If you’re new to photography or a seasoned vet I still think the best way to progress at anything is to continually learn. I have been taking photographs for as long as I can remember but I have recently found a desire to take animal photos. Whether wild, domestic, at the zoo or a pet store.. doesn’t matter. Capturing animals gives you a realness that isn’t often able to be seen by everyone. I will outline what I find useful and hopefully you can pull from my list and offer your own tips as well.
Living in a city as populated as San Diego can definitely make it a lot harder to find wild animals to photograph so normally the only animals at disposal are domestic pets and local birds and squirrels. We do however have a pretty awesome Zoo that has tons of wildlife. The zoo is an animal photographers paradise.
The only issue with that, is finding a way to make your photographs look like they are in the wild and not in a park.
On any random day you will find a multitude of photographers at the zoo with there telephoto lenses on hand. You will even find the average Joe and his new compact dslr waiting to capture his images. The point is to shoot what you like while remaining technically sound and soaking up new knowledge as you go.
Considering I’ve been to several countries and have not had this same desire totally puts a damper on my past trips but theres no point in crying over spilled milk.
Enough small talk, lets get into the list.
Any photographer that has taken his work seriously has researched and knows about composition. Thats easy enough but considering your competing with tons of people at the zoo you’ll need to be crafty but also have a plan of how you’re going to make your photo look as natural as possible. The habitats will look really natural but there will be fences, glass, nuts and bolts etc that will ruin your photo. Make sure you keep that in mind before shooting and just being satisfied without taking a deeper look.
Now if your at the store and you spot a hawk or squirrel you’ll want to capture an awesome image without necessarily a bunch of carts, people etc. Thats when your creativity is up to bat.
Whenever you’re dealing with photographing anything that are not people, timing is a major factor.. especially with animals! I’m sure you already know this but a lot of animals don’t typically sit still around humans. This tip might not help so much at the zoo because for the most part they are typically relaxing and lets be honest.. where are they going to go? But local animals such as squirrels, raccoons and birds will take off as soon as they feel threatened. Most of the time they notice you before you notice them so this can be particularly tricky. If you know what you’re shooting and have a plan then you have an upper hand. Patience plays a huge part and you can just wait for your moment and “CLICK”.
3.) Get Close (as you can)
A wise photographer once said “If you think your close enough.. you’re not close enough.” That statement could not be more true. Countless times I’ve come home to photographs that I felt were great until I opened them up in Lightroom only to wish I had gotten closer. Just imagine using a wide angle lens and setting up your foreground and you have your subject and the background is great. Now you get home and think you can crop it but have to make the sacrifice of what will now be missing from your photograph. I’m not saying that a simple crop couldn’t fix the issue but trust me, save yourself the time. Make the composition right from the start.. it’s good practice.
Have a plan is the simplest tip I can give but yet the most rewarding. I know I know, things change and that is ok but you need to have a basic overview of where you plan to go and what you plan to shoot so you don’t waste a bunch of time just winging it. Know what kind of photograph you want to finish your day with and if you have a detour along the way then so be it. Don’t just get in your car and drive around seemingly looking for something because you will spend a lot of time looking and not shooting and potentially ending up with nothing.
5.) Coming Up Empty Handed
This is an all too real fact that I’m sure almost all photographers can attest to. Sometimes you shoot for hours throughout the day just to get home with nothing that you think is up to par. Maybe you didn’t get an image at all. Its ok.. it happens. It will definitely occur more often capturing images of wild animals. You sit and wait for a hawk that may never come. You prop yourself up on a tree in hopes that a mountain cottontail will scurry by and after hours you just give up hope. Its fine to hang it up for the day and regroup for another time. Just don’t fall off the horse without getting back up.
Here are a few of my animal photographs.