Adopting the SAFE mode in Wildlife Photography

Have you recently started your photographic journey and found it tough to know where to start?

Heard all these technical terms such as Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed etc but no idea what it is?

GREAT!  This will help you!

On a recent Privately Guided safari I hosted to Madikwe Game Reserve, Hwange National Park and Mana Pools, I found an easy way to explain the basics of wildlife photography to my client.

The technical elements can be daunting, similar to when you drive a vehicle for the first time right?  There is so much to think of and consider, where do you even start???

By adopting the SAFE method you not only have a ticking process going through your head that makes it easy to remember, but you should be able to "bank" good, solid images by using this method.

Let's go through the SAFE method and see what it stands for:

S - Shutter Speed

By checking your shutter speed first, you eliminate one of the main reasons why your images are blurred.  By having a fast shutter speed (1/800 and up) your camera will freeze any movement there might be in your frame, ensuring that there are no blurred parts in the image.  The faster your subject moves, the faster your shutter speed should be.  Generally speaking a shutter speed of around 1/2000 sec should freeze MOST action scenes.

Image taken at 1/10 sec, hence the movement in the legs

Image taken at 1/3200 sec, freezing all the movement in the frame

A - Aperture

After you have made sure that your shutter speed is fast enough (a minimum of 1/focal length) the next thing that has to go through your mind is what it is you would like to achieve from a depth of field point of view.  In this case it is purely in the eyes of the photographer and how your visualise the scene.  To isolate your subject from the background a lower F-number should be dialled in, for example F2.8.  If you would prefer to have more of the background in focus, then you would select a higher F-number, for example F11 or F13.  It is important to remember here that the higher your Aperture (f-stop) the slower your shutter speed will become.  As good practice, always check your shutter speed again after including more depth of field.

Image taken at F2.8, notice the shallow depth of field and how the background is blurred out.

Image taken at F9, notice how much more depth there is in the background.

F - Focus

This might sound simple, but the second factor that will result in images that are blurred or out of focus, is if your focal point is not on your subject.  Make sure you move your focal point so that it is on your subjects face before gentle squeezing the trigger.

Making sure that you have your focal point on your subject's face will ensure you have focus in the most key areas.

E - Exposure

Once you have achieved focus and pressed the shutter button, it is vital to check your exposure to make sure that you're happy with it.  It is extremely important that you understand what under and overexposing will do to your shutter speed.  By underexposing, you are basically making the image darker, which means your shutter needs to allow less light in, effectively resulting in a faster shutter speed.  By overexposing you are making the image lighter, allowing more light in which means your shutter needs to stay open for longer (slower shutter speed).  If overexposing it is always a good idea to double check your shutter speed again to make sure it hasn't slowed down too much.

By following these four easy steps it should help you to create good, solid images and make the process a little bit easier to understand.

If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

Happy snapping!



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