Blurred Motion Photography

The art of deliberately blurring your subject in stills photography

My July online photography talk came at the end of the month, and this time covered blurred motion photography. This is, in other words, the art 0f deliberately blurring your subject to put over the sense of movement, energy and dynamism.

A recording of that talk is now available via You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the image below and the talk will launch. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any queries or comments just get in touch.

The art of subject blurring

This talk, Blurred Motion Photography, covered a range of techniques and scenarios in which you would want to blur your subject to put over the sense of movement.

The technique is particularly associated with landscape photography, most especially in blurring the movement of water, whether that be the sea, with waves rolling into shore, or perhaps a fast-flowing river running over and round rocks.

Blurred motion photography is used not just in landscapes but also in wildlife, people and street life (particularly traffic after dark), where all kinds of activities can be blurred to give the sense of movement. So the beating wings of a bird, the movements of a working person and the colourful lines of traffic tail-lights are all great examples of commonly blurred moving subjects. Even a blurred background as the camera pans to keep up with a fast-moving object (such as a bird, a sportsman or traffic) is part of this technique.

Blurred Motion Photography: Botallack tin mines

The technique of blurred motion photography

In essence, it is a very simple thing to do. Just put the camera on a tripod and use a long exposure, thus ensuring that anything moving in the frame will be blurred.

Of course, this can only be achieved within the limits of how far the lens aperture can be stopped down. The narrower you have this (ie the higher the f-number) then the less light that is allowed through to the sensor, and hence the longer the shutter needs to be open to compensate. Of course, there is a limit to how narrow the aperture can be, and once you’ve reached that limit any attempt to make the exposure time longer will just allow in too much light and result in over-exposure.

So doing this in bright sunlight will often require you to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens, thus cutting down the amount of light getting into the lens, and mimicking low-light conditions. This is particularly so for landscape photography. Things may still work well in bright sunlight, however, if you’re intending to blur the motion of something that is moving really quite fast, such as a fast-flying bird or free-flowing traffic.

Without filters, blurred motion photography still works well in dull, overcast conditions, at dusk, dawn and at night, any of which will yield great results.

Blurred Motion Photography: Seashore ice in Iceland

How much blur?

Just how much blur you need will depend on