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