Though out recent years DSLR technology has become more readily available and is increasing by the day. Due to this fact, more people have become photography enthusiasts, particularly focusing on wildlife photography.
It could just be that they are serious hobbyists or folk building their future hoping to reach professional levels.
For most who start off have no idea how a DSLR camera works and what it is capable of.
Many people keep their cameras on full automatic mode, snap away hoping for the best to then go ahead and post on their favorite social platforms if the image is half-decent.
It is time to take the next step; off the little green automatic mode and start using your camera to its full potential.
Who of you can tell me that you are totally satisfied at the level of photography you are at now?
Do you not have more to learn?
Who wants to improve their photography game?
I do, everyday!
Know Your Gear
Reality is, to improve your skills one does not only have to practice frequently but you also HAVE to know your gear!
When it comes to wildlife photography there are very few but mostly no retakes. You get that one opportunity, if you did not grab it right there and then, you missed it!
I have noticed throughout the years of guiding, these spectacular wildlife moments very seldom last longer than 20-25 seconds.
If you have not practiced enough in order to have developed muscle memory regarding your settings of your camera or the abilities of your chosen lens, these special scenes will either be missed or your image will not turn out as planned.
What I mean by saying this is know basic things like listed below, know how, where and why to change them without lifting your eye from the viewfinder.
- Know how high you can push your ISO and still achieve acceptable results.
- Know what the minimum shutter speed is at which you can capture a sharp image.
- Know the added margins that the in-camera or in-lens stabilization gives you.
- Know how to change focus points or focus modes.
This leopard jumping out of a tree in the following image lasted, from the time she stood up until she jumped out, maybe 10 seconds, after sitting waiting for her to do so for about an hour and a half. As she stood up I decided to pan (Blurry type image) her jumping out for some strange reason.
At the time because I knew all I had to do is push up my f-stop number allowing for a small aperture resulting in less light coming through my lens therefore slowing down my shutter speed to achieve this, I managed to pull it off.
In this particular image below I was looking to capture a sharp, freezing the action type shot. We were sitting with this leopard cub’s mother waiting for this little one to wake up and run around.
Taking images of static cats did not require very fast shutter speed until this cub decided to run up onto the bank from the riverbed. All in all I had about 5-7 seconds to increase my ISO a bit and drop my aperture to ensure a sharp image before the cub made a leap towards mom.
I cannot stress this enough. It is vital to know and understand the gear you are shooting with to capture these special moments.
Starting from the basics & grow from there! In doing this you can work your way up and master the art.
Know Your Subject
Coming from a field guiding background I have realized how much your photography can improve if you start understanding your subject and somewhat predict your subject’s behavior beforehand. It can make the difference between you being ready and prepared for capturing that “golden moment” and watching it fly by you in agony.
Certain animals are very predictable where others are very difficult to read/judge but there are patterns of behaviour ingrained into every animal species.
The best way to get to know these subjects, (wildlife), is to spend time with them. I was privileged to spend almost everyday with them for the past 6 years.
Through these years I started understanding what patience really means. If you wanting that one particular image, sit and wit for it!
I know we cannot always make it out into the field, it is either too costly to visit once a month.
You live 100’s of miles away.
A good alternative is to study animal behavior by reading about them.
Here is a list of books that I used throughout my field guiding life. If you are too far to spend most days in the field but you want to be ready for those moments you have dreamt of, start reading! They are spectacular!
Wild Ways – Roughly -R 200 / USD 14.90
Wild Ways brings together all the latest studies of the behavior of Southern Africa’s rich and accessible mammal fauna, describing not only what mammals do but also the often surprising reasons why they do it and covers species as diverse as fruit bats, pangolins, lions, rats and whales.
Well-established as an invaluable resource for visitors to parks and reserves, hikers, farmers and outdoor enthusiasts, this classic guide has now been thoroughly updated and revised, has a fresh, lively design, and is packed with new and engrossing detail.
Beat About The Bush Mammals - Roughly - R 320 / USD 23.90
This book follows in the footsteps of its immensely popular predecessor of the same name. This expanded version has, however, been revised to cover mammals in a much more comprehensive manner with updated classifications, new questions and answers, a more user-friendly format and more than 600 full-colour photographs. The section on tracks and signs is superbly illustrated to make this intimidating and confusing subject easy to grasp.
Game Ranger In Your Backpack – Roughly - R 335 / USD 24.98
Game Ranger in your Backpack is not a conventional field guide in the sense that it will not provide reams of dreary detail on how to identify a particular plant or bird (although it does offer useful pointers of features to look out for). Rather, this book is intended to substitute the presence of a personal guide or 'game ranger' during visits to the Lowveld region of South Africa. It makes the practical, interpretative information on the most commonly encountered species in the Lowveld, accessible at a glance and eliminates the need to have several different books piled on the seat beside you. Game Ranger in your Backpack is a compact companion that not only offers interesting information on wildlife topics including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, trees, grasses, flowers and tracks but it is also visually interpretative, offering hundreds of images to assist with the deciphering of animal behaviour or the recognition of common species.
The Behavior Guide To African Mammals – Roughly - R 664 / USD 49.50
The Behavior Guide to African Mammals is as different from a conventional field guide as motion pictures are from a snapshot. Whether we are able to look at them face to face, on television, or in the hundreds of illustrations provided here by Daniel Otte, this guide allows us to understand what animals do and what their behavior means. Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork and on the research of many other scientists, Richard Despard Estes describes and explains the behavior of four major groups of mammals. Estes' remarkably informative guide is as up-to-date for the zoologist as it is accessible for the interested onlooker.
Birds Inside Story – Roughly - R 215 / USD 16.00
A title that goes beyond bird identification into bird behavior and biology, Birds - The inside story looks at a range of interesting topics - flight; feathers and their function; bird senses; breeding; nest building; eggs; songs and sound; feeding; migration, fostering and bird tracks and offers insight into the interesting lives of southern African birds.
Beat About The Bush Birds – Roughly - R 295 / USD 21.99
From the amateur birder wanting to learn more about the basics of how birds live and fit into their environment, through to serious twitchers wanting to get to grips with the finer aspects of bird behaviour, Trevor Canaby's Beat About The Bush - Birds, is a worthwhile read.
This book is the latest in the successful "Beat About The Bush" series. It follows the same user-friendly 'Question and Answer' format with descriptive and interesting text complemented by more than 900 full-colour photographs. Although details are given on bird identification and all the bird groups of southern Africa are covered in a very informative 'Did you Know?' section, this work can more appropriately be described as a behavioural guide.
Remember... as with everything in life you have to start off with the basics and work your way up.
To further your knowledge on the particular photographic "subjects" you are focusing on, the book mentioned above will not let you down!