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Archive 2012 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I might be able to improve my wildlife photography. It occurred to me that this might be an interesting topic for discussion here on the forum.

I've found it really difficult to come up with ideas that I can actually put into practice. So far all I've decided is that I need to try more difficult shots even though I know this means I will get a lot less keepers. In practical terms I plan, for instance, to try and improve my bird shots by taking more BIF images. I also plan to practice shooting in manual mode (I currently favour aperture priority). My reasoning here is that I could improve the technical quality of some of my shots by shooting at lower ISO which means shooting at a shutter speed below that which my camera defaults to when using aperture priority.

Can any of you share any steps that you have taken in the past or that you are working on now to improve your wildlife shooting? This can cover any aspect of wildlife photography from finding subjects through to the PP process.

Now whilst I am sure that buying a 1D MkIV and 600mm L would be a big step forward that isn't going to happen so let's keep this to ideas that don't involve purchasing new kit!

Thanks in advance,

Jan 14, 2012 at 03:39 PM

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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

i have the same problem, but i always shoot in manual mode, but i find it hard to take bif images, what focus thing should you use for that, ai servo or ai focus?? should i use the center focus point?? my setup is 5d mark II and 400mm 5.6 L

Jan 14, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

I think this is a good idea Paul, hopefully people will add ideas on they themselves think help them improve.

When I was a newer member of this forum one of the more experienced members pushed me to shoot in manual exposure mode. I was quite apprehensive at first. I was afraid of missing shots. Finally I steeled up my courage and took the leap. I have never looked back. As smart as the camera is a person has a far greater ability to decide how to set the exposure.

Another thing that has happened with me over time is that I take less throw away shots. For the most part I don't just shoot to shoot. When I started I took every shot that came my way. Of course most to them were garbage, doomed from the moment I took them. Now I take more time setting up the shot. I'm very aware of back ground, lighting, overall composition and such. Unless it is a rare shot I just don't see the sense of taking a shot that stands no chance of being good.

I'm a firm believer in going back to the basics every now and again. Revisit learning from step one, we all fall into bad habits and need to recognize what bad habits we have fallen into. Also a solid understanding of the basics of exposure, DOF, composition go a long way towards improving one's self.

I wrote an article on some of the basics for Raymond Barlow's blog on the basics a little while back, here is the link for those interested.


Jan 14, 2012 at 04:24 PM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Tim's article is great; very good advice to those starting out and a very good reminder to those of us who keep toiling away with mixed results.

Jan 14, 2012 at 04:35 PM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Very good idea for this thread. I don't know about anyone else, but I am certainly going to compile what I learn here.

Two things that have helped me, especially with birds and animals, is to learn as much as you can about behavior, so that you can try to anticipate what might occur. Such as juvenile Osprey calling for food, start looking for Mom or Dad returning with fish. Or the movement of an Owl or Eagle prior to take off. Doesn't always work, but it does help.

Especially on BIF, shoot through the action, don't just stop when you think it is done, go a couple of more frames. This gives you a better chance for keeping focus and composition on your last "keeper" shot.

Look for the unusual, try a weird angle, go Portrait once in a while.

I have vacilated between full Manual or Aperture Priority with Auto ISO on my Nikons. Whichever you do, be constantly checking as things change rapidly.

While I do ignore more "throw-aways" these days, I still will take some of those ISO 3200 shots before I get good light for two reasons. The first is to get myself into the "shooting mood", the second is that once in a while something really cool happens, even at 1/50th of a second and 800mm.

But by far the most important thing is practice, then practice again. Good thing, it is really tough to wear out a CF card.

Jan 14, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Karl Witt
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Some thoughts to share Paul:

If you are out and are not 'seeing' shots that seem to be interesting in front of and around you then look more often 'through' your lens as it lets you isolate and compose better at times.

I chuckle at Tim's comment on Manual exposure, he and I over the years have exchanged a tremendous amout of shared PM's, I always shot Av and never ever looked at a Histogram for a long while I strongly recommend pushing to use Manual exposure and learn your Histogram! When the light is continously changing then fall back on Av but when dialed in on Manual you will be very impressed and consistent.

For longer lenses without IS a monopod has given me a nice edge to sharpness but also so has taking time to do a Micro Adjust on the lens body combo I am shooting and it is well dialed in with a 1.4TC on it too.

Simply changing your angle from which you shoot certain subjects can make a wonderful impact to the image and give you cleaner more welcoming BG's to work with. Eye level with your subject can have greater impact!!

One more thought, shoot florals too

Best to you and your desires to continue to improve


Jan 14, 2012 at 04:57 PM

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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

what works for me, and maybe for others as well, is to have that camera ready BEFORE I leave the house. wild animals usually don't wait for me to get ready.


Jan 14, 2012 at 07:03 PM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Some good information provided above - particularly as it pertains to shooting in M. It's really isn't that scary. Just start on easy subjects - your dog, backyard animals etc.

But good technique won't do you any good unless you have something to apply it towards. So my tip is for you to establish a network for information. For example, a few years ago, I was looking for burrowing owls. Two members on here stepped up to the plate and I am still in debt to both of them. And when we had snowy owls show up here this year, I had 3 people contact me within the same 24 hours. Also include online sources - bird forums and so forth. And, I'm sure this almost goes without saying, be willing to share with others too. THEN get out there and apply your skills.




