An easy guide to photographing pets and wildlife

I love wildlife photography and increasingly am going out in search of squirrels, kingfishers and lots of birds I don’t know the name of! It’s not one of my areas of professional expertise but I’ve got some tips that will come in useful for beginners.

  • Make life easy for yourself and go somewhere with easy access to wildlife. The above shot was taken at Martin Mere Wildlife Centre. Of course you may be lucky enough to get lots of wildlife in your garden or have an amenable pet.
  • Composition should ALWAYS be front of mind; even if you forget everything apart from the Rule Of Thirds, that’s fine. Check the foreground and background for any distractions. Do the colours work well together? Is anything jarring or catching your attention when it shouldn’t?
  • Shoot outdoors and consider the light conditions. Try to avoid mid day and harsh sunlight. However, my shot above was taken in those conditions and does work as the sun was directly behind me and I guess ducks don’t squint! The golden hour produces the best light and can look especially great on water as in the shots of the racing geese below. Cloudy days will give you easy light and intense colours, but rather less dramatic shots. Consider shooting in the rain but gear up (see below).

  • Check the weather conditions. If it’s going to rain that doesn’t always mean stay at home. It can create some very atmospheric conditions. Obviously you can easily waterproof yourself. I’ve recently bought a cover for my camera – they range from a few £s for a glorified plastic bag to £30 for a glorified PE bag. Guess which I bought… Yes, I wish I’d asked a mate who can sew to make me one as it’s little more than a bag that can be drawn closed at either end. However, it works and I’m determined to get the use out of it. I also put my lens hood on and make sure not to tilt the lens upwards. Droplets of water on the front of your lens will ruin your image. Keep a lens cloth handy to wipe it.
  • Try to get on your subject’s eye level. This cat obligingly sat on a rustic table for me.

  • Timing and patience are everything. The duck initially had its back to me, but because I saw the potential for the shot, I watched and waited, creeping quietly nearer. Eventually he turned but I could tell that he was going to jump off so I shot quickly before he did.
  • If you can’t get close use a zoom lens – 200mm or 300mm is good and generally affordable. 400mm – 600mm will get you super close but will start to cost you serious money. Worth it if you are really into wildlife photography.
  • Remember your exposure triangle to nail the exposure and freeze movement. I usually shoot with a nice fast shutter speed – at least 1/200 even for still subjects because of the long focal length, and faster for moving subjects. 1/500 at least for birds in flight or running animals. Faster if necessary. Generally I’d use a wide aperture – between f/2.8 and f/4 for a soft focus background and to let in maximum light. Focus carefully, if it’s a close up the eyes need to be in focus. And I keep the ISO as low as possible as long as it’s giving me the shutter speed I need.

  • Use Continuous Focusing (AF-C or AI SERVO) for moving subjects and use burst mode (Continuous Shooting) to take lots of shots and then pick the best.

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