How to Get Better Wildlife Photos

By Amy Horn

I have dreams capturing wildlife photos on an African Safari. It’s not in my travel plans yet, but if I get the chance, I want to be ready! If this is an experience you are planing, you may want to prepare too. How do you prepare for such a phenomenal experience? Practice. This sounds obvious, but do musicians perform without practicing? No, they don’t. So, if you have a trip planned to photograph wildlife, practice locally to master the technique and your equipment. Here is an example of practicing: in a Nature Photography class I teach at NAU, I took my students to a local pond to photograph waterfowl. The waterfowl are accustomed to people and are not easily startled so this gave the beginning wildlife students a little more time to get each shot. I challenged them to capture images in flight and static scenarios. After spending 90 minutes at the pond they had a much better handle on reading behaviors of the waterfowl, settings on their camera to use and being prepared for the fast movement. Keep practicing and focus on the following techniques for stronger wildlife images.

  1. Know your camera – Our cameras are amazing. Whether you own a DSLR, mirrorless or even a mobile phone camera, know your gear! The drive mode on your camera captures a burst of photos giving you several images to choose from. Set the focus for your subject. If the birds are in flight, use continuous focus and select several focus points. The camera will assist you in finding the subject. Some cameras offer focus tracking. Research your camera by reading the manual or watching videos on your manufacturer’s website to select the best settings for wildlife.
  2. Be ready – If you are chimping on your LCD panel viewing your last shot, then you will miss the shot right now. Keep your finger on the shutter and the camera up to your eye. There is nothing worse than missing the shot!
  3. AvocetComposition – We connect more with wildlife images when we are at their eye level. So get low and focus on the eyes. If your wildlife is moving, always leave more room in the frame in front of the animal so that they can “move into the frame.”

Whether you have an African Safari planned or want to capture other wildlife, have a little fun at your local pond to master your equipment and camera techniques.

Amy Horn is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

How I Got the Shot – Poppies under the Blazing Arizona Sun

Author: Ambika Balasubramaniyan

Settings:

  • Camera: Canon 5DMIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 II USM
  • Settings: Av (Aperture Priority)1/40 sec, f22, ISO 100, 16mm
  • Filter: None

Location: Bartlett Lake, Arizona

  • This location in Arizona typically explodes with poppies mid-late March if the rain and temperature conditions are conducive to good bloom. In March 2017, the steady moisture over winter delivered a great bloom year for the poppies. In other years, when the rain is inconsistent over winter – there may be very few poppies. Another note, you also find some white & orange poppies here in addition to the yellowish-orange kind!
  • Location guide: Wild in Arizona™: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How(Expanded 2nd Edition) by Paul Gill & Colleen Miniuk-Sperry Location #25 Page 102

Vision: An above average heat made for a blazing hot March and I wanted to capture the contrast of the delicate poppies under the blazing Arizona sun – a juxtaposition of hot and cool. I wanted to feature the sun as an integral part of the image in addition to using light the highlight the delicate poppy petals.

Image Capture: I wanted to showcase the sun along with poppies feature the mid-morning sun – higher up in the sky rather than the typical sunrise – on the horizon treatment. I wanted the image to convey “hot” and showcase the sun loving poppies reaching up to soak up the rays. I also included a bit of the surrounding hills to set context. The image capture was set up was with the Canon 16 – 35 mm lens for the wide angle treatment, shooting upwards from below the clump of poppies on a roadside berm to emphasize the poppies reaching up towards the sun. Aperture was set to f22 to include the sun as a “sunburst” in the composition. The small aperture at f22 on the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 II USM wide angle lens generates a pleasing starburst.  I also intentionally under exposed the image to ensure a sharp “sunstar” with a workable image that was not over exposed. Remember to remove ALL filters in front of your lens to minimize any lens flare. You may still get some lens flare from the internal elements of the lens but you can do your part in minimizing them!

If you are interested in learning more about sun bursts & different lens that make good ones: https://www.outdoorphotographyguide.com/article/how-to-create-a-starburst-effect/.

Post Processing: Images were post processed in Lightroom CC minimally – some cropping, opening up of the shadows, pop of clarity & saturation in Lightroom.  Some of the lens flare artifacts were also cloned out to clean up the sun.

The key post processing move for this image is the opening up of the shadows that show cases the color of the poppies against the blue sky!

Ambika is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Long Exposure Experimentation

My Favorite Mistake   |    Author: Christina Heinle

While in Vienna, I practiced long exposure photography at night.  Capturing the streaking tail lights of cars with the historic buildings in the background was quite fun and overall I was pleased with the results.  I started at the Opera House, moved to Parliament and ended up at the Rathaus (city hall).  An event was being setup at the Rathaus and the fences along with little buildings detracted from the glory of the building.  Unenthusiastic about the scene, I still took pictures.  When the bus pulled into my frame and stopped at a light, I called it a night.  Non-scenic subject, buses ruining my picture and discouragement gave me the reason to pack up and head back to the hotel.

vienna

Later when I reviewed my pictures, my favorite photograph turned out to be the picture where the stopped bus created havoc on my picture.  Surprisingly, the long exposure of 15 seconds was long enough to capture the beauty of the Rathaus along with the inside of the bus because it was sitting motionless at the light.  The hand straps seen towards the top of picture and the “Ein stigen bitte Knopf drucken” button are my favorite aspects of the photograph.  If the bus had not stopped at the light and “ruined” my picture, I wouldn’t have captured such a unique photograph.