Jan 14, 2012 at 07:15 PM

Search in Used Dept. 


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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Regards #2 Tony, I will grudgingly admit that you got reasonably close.

Jan 14, 2012 at 09:09 PM
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

(1) Shoot JPG only, and do no more than 3 FPS.
(2) Remeber that target proximity beats FL.
(3) Be your own sternest critic.
(4) Do not follow common cliches, follow your own instincts.
(5) Experiment with gear and techniques.
(6) Do as little image post processing as possible.
One can not become a good hunter by perfecting his culinary skills.

Jan 14, 2012 at 10:19 PM
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Given the large number of fine contributing photographers on this fotum to learn from, when you post, post only a single shot and ask for detailed critique. You'll find that when you focus their attention on a single image, the quality of critique goes up.

Jan 14, 2012 at 10:59 PM
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

I don't know that I have much to add, but I'm definitely interested in the advice of our wonderfully talented fellow N&W FMers. I completely agree with what Tim said. I had the same experience being scared of that 'M' and once I learned it, I've never looked back. Even now, once in a while I'll shoot Av, when the light is changing, but I always sigh before I do it because I know I'm losing some control of exactly what the camera is doing, and once you've shot manual for a while, you'll love being in control of all the settings! Also, not 'wasting' shots is important. I used to go out and be snapping shots of every bird I saw - that's good at first - but now I can judge when that birds too far away, too backlit or the light's terrible and i don't even touch the shutter button. It helps me think more about the shot and more carefully choose how I want to shoot a subject, and I definitely improved my keeper rate but I also think my keepers are much better because more thought is going into each shot. I'm sure others will have wonderful advice for you, this is just my $.02 about my own experience - I'm definitely still learning.

Jan 14, 2012 at 11:20 PM
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

I still have a long way to go, so no expert in any way but I'll share some that helped me.

I started with manual for landscapes and that taught me so much about the control I have in various situations. This made the move to shooting other stuff in M much easier. I generally shoot a lot on aperture but whenever I'm going to settle in and get serious about a location or subject I check my settings from a nice snap and switch to M starting with that speed/aperture.

Slowing down and really working your subject for quality photos as Tim pointed out, that really provides output you'll be happy with and you won't spend all night tossing the garbage either.

If the light isn't good, decide if you really want to shoot color and end up with marginal output when you likely will find B&W will shine in these situations. If you still like shooting B&W film, this is an excellent use of that time. Much of the time I just leave the camera in the bag and focus on enjoying the day. These times are perfect for just sitting there watching subject behavior. You need to do it, save the good light for shooting.

Behavior: for each subject, spend the time learning not only their general behavior, but most importantly how they act when they start feeling pressured. Learn this and you'll not only get more opportunities, but get much closer without stressing them. This means recognising they are uncomfortable and either backing off or changing your behavior such that they feel you are not a threat. Much of the time, it's just stopping and letting them get used to you being there and not a threat. Generally setting up and letting them come to you works best but that's not always possible. Learn threatening behavior and avoid it. This is really true for bears, but just as true for many species.

On a more personal note: Lately I've been self learning Flicker behavior as we have 3 regulars, today there were 5 in the backyard, and one day about two weeks ago seven! It's amazing what they will tolerate and what will immediately spook them (white shirt vs. dark shirt, go figure). They used to always sit in a large tree nearby and if I walked out on the deck they were gone but now since we've been very careful not to try to shoot too much (or otherwise stress them) they come straight to our tree both before and after feeding. I can be standing by the window or even with the slider open and a couple just take note and go on with their business. It's taken a couple years to get that trust going and seems they are passing that to their offspring now. I'm hoping at some point to be able to start getting near MFD photos with impunity, we're not there yet.

Jan 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

All of the advice above is excellent. If you follow it you will have excellent photos that will look like everyone elseís excellent photos and this will dilute the attention your work will get. Iím not saying that you should not follow the advice just given; you need to step outside the box and think creatively or go places and see things that others are not.

It sounds like you want to improve your technical skill and to do this you need to challenge yourself as you are describing. When photos donít come out well you need to ask why and adjust. This can be painful so please enjoy your success as well.

Once you master the technical things you can begin to really grow as a wildlife photographer if you find a mentor or go out on a pro lead seminar. You are not looking to learn technical things from them; you may learn some excellent spots from them. The thing you need to learn is how they see. There awareness of the environment, the way they see pictures before they take them. When you learn these lessons, what you need is time, determination and patience.


Jan 15, 2012 at 02:04 AM
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Lots of truth to what has preceeded my comments. I grew up with manual and worked through all the different auto developments. I would never go back now. My thought; use all the available technology but learn the nuances; to over or under expose when required. This takes practice. Todays PP technology is so good that minor errors are easily correctable. BIF, use Servo and centre focus. The newer cameras being released may change some of this. Don

Jan 15, 2012 at 05:36 AM
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · How to become a better wildlife photographer?

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far to my question. There is some terrific advice here and lots of ideas for me to try out. Great to have this input from some of the photographers whose work I admire most on this forum.

I won't single out any of the responses above as I think each of them has something to offer.

Thanks for taking the time to respond here, I am really looking forward to giving some of these suggestions a go.


Jan 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM

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