Wildlife photography: how to take the best pictures

Wildlife photography: how to take the best pictures
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If, like us, you love a beautifully-framed and composed photograph, you'll be in awe of the annual entries to the British Wildlife Photography Awards (click on the link to see last year's winning images. The 2015 competition is currently being judged, with winners to be announced later this year).

But if you're itching to get out and take pictures of your own, we've got some fab pointers for you, from professional wildlife photographer, Paul Hobson. Gather round, for crumbs of wisdom!

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Taking wildlife close-ups

Taking extreme close up photography, also known as macro photography, is a great way to get a new perspective on nature. But showing the intricate details in a larger-than-life way can be tricky. So:

Try to get low: Lying down on the ground to photograph close-ups creates a lovely blur effect before and after your subject, helping it really stand out. A plastic sheet will keep you from getting wet and muddy.

Find interesting subjects: Forest macro subjects are everywhere. Think about patterns such as tree bark, or leaves resting on moss. Every season is different, but the main thing is to look for different patterns and textures.

Learn your equipment settings:  Paul says, “If you have a compact camera, choose the macro setting. However, I shoot in Aperture Priority (Av), choosing my F number when I consider what depth of field I need. Depth of field is very small when using macro lenses so use a large F number (like 11, 16 or 22). You can also use ISO to increase the speed in low light situations. Be careful though; if the ISO gets too high the image becomes grainy.”

Buy a large lens: If you want to buy a macro lens, get the largest size you can afford. All dedicated macro lenses produce life size images, but the further away you can be with your lens will reduce the chances of disturbing or scaring away skittish subjects (like butterflies).

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 Taking animal pictures

Woodland animals are notoriously shy, which makes capturing that elusive moment you see them so exciting:

Follow or wait? Forest animals are very timid. You have to decide if you are going to follow them or wait for them to show up in one place. Some animals, like deer in forest parks, are used to people so will allow a closer approach. Practising with tamer animals will allow you to build up your skills.

Get up and out early: Most mammals and birds are most active just after dawn, during the early morning and towards sunset. The light is usually better at these times, too. Investigate the location you want to photograph a few times before actually taking your camera, to work out where you want to aim the lens. A few days watching and learning can make all the difference to your success rate before that first early morning of snaps.

Use a tripod: If you choose to wait for your subject, e.g. birds coming to food you have put out, use a tripod - so you don’t have to hold the camera for hours! A comfy chair or seat also helps. In some situations you may also need a hide but if you're waiting for a fox to walk down a well-used path you can snuggle down and wait.

Research:  Reading about your subject is always a good idea. Learn when your animal is most active, what’s the best time of day (and time of year) to spot it, what behaviour you can expect and how good its senses are. For example, badgers have poor eyesight but have brilliant hearing and sense of smell.

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Taking nature landscapes

Seek out shadows: Shadows play a key part in any landscape image, adding drama and depth. Think about how they will move, lengthen or shorten during the day and plan your timings to get the best effect from any shadows.

Pick a lens size: The best landscape lenses tend to be smaller, depending on whether your camera has a crop factor sensor (most do). Choose a small zoom, say 16-35, 17-40 or 24–105mm. A 70-200mm can be an effective landscape lens, but it’s always a good idea to have one that allows a wider angle approach as well.

Think of the composition: Consider whether you will include the sky. If you do, try to avoid having the horizon straight across the middle of your image. Sometimes a point of focus in front of the image, like a fern or mossy rock, helps to lead the eye into your landscape.

Use a higher ISO and F number: Most landscape images are shot at high F numbers (e.g. 16, 22 or 32) to create a big depth of field. You may have to move your ISO up to make sure you get a good speed if you handhold your camera. Better still though is to use a tripod.

  • Paul has lots more tips and tricks to discover on his own website.
  • His work appears on the BBC, Birdwatch and Natural World.
  • There's also a handy 5 Minute Guide to digital cameras in the Oct 28 issue of Yours magazine - as well as a packed advice section in every issue, out fortnightly on Tuesdays.