Wildlife photography is a fantastic genre of photography but can be complex at times. Implementing a few simple tips can yield fantastic results. Grab a coffee, check out this video and read the article below on how to improve your wildlife photography.

Tip Number 1 – Shoot in the rain 

This is by far one of my favourite times to photograph wildlife. Adding the element of rain can add so much mood to a photograph. The landscape takes on a more saturated appearance and dramatic skies can be included in your photographs. Keeping your gear protected is important, but I don’t worry too much about gear getting a bit wet. Dark backgrounds help accentuate the appearance of rain. Also, experiment with different shutter speeds, sharpen the rain into drops or blur the rain into longer streaks.

Tip Number 2 – Low angle perspective 

Photographs captured at ground level offer a rarely seen perspective for the viewer. But more importantly, the low angle creates a more intimidating subject appearance which helps create a more dramatic photograph. Don’t be afraid of getting down as low as possible. If the area you’re in allows it, get down flat onto the ground, the results are so worth it. Underground hides in reserves such as the Zimanga Private Game Reserve in South Africa offer dedicated underground hides which provide amazing opportunities to photograph wildlife at ground level. Low angles work especially well with water-based photography too. Being mere millimetres away from the surface of the water with your camera offers an incredibly intimate perspective to capture striking photos.

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Tip Number 3 – Use backlighting

This works well during the first and last 30 minutes of the day when the light is low and warm and creates incredible results when used correctly. Shooting into the light in dusty environments creates a wash of beautiful golden colour, enhancing the atmosphere. Backlighting helps accentuate specific features on animals or the landscape, fur on a Baboon, the breath of a snarling Lion or the top of grasses in the Kalahari. Add the sun into the frame, expose it to the bright sun and create beautiful silhouettes.

Tip Number 4 – Background management 

Simple adjustments to your positioning can have a huge impact on the aesthetics of your photograph. Backgrounds play an important role in wildlife photography and a small amount of consideration for the background can go a long way to creating better results. Greater separation between your subject and background renders an out-of-focus background effect, but bold elements in the background will create distractions. Choose a more uniform background if possible, one with simpler colouring and fewer features. Avoid background objects “cutting” through your subject or sticking out of the head of your subject. Get closer to your subject if you can and shoot at wider apertures. This helps diffuse the background further. Try to avoid small patches of sky creeping into the background. Essentially you want the background to compliment your subject and not distract from it. Simpler backgrounds are better.

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Tip Number 5 – Use a wide-angle lens 

Instead of focussing up close on an animal with a longer lens, zoom out and include the environment. A close-up portrait is great, but zooming out and including the environment helps tell a different story, especially in iconic areas such as the wide-open plains of the Masai Mara or under dramatic weather conditions. A versatile, wider zoom lens like the Nikon 24-200mm for example provides easy framing opportunities, allowing for super-wide or mid-range telephoto shots. Wider focal lengths work well with large groups of animals like a herd of elephants or migrating wildebeests. Adding context to your subjects helps tell a greater story.

Tip Number 6 –  Buffer management 

Be careful when shooting at a fast frame rate, always keep some buffer capacity in reserve. The buffer is the amount of photos the camera can store before it sends the data to the memory card. Modern cameras have larger buffer capacities and are capable of clearing the buffer very quickly, but a lot of cameras have limited buffer capacity. If the buffer is full, the camera will pause or slow down, and it’s a dangerous situation to be in. Keep the buffer for when the action peaks to avoid missing out on pinnacle moments. Get to know your camera buffer, it’s an important specification to understand.

 Get more out of the buffer by trying these few changes in the camera:

  1. Shoot in 12-bit instead of 14-bit RAW
  2. Use faster memory cards
  3. Shoot in JPG (I don’t recommend this if you want to edit your photos)
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Tip Number 7 – Eye contact

Nothing tells a more compelling story than staring directly into the eyes of a predator. Using eye contact helps engage the viewer with the subject a lot easier than without eye contact. When shooting a portrait, wait for the eyes to be locked on to you and grab the photo. I normally take too many photos when shooting portraits, but I do that because I want eye contact to be perfect. Animals walking toward you offer good opportunities for eye contact, pair that with a low-angle perspective and you have a compelling photograph.

Bonus Tip – Enjoy your wildlife photography, and have no expectations 

Don’t force creativity or feel like you have to make photographs all the time. Never compare yourself to others. Take photos for you, photos you enjoy and want to take. Your photos will improve, take your time, explore what nature delivers and avoid the pressure to create.

If you would like to view more of Mark Dumbleton’s work, check out his website and also make sure to check out what gear he uses: Mark Dumbleton’s gear.