10 Nov 2020
Veterinary Photographer of the Year - top tips for wildlife photography
David Tipling, one of the world’s most widely published wildlife photographers and judge for BVA's Veterinary Photographer of the Year competition, shares his top tips for wildlife photography.
Ever since I took my first wildlife photo as a young teenager, I have never stopped learning and developing my technique. Perhaps that is one of the lures that has us hooked on taking pictures and striving for that next winning shot.
Below are a few of my top tips that I hope might encourage some ideas particularly if you are fairly new to wildlife photography and want to move on from simply capturing a sharp picture and yearn to start producing pictures that you can truly call art.
Get down low
You can do a simple experiment with a tame subject, say a duck on a park pond or even your own cat or dog if you have a pet. Shoot from above while standing, and then lay down and shoot at eye level with the animal. The picture taken looking down creates a more detached feel. While the eye level shot should be more engaging giving a more intimate feel to the picture.
Play with light
Experiment with the direction of the sun, shooting into the light at the start and end of the day can produce some really eye-catching images. The mood of a picture is often dictated by the angle of light. Try back and side lighting and go for silhouette shots too: it opens up a whole new creative world.
Chances are you will produce lots of pictures that just donʼt work, but now and then by breaking the rules and going for a more striking image, that euphoric moment will come when you check the back of the camera and realise you have taken a winner.
Experiment with settings
Experiment with depth of field and shutter speeds. Really slow shutter speeds of say 1/15th sec when photographing, for example, a swirling flock of Starlings can result in art. Less is more; a mantra I use often when describing composition. The simpler the picture usually the more impact it will have, you want to be able to grab your viewers attention, not have them distracted by fussy out of focus elements in the background or foreground.
This might mean moving a little – perhaps an inch or two up, down or to the side to avoid a distracting object. Using a shallow depth of field and a long lens will go a long way to creating nice smooth backgrounds, or go the other way and create a big depth of field if the picture warrants it.
Set the alarm
Get out early! Some of the best opportunities and light come soon after dawn. Wildlife tends to be most active at daybreak. Try and plan ahead so you have an aim and that gorgeous early light and animal activity is not wasted.
Look at other photographers work and at wildlife art. This helps develop ideas for pictures and helps mould your own style which will materialise over time. The more sources of inspiration you seek out, the broader your approach.
Learn the tell-tale signs birds and mammals give when they are going to take off or exhibit another interesting piece of behaviour, so you can anticipate a moment of interest.
For example, ducks, geese and swans will always give a signal to the birds they are with of an impending take off – normally this is a bobbing of the head. Birds of prey will normally defecate and ruffle their feathers, and any big bird will position itself to take off into the wind. By learning these signs you give yourself a far greater chance of readiness to capture the action.
- Are you a photography enthusiast? Or perhaps you just really enjoy taking some great pictures of animals? Either way, we're inviting BVA members to take part in our photo competition. In return you could win £250 of John Lewis vouchers and the chance to get your photograph published and displayed at BVA Members' Day.
- David offers photo tours and workshops in North Norfolk and Shetland. To read David’s blog and view more of his work visit his website.
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