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Tips for Unique Wildlife Photography

3 Tips for Unique Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography is an exciting discipline of photography. Especially trying to create more than "just" classic portraits. Portraits can be very nice, but it is much more fun to use different techniques. Both in the animal park, as well as on photo safaris in southern Africa or in Alaska, there are ways to challenge yourself by photographing animals in different ways.

In this blog article we will describe some techniques in order to take your wildlife photos to the next level.

1. Backlight Photography
Proper handling of light is one of the most important elements for a successful image. Use the natural light to your advantage and try to capture your subject backlit, so that you have the sun in front of you. This results in a great effect: the fur along the silhouette of the animal is beautifully illuminated and immediately captivates the viewer of the photo. If the animal is a little further away or elevated, you can also capture beautiful silhouettes.
Erdmännchen im Gegenlicht

Meerkats with backlight: This picture was taken just after sunrise. Due to the backlight, the meerkat is beautifully lit from behind. The individual hairs along the silhouette are particularly visible
Nikon D4, 300mm f2.8, f3.5, 1/4000s, ISO 640, -0.3 EV

How to capture beautiful backlit images
  • Set your camera to aperture priority (A / AV)
  • Open the aperture as much as possible (minimum f-number, e.g. f / 4.0 f / 2.8)
  • If the images are too dark, increase the ISO sensitivity (e.g. ISO 800)
  • Try to alternate between spot metering and center-weighted metering and look at the results on the camera's display (check your histogram).
  • If necessary, apply an exposure compensation (for example, +1 or higher to make the image brighter) In a silhouette picture you do the exact opposite, underexpose of -1 or even -3.
Oryx Silhouette

Oryx silhouette: We created this silhouette of an oryx at sunrise using backlighting and purposefully underexposing it.
Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2.8, 200mm, f8, 1/800s, ISO 2000, -0.6 EV

2. Use a short / medium telephoto or even a wide-angle lens
Because of the distance to the animal, wildlife photos are often created with a long telephoto lens (focal length 300mm and more). If the environment allows, using a shorter telephoto lens or even a wide-angle lens opens up new perspectives. The animal can thus be captured in its natural environment. The picture tells a story. Furthermore, it enables you to perfectly represent the size ratio of the subject to its surroundings. It moves the background further back and the foreground of the recording looks very close and imposing.
Gnus im Etosha Nationalpark

These gnus are on the way to the next water hole. In the background one can see a thunderstorm passing by. In order to have all the colors of the particular weather mood in the photo, we deliberately chose a medium telephoto lens for this shot.
Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2.8, 200mm, f8, 1/320s, ISO 1000, -0.6 EV

Capturing wildlife images with a short telephoto or wide-angle lens
  • Choose your composition carefully. Integrate natural elements from the environment of the animal and try to tell a story.
  • In a wide-angle shot, the foreground of the picture is often very important.
  • Of course, with the wide-angle lens, you have to get a lot closer to your subject than with a telephoto lens. Think about how to do this without exposing you to unnecessary danger. For example, there are many underground hideouts or special photo hiding places from which you can observe and photograph animals. A perfect place to take pictures with the wide-angle lens.
Elefanten in Mashatu

These elephants were photographed from a photographic hide with a wide-angle lens. Due to the deep perspective and the wide angle, the elephants look particularly impressive.
Nikon D750, 14-24mm f2.8, 24mm, f7.1, 1/1000s, ISO 640

Try to create a high-key or low-key shot
High-key and low-key is about taking pictures with the targeted use of overexposure or underexposure. You go to the limit of the possibilities of the exposure of a picture. While the high-key photos are predominantly white and very bright, the low-key photos are black or have very dark areas. Both photography techniques usually have a very low contrast. Finding the correct exposure can be slightly challenging.
Polarfuchs

In this photo of an arctic fox in the snow, we were overexposing the image and also have additionally enhanced the high-key effect in Lightroom by increasing the exposure and the white tones. Thus, the snow appears beautifully white.
Nikon D4, 300mm f2.8, 420mm mit Teleconverter, f13, 1/2000s, ISO 1600

