. Know how to apply it correctly.

Know your camera metering and know how your camera’s focusing system works.


2) Know your equipment

It is very important to know how your camera, lenses and other equipment work. I have seen many times when photographers go with me on safari, or when they attend one of my workshops that they have never studied the manual of their camera. They don’t know how or where to change certain settings. They don’t know how to set up the camera for their style of shooting.

So, know your camera. I practiced on my camera to do the most important adjustments without taking my eyes away from the viewfinder or off my subject. This is where you usually miss to capturing that critical moment. Know your lens and how to use it optimally. Know your lens characteristics and how to work around its shortcomings (if it has any). For e.g. The Canon 100-400L lens (the old version) is not very sharp at f5.6 at 400mm., but from f6.8 onwards especially from f7.1 it is very sharp. Many other lenses and makes of lenses have shortcomings. But know them and how to work around it.

Know your support equipment and how they work.

Know how to properly take care of your equipment so it does not fail you on a critical moment.








3) Know your subject

It is so important to know your subject, which you are going to photograph. Make a study of the animals and birds. Study their habitat and behaviour. In this way you will be able to anticipate what they are going to do next so that you can be ready when the action is about to take place. That is what will make your images stand out, when you can capture the behaviour and the character of the animal or bird.

Suzi Esterass says:

“….. When it comes to analysing my career behind the camera, ‘photography’ comes second”.

“Knowing the animal, what they might do next, is absolutely critical”, “The animal behaviour is the most important part of what I do.”

They tell writers to write what they know; Ezterhas has the same advice for photographers. At least for a while, she says, set aside the camera and really get to know your subject.

Find that thing you love, park yourself at its door, and watch.

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4) Capture the soul of the animal

What differentiates a really great photo from an ordinary photo? The image that tells you more about that animal. Its, character, its personality and its soul. That is what makes a photograph stand out. This is even more a reason to really study the animal, their habitat and their behaviour.



5) Planning

How do you get that really great photograph? Sometimes if you are really lucky you get that once in a lifetime shot by pure luck. But to get luckier it is important to do good planning. It goes hand in hand with studying the animal. If you know their habitat and behaviour, you can plan where, when and how to get yourself in the right position or time to capture the perfect shot.



How do you get that really “wow” photo?

Part 2 following soon!