Wildlife photography is a challenging form of photography and it can be daunting when you are just starting out.
It can often be difficult to get up close to the wildlife, and even when you do, your subject rarely sits still. In fact, sometimes your subject doesn't turn up at all. Your camera gear can be large and heavy and the weather, and more importantly, the light, is not always reliable. It certainly requires a great deal of patience. However, this makes capturing the perfect shot all the more worth it!
Thinking about taking up wildlife photography but don't know where to start? I'll share some of the best tips I've learnt from my first year of wildlife photography.
Tip #1 - Observe
Start observing nature. You can do this when you're out walking the dog, sitting on a beach, walking to the shops, or even inside with a cup of coffee looking out of your window. Look out for different birds and other wildlife and try to identify them. Listen to different bird songs, grab a pair of binoculars and observe behaviours, notice which species you spot in different habitats and in which seasons of the year. You'll soon discover which birds are eating all of the sunflower seeds you put out, and which are devouring the fat balls. You'll find out which birds are likely to be perched high up in a tree, and which might be scurrying along the ground. It's enjoyable and relaxing, and you can start to increase you knowledge of the wildlife. When you head out with your camera, you'll have a good idea of where to find them again.
Tip #2- Spend Time Learning the Basics
Before diving straight into wildlife photography, spend time getting to know your camera and lens and how they work best for you. Learn how to access all of your key settings, so that you know how to navigate these easily and quickly in the field. A bird may only land for a few seconds before flying off again, and if you take a lot of time finding your focus point or correcting your exposure settings, you may find that you are always missing that perfect shot. Learning how to shoot in manual mode gives you much more creative control over your images and the more you practice, the more natural the reaction will become.
For beginner tutorials on how to shoot in manual mode, check out some YouTube videos, like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyXiWF3mI2s
Tip #3 Learn from Others for Inspiration
I highly recommend taking inspiration from other wildlife photographers. Find images and styles that you enjoy; aspire to reach that quality in your own photos. By following local photographers, you can also learn about what wildlife you have on your doorstep. Don't be afraid to ask questions, as most photographers will be willing to share their knowledge with you.
Youtube has many great tutorials, and one photographer that inspired me is Espen Helland; a wildlife photographer based in Scotland. Espen's videos are insightful and instructive. He also has a patreon site where you can sign-up for more in-depth tutorials.
Tip #4 Start Close to Home
Start by watching and identifying the birds in your garden or local area. Try setting up a natural photography perch which you can make this out of an array of sticks and branches and make sure to set up some bird feeders close by to attract the birds. Set your camera up at a distance, and focus your camera on the branch where the bird is likely to land. This is a semi-controlled environment, in which you can start to practice.
Tip #5 Invest in a Telephoto Lens
A telephoto lens is an essential piece of camera kit for great wildlife photography and it's worth saving up to get a good one. A lens with a long-focal length allows you get close to the wildlife without spooking it. It is also helps you to achieve visually pleasing images with sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds.
After doing some research, I decided on the canon 100- 400 ii, but there are plenty of great options out there for all budgets.
Most importantly, have fun! Explore your surroundings and enjoy what nature has to offer.