Wildlife photography is endlessly challenging and immensely rewarding. As a wildlife photographer, you will have to adapt your style to suit the subject and its surroundings. The possibilities are as endless as the amazing range of subjects to be found in our natural world. Often your subject will be found in a setting that appears unnatural or unattractive in a photograph. For example, you may be taking photos in a zoo, but you don't want the enclosure to appear in your picture. In these situations, the best approach is to zoom right in on the subject.
This eliminates as much of the background as possible, and thanks to a narrow depth of field you can ensure that what little background can be seen is out of focus. On the other hand, what if your wildlife subject is found in a beautiful landscape? Now you have an opportunity to take a completely different type of wildlife photograph; one in which the focus is not just on the subject, but how it relates to the environment you find it in. Who hasn't admired images of majestic elephants or giraffes trekking across an African plain with snow-capped mountains in the distance? In Australia we marvel at shots of kangaroos on a tropical beach, dingos on Fraser island, emus crossing an outback plain. Photographs like these may have wildlife as the central theme, but as a photographer it is wise to think of them as landscape photographs. By approaching the lighting and composition as you would a landscape, you can use your skills to bring both the subject and its environment into focus.
In terms of lighting, the usual landscape rules apply. Early morning and late afternoon is usually the best time to take your photos, when the light is soft and the contrast is low. The warmth and softness of the light does more than just enhance the landscape; it also adds character to the wildlife, and can eliminate unwanted shadows from the face of the subject.
With just the right angle, you may catch that sparkle in the eye that really brings your photo alive. Just like landscape photography, there are exceptions to this rule. If your subject is found in the rainforest, or other places where there is patchy light and shade, it can be preferable to take your photos on cloudy days. In these conditions the contrast is reduced, allowing a nice even light throughout your photo. So in terms of lighting, this type of wildlife photography actually calls on all of your usual landscape skills. What about composition? Again, the methods of composition you apply to landscapes are also a good guide, but the animal subject adds a whole new dimension to the process.
The way you position your animal has a big impact on the success of the image. Remember your rule of thirds? If you don't know about it, do a quick google search, it is easy to find. If you can position your animal subject according to the rule of thirds, it will add balance to the composition. In fact, I can go even further.if you can position the eyes of the subject near the intersecting lines (according to the rule of thirds), you can add even further impact.
Viewers of the photo are drawn to these points in a composition, so this position will create instant eye contact between the subject and the viewer. And with eye contact comes a personal connection that will help viewers really feel something from your picture. Of course the rule of thirds is not the only approach.
In fact, sometimes you can take a better picture by deliberately ignoring the rule and creating something a little more 'off balance'. But the rule is always a good place to start if you are struggling to find a composition that really works. Another useful guide is to have your subject facing into the picture, not out of it. The eyes have a very powerful effect in a photo; we tend to look the way they are pointing. This means if your wildlife subject is facing to the right, you should position it to the left, and vice-versa. If you can set the shot up so that the animal is facing toward something you want to feature in the distance (remember, this is a wildlife photo, but it is also a landscape photo) you can achieve something quite special.
Not only will the position of the background object become more prominent, you can actually suggest a relationship between the subject and the surroundings. Your photo will become like a story of the animal and the world it lives in. All rules are made to be broken, so as a famous pirate once said, "They're more like guidelines, really." Nature is so diverse, there is never a single easy way to approach a subject.
However, if you can occasionally capture an image that connects the viewer, the animal and the landscape, you will truly have a photograph to remember. In the meantime, you are going to have plenty of fun trying!.
Check out Andrew Goodall's popular wildlife and landscape photography at http://www.naturesimage.com.au , and learn from his experience with the top selling ebook "Photography in Plain English." Don't forget to sign up to the online newsletter for tips and updates...it's free!