High-key in nature photography: how to create a white background?
  • Look for a suitable subject: For high-key shots, motives with a light or white background are the most suitable. This can be a shot in the snow or a subject in front of a bright sky.
  • Be sure to choose the RAW format for your pictures: When shooting in RAW format, you can easily correct the white balance in image editing, e.g. if the snow appears too blue in your RAW image.
  • Exposure metering: Use spot metering (if necessary, change to center-weighted metering) so that the exposure is perfectly matched to your subject.
  • Use the aperture priority: For high-key photography, it is worth using the aperture priority. Depending on the subject, work with the aperture as open as possible.
  • Correct the exposure: Since the digital camera's light meters are calibrated to a medium gray, they are irritated by very bright images and provide images with blue or gray shades. You probably know this from snow shots.

    Correct the exposure depending on the situation resp. camera at +0.3 to +3 stops. Find the right correction so that the background appears as white as possible but the details in your subject are easily recognizable and not overexposed.
  • Keep an eye on the histogram: The histogram in high-key photography is very different from a histogram of a normal exposed photo. Try to expose your shot so that the histogram is very heavy to the right, but without losing the details in your subject.
  • Edit your image: To get a clean white background the picture has to be edited. In Lightroom, use the Exposure and White Tone controls to enhance the white background. With the brush you can also selectively overexpose selected areas, e.g. disturbing bumps in the snow.
Wild Dog Südafrika

We edited this shot of a wild dog into a black and white photo and overexposed the background.
Nikon D4, 300mm f2.8, f4.5, 1/320s, ISO 500

Opposing the high-key shots, which mainly have bright parts, are low-key shots, with especially black or very dark parts. Here, it must be ensured that the subject stands out from the background and is well lit.

The difficulty lies in still emphasizing the subject enough despite the dark. Because the exposure meters are calibrated to a medium gray, the auto exposure mode typically calculates an exposure time that is too long – this is when overexposure occurs. With a manual exposure compensation of -0.3 to -3.0 you will get the optimal exposure.
Leopard

Great low-key recordings can be captured especially in the dark. Important here is an open aperture and a slower shutter speed (but fast enough to avoid motion blur). The ISO should also be increased accordingly.
Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8, 190mm, f3.5, 1/125s, ISO 2500

Low-key in nature photography
  • Look for a suitable subject: For low-key shots, photo subjects with a dark background are especially suitable. With wildlife shots you achieve this especially at dusk, at night or in gloomy weather.
  • Use manual mode: Choose the widest aperture possible to let in as much light as possible. Make sure that you use a shutter speed that avoids camera shake and motion blur. If your subject is more or less still and you have your camera on a tripod you can use 1 / 80s or even less. The longer the shutter speed, the more light falls on your sensor.
  • ISO: In gloomy / dark conditions, it is recommended to increase the ISO. Make sure, however, that the ISO is not too high, otherwise there will be noise.
  • Correct the exposure Correct the exposure depending on the situation resp. camera between -0.3 and -3 f-stops. Find the right correction so that the background appears as dark as possible, but keep the details in your subject easily recognizable and not underexposed.
  • Keep an eye on the histogram: The histogram in low-key photography is very different from a histogram of a normal exposed photo. Try to expose your shot in such a way that the histogram is very heavy to the left, but without losing the details in your subject.
  • Edit your image: In order to get a nice dark background the picture usually has to be edited. In Lightroom, use the Exposure and Black Tone controls to boost the dark background. With the brush you can selectively underexpose selected areas.
Elephant Portrait

We edited this shot of an elephant into a black and white photo, underexposed the background and intensified the blacks.
Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8, f5, 1/400s, ISO 400, -0.3 EV

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Jennifer Brühlmann
Jennifer Brühlmann
Reisen und Fotografie sind unsere Leidenschaft. Auf unserem Blog berichten wir über tolle Foto Locations weltweit, Tipps und Tricks in der Naturfotografie, unsere Fotoreisen und vieles mehr.