A basic how-to guide to wildlife photography, with examples

18 Dec 2018

Use a slow shutter speed for moving water

Use a very slow shutter speed when photographing moving water, for example, waves bashing against rocks. Do this by lowering your ISO down to 100-400 and open your f-stop to f/18-f/22. This will create a wonderful “milky” effect to the image. Rest your camera on a stable surface to keep the solid objects in focus and only the water blurred.

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Nikon D3, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 at 70mm

Photograph animals’ reflections in the water

This technique will create a symmetrical mirror effect to the image. Focus on the area closest to the water’s edge when photographing reflecting faces or turn your camera vertically and move your Focus Point Indicator (the little square in the viewfinder) to the area you want in focus or alternatively increase your f-stop accordingly.

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Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II at 400mm

Capture birds as they take off

Birds, especially raptors, make a dropping before taking off. They would rapidly look around and move their feet around to ensure a firm foothold before taking off. Depress your shutter halfway, keep it on the bird and keep looking through your viewfinder.

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Nikon D4, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II at 400mm

Keep your focus on the watering holes

Most antelope are very skittish around water, like rivers, dams and drinking holes. Even a bellow or touch from another antelope of the same species could make them jump. Keep your focus on them whilst drinking, as you never know if they will jump.

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Nikon D3, Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR at 550mm, Nikon 1.4x TC II

Look for interesting interactions between animals

Look for interesting interactions with an individual of the same species like a female lion cleaning and grooming her young or a juvenile imitating its parent(s). This might create a relatable incident to humans and could create a wonderful image. Lions give elaborate greetings when meeting each other.

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Nikon D3, Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR at 400mm

Look for rare or unusual animal behaviour

Most of the images that do well in competitions are unique, for example, lions in trees, big cats in water, two different predators co-feeding, predators playing with prey.

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Nikon D3s, Nikon 600mm at 600mm

Convey movement with blurred lines

Slower shutter speeds create blurred lines with anything that moves. This is a great way to convey movement in an image. Try to always keep the face or eyes in focus when doing motion blur. Mount or rest your camera on a tripod, monopod, gimbal head, ball head or beanbag to increase stability and increase your chances of a sharp face or eye.

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Nikon D3s, Nikon 600mm at 600mm

Look for interesting shapes and patterns

Look for interesting shapes and patterns in nature, for example, a row of similar birds on the same branch, lots of giraffes walking in the same direction or two antelope fighting in the same, symmetrical position.

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Nikon D700, Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR at 300mm

Show the subject in its environment

If the subject is in a harsh environment (like a desert) try to show more of its environment (if possible) and convey its “battle of life”. Use a wider angle to get more of the habitat in the frame.

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Nikon D4, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 at 70mm

For amazing close-ups, be patient and still

Young Seals are very curious and quite docile. Patience, keeping quiet and sitting still might reward you with some amazing close-up images. Use a wide angle as they could come very close and could spoil your opportunities when using a telephoto lens.

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Nikon D4, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II at 200mm

About the Author:

My name is Juan van den Heever. I was born in Nelspruit on the 9th of December 1999. After moving to Johannesburg in 2000 my father, Wim van den Heever, became a full-time photographer. I received my first camera on my 6th birthday and was commonly seen clicking away at scenes around the house of whatever I found interesting. On a family vacation in 2008 to Knysna and Wilderness I fell in love with photography. From then I have accompanied my father on many of his safaris. I used my first professional kit on a safari to the Masai Mara in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, after entering the Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Photographic competition, I received a "highly honoured" certification in the Youth Photographer of the Year category. In 2014 I was awarded the overall grand title winner in the Youth category of this competition. In 2015 I received the overall winner and first runner-up in the "Youth 13-18 years" category in the Nature's Best Africa Competition.

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