Christina Heinle is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Instagram: christinaheinlephotography

Zoo Photography – Shooting Through Fences

Author: Amy Horn

Capturing images of zoo animals should be easy. After all, they are waiting for us to take their photo in their enclosures. But the trick to capturing great zoo photos is to capture a photo that doesn’t look like it was taken in a zoo. To get these strong shots, you don’t want to see fences or food bowls and you want to capture expressions of the animals, otherwise your images will look like snapshots. So, here are five tips to improve your zoo animal images. To keep this simple, I have focused these five tips on enclosures with fences:

Tips for photographing wildlife in fenced enclosures:

1. Long lens
2. Wide open aperture
3. Background
4. Shadows
5. Patience

 

1. Long lens – Use a long lens to blur out the fence in the foreground. Focal lengths from 200-400mm are great lenses to use in zoos. It isn’t as simple as just using the long lens though, you also need to position your lens as close to the fence as possible. So, lean in, zoom and shoot. As you setup your shot, you will want to pay attention to light hitting the fence. If there is light on the fence you are shooting through, that light may become a reflection in your frame. Try to shoot through an area of the fence that is in shade.


2. Wide open aperture
– Using a long lens is only half of the formula for shooting through fences. The second half of the formula is to use a wide open aperture. Setting your aperture at f/2.8 or f/4 for example, will blur the fence in the foreground. If the animal is touching the fence, you won’t be able to blur out the fence, so start shooting when the animal is several feet away from the fence. Combine this with the long lens and your fences will be unnoticeable.

f/5.6, 1/2000, 400mm, but baboon is too close to fence.

f/5.6, 1/2000, 400mm, but baboon is too close to fence.

f/5.6, 1/2000, 400mm, now baboon is several feet away from the fence

f/5.6, 1/2000, 400mm, now baboon is several feet away from the fence

3. Background – Now that you have the technical aspects of a strong zoo photo, it is time to finesse the details of the shot and that starts with the background of the image. Can you see fences in your frame? How about food bowls? Are there sticks or trees creating unnatural attachments in your frame? Move yourself around the enclosure to omit these items from the background or foreground. Shooting from a higher angle can minimize the amount of background in the photo and shooting from a low angle will accentuate the animal and minimize the foreground. Using both of these techniques will create an image focused strictly on the animal and omit other distractions.

horn_wwz_12_16-0869
4. Shadows – Every enclosure is unique and shadows in the enclosure can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If the shadow is positioned behind the animal, your image will pop due to the juxtaposition of contrast. However, if the animal is sitting in shadows cast from fences or other distracting elements, the image doesn’t work because the viewer can see the fence shadows and these shadows are not natural.

f/5.6, 1/1250, 400 mm but shadows from fence do not complement photo

f/5.6, 1/1250, 400 mm but shadows from fence do not complement photo

5. Patience – This last tip is patience. Patience is what brings the image together. Whether you can be patient enough to sit for hours or minutes is up to you. If the animal is sleeping, come back later and often they will have moved to a better location in the habitat. If a docent from the zoo is nearby, ask them when these animals are most active (feeding times always wake animals). If the animal is awake, be patient and wait for an expression. Capturing images of sleeping animals is nice, but not as interesting as images exhibiting behaviors.

f/5.6, 1/500 sec, 300mm and patience for behaviors.

f/5.6, 1/500 sec, 300mm and patience for behaviors.

Patience.... This image was number 18 of 20.

Patience…. This image was number 18 of 20.

That’s it. Five simple tips to improve your zoo photography! If you want personal attention you can always join me on my zoo workshops at the Wildlife World Zoo, February 25 or at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on March 11. Happy Shooting!

 

Amy Horn is a Lecturer of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Instagram: amyhornphotographer

Facebook: Amy Horn, Horndesigns Photography

 

Your camera is merely a tool

Author: Vicki Uthe

Does anyone else ever get irritated with the following comment? “Wow!  What a beautiful photograph! Did YOU take that? You must have a really nice camera.” That’s like saying, “Thank you for the lovely meal, it was delicious.  You must have a really nice…oven!”

Kino_Bay_Alcatraz_Dec_2015-5592

Never forget, your camera is merely a tool.  How the photographer uses the tool is what makes the beautiful photograph.  So please, never do the reverse and tell someone who compliments you, “Thanks, I have a nice camera.”  Take pride and ownership of your craft, talent and abilities.

Kino_Bay_beach_house_Dec_2015-5506

The following photos were all taken with a Canon point and shoot.  I’ve been through several Canon Elph series cameras and currently have the S-120 but they are all still pocket cameras.  As a travel photographer I love this size for its convenience and safety.  Safety meaning I don’t have a large, obvious camera hanging from my shoulder that is easy to steal.

Get out there with your little camera, experiment with angles, lighting and distance and have fun shooting!

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.