Wildlife photography can be challenging and rewarding, but it can also be frustrating. This type is fraught with obstacles, many of which you cannot control. The perfect shot from your hideout might be spoiled by an unexpectedly loud noise, or bad weather might send people home to their nest, where you’d also rather be.
These things are largely out of our control, but there are many things that are within our control, and with some careful planning and diligence, you can avoid making simple mistakes. Here are some of the most common mistakes photographers make when shooting wildlife photos, along with tips on how to avoid them:
Focus on errors
One of the biggest mistakes photographers make when photographing wildlife is getting the focus wrong. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as using the wrong focus position, not focusing on the correct part of the frame or not focusing fast enough to keep up with fast moving animals.
To avoid these focus errors, be sure to use the appropriate focus mode for your subject. A good rule of thumb is to use continuous focus for moving animals and manual focus for stationary animals. Pay attention to the focal plane and try to focus on the animal’s eyes.
AF point selection systems often look for the closest object toward the center of the frame, so if you let the camera choose the AF point itself, your subject may not be in focus. This is especially true if the intended target is surrounded by vegetation. It’s easy to lock the camera on the wrong part of a scene. Therefore, it is imperative that you select the AF point yourself.
Furthermore, autofocus systems on many cameras now include subject detection modes and an Animal Eye AF mode. If your camera provides this, you will need to enable it. Most of them work without fail, and take a lot of the pressure off constantly checking your focus, freeing you up to focus your attention on your subject and composition.
Camera shake is also one of the easiest ways you can ruin a perfect photo. Movements to or inside the camera, even slight, can cause blur. This is a particular problem when shooting with long lenses. Telephoto lenses are big and bulky and must be propped up on a tripod or monopod to keep them steady.
You also need to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze any movement of the subject. If you can’t get your shutter speed up high enough, push the sensitivity setting down a bit. Instead, if possible, wait until the animal is stable.
Yes, using a high sensitivity setting will cause some noise, but most modern cameras are very good at controlling noise at high ISO levels than many years ago. And even if there is a little blurring, in most cases it is better to get rid of a blurry image.
If you want to lock in a fast shutter speed and don’t mind a higher ISO, your best option is to shoot in either shutter priority or manual exposure mode so you can control the shutter speed.
exposure to errors
Exposure errors are very common in wildlife photography, often resulting in images that are too bright or too dark, or contain bright areas or dark shadows. Part of the problem is that animals are often small and set against a very bright or dark background, making it difficult to expose the subject properly.
It can be especially difficult, for example, to properly detect birds in flight because bright skies can trick the camera’s exposure system into underexposing the image. In these cases, try using a center-weighted metering or even a spot metering. Provided that the metering point is attached to the AF point and that you keep the active AF point above the subject, these modes should ensure that the subject is exposed correctly, although the brightness or darkness of the subject’s image will play a role.
You can also help avoid exposure errors by using your camera’s exposure compensation dial to fine-tune exposure.
Configuration and framing errors
Another mistake photographers often make when photographing wildlife is not paying attention to the composition and framing of their images. This can result in images that are poorly composed or have distracting elements in the frame.
Wildlife photography often involves waiting for long periods of time, and when your subject finally appears, it’s tempting to start shooting right away – especially if it’s the first time you’ve seen a particular species. There’s no real harm in this but think of composing your shots the same way you would any other photo. Don’t cut the target off the edge of the frame, for example.
Try to use the rule of thirds when composing your shots, and fill the frame with the animal or scene you’re photographing. Pay attention to the background and try to avoid including distracting elements that take away from the main subject of the photo.
The direction of the animal’s gaze is also important. Although it’s exciting to get a shot of an animal you’ve never seen before, it’s not enough to just get a standard shot. You want to be able to see his most interesting features, which is usually his face. Wait until the animal is looking toward the camera, or at least its face is visible, before focusing and taking the picture.
Just as you would with a photo, frame the animal so it is looking into space in the photo rather than directly at the edge of the frame. This is especially important if the animal is moving, as you want to give the impression that it has room to move to rather than feeling like it’s about to pop out of the shot.
Avoid signs of human intervention
While it’s perfectly acceptable to use food boxes or a nest to lure animals into an area where they can be photographed, you usually don’t want signs of human activity or interference. A few shots of the bird at the feeder can be nice, but as you become more adept at photographing wildlife, find ways to disguise the fact that you’re feeding them. You might be able to hide food in the cracks of the rough bark of a log, for example, or you could drive peanuts into the ground so that they can’t be seen from the shooting location, but squirrels and birds can still get to them.
Likewise, if you are shooting at a zoo, you may want to avoid signs that the animal is in captivity. This can be tricky, but if you shoot with a long lens and a wide aperture, you can blur the background, masking the fact that it’s man-made. In some cases, it is possible to obliterate the cage in the foreground.
Wearing inappropriate clothes
When photographing wildlife, it is important to dress appropriately and try to blend in with your surroundings to avoid attracting too much attention. Wearing bright colors or making too much noise can make animals angry or frightened, which can ruin your chances of getting good photographs. Try to wear neutral colors that blend better with your surroundings, and be as calm as possible when approaching animals.
disturb your subject
This is the cardinal sin of wildlife photography. While it’s not a big deal for a few birds to be afraid of your backyard peanut dispenser, it’s quite another matter if they’re afraid of their own nest.
Be especially respectful of animals with their young and around breeding time. You must aim and shoot without the animals realizing your presence.