Photographing Animals.

Hints and tips on where to go and how to get the shot you want.

Animals are so annoying. It is so rare to find an animal who really understands the art of photography. They are forever turning round, flying off, hiding behind things eating each other and generally making life for the photographer a bit of a bother.

Obviously stuffed animals are far more compliant, but if you don't like a particular pose, there isn't much you can do about it short of getting a hacksaw and sellotape out of your kitbag. Then there is the whole maggot issue...

No, no, we will just have to put up with the problems posed by photographing live wild animals and learn a few tricks to make the best of things.

Firstly, a telephoto lens is the wildlife photographers best friend. It allows you to get a close up without getting too close. This is particularly important when trying to shoot the huge-jawed and hungry for manflesh members of the animal kingdom.

bug

Alternatively go for closeups of safe little creatures that cannot do you any harm whatsoever. If they are slow movers, then so much the better.

Even for lazy bugs, a fast shutter speed is still a prerequisite. As I said in the intro, animals rarely stay still for very long, particularly when some idiot with a camera is lumbering towards them, so be quick and snap away. Another useful feature is the multiple exposure function that lets you shoot 3, 6 or even 12 shots in one second from one shutter press. Cameras that give you this facility allow you to pick the perfect shot of, for example a bird taking flight or a wasp landing on a flower... or is it a fly? My hobby is photography, not bug identification.

fly

With regard to focus, a good rule of thumb is that no matter what you are photographing, if the eyes are in focus it will probably be alright. However, very few shots where the eyes are not sharp seem to work well.

Pets are easier to shoot than most animals so why not start there. Getting down to their level makes for more dynamic shots. Treats can work wonders too.

cat

The above shot combines great afternoon lighting, pinsharp focus on the cat's face and a low angle bringing the viewer down into the cat's world. Mind you to get this shot I took about 50 shots that were totally useless. Perseverance pays off when it comes to animal photographs.

Garden birds are a photographers friend. Regular feeding will bring them back time and again, almost like clockwork. When planning where to site a bird table in your garden, set it up for the best photographic sight lines. Get it nice and close to a clean window and you can take great bird photographs without leaving the comfort of your living room.

baby birds

Look out for behavours such as parents feeding their chicks.

photograph of sparrows feeding

A great tip for bird photograpy is to create a bird feeder that looks like natural rather than man made. For example, a piece of bark glued to the front of a nut feeder can hide the wire cage. Alternatively a tree branch can have a v shaped cut along the top which you can stuff with mealworms to make an artificial feeding post that looks absolutely natural.

In general with animals, either opt for beauty or action. These gulls are not considered pretty by many people, but the action (faster shutter speed) makes up for that to gice us an interesting photo. Had I used a faster shutter speed I would have 'frozen' the wings and there would be less bluring at the wingtips.

gulls fighting on a beach

Of course, please remember that cats and garden birds don't mix well, unless you like photographing small feathered corpses.

If you can't get action shots go for beauty instead. This pony's face was what drew me to take the photo. The horrible yellow blanket she was wearing made it an obvious choice to turn into a black and white photo. The grain of the fence also stands out better in this black and white shot than it did in the colour original.

pony in black and white

Local farms also offer opportunities for practicing without too much effort or discomfort on your part.

sheep

Even the humble chicken can make a great subject for a portrait.

cockerel photograph

If you are going to head out into the real wild, then camoflague is a genuine advantage. A properly made hide is wonderful, ex military clothing is useful and the ability to climb trees is indespenseable.

wooly monkey

Of course zookeepers are rather good at making urban concrete look like limitless savannah, or tropical jungle. The monkey photo above was taken on a trip to 'Monkey World' in Dorset. When I got it home I decided to do nothing to the photo except to try and make it look as if it really was taken in the jungle. This was a simple matter of photoshopping out a rope in the bottom right of the picture which spoilt the naturalism of the shot. To do this, I used the clone brush, using the log the monkey was sitting on as the source image to clone over the rope.

orangutan

The same day I got this shot too. The orangutan was also in a man made enclosure, but again a bit of photoshop of the background (using the clone brush again) helped the shot. Her facial expression makes this photo one I thought worth keeping. If the face had been out of focus it would have gone in the bin.

Then, just round the corner I came to the lemur enclosure. When you get a face perfectly in focus, consider cropping tightly, just like you might do with a human face. No distracting backgrounds to worry about here, just a beautiful creature with stunning eyes. The lemurs at Monkey world are in a 'walk through' enclosure, so you can get really close without a chain link fence between you and your subject.

lemur

Hey, I am begining to see that photographing animals is actually pretty rewarding. I spent a lot of time that day trying to get a shot of a chimpanzee, but despite not getting a decent shot I still remember the great feeling I had of being entirely focused on this one animal for maybe a whole hour. Do consider a trip to your nearest safari park if your budget wont stretch to a proper african safari.

As for undersea shots, there are a whole different set of rules here, but have you considered the photographic opportunities available at a public aquarium?

jellyfish at an aquarium

...or even the local pet store?

What I am trying to say is that no matter where you live, photographing animals is not half as difficult as you might imagine. Go one, set yourself a challenge and see what you can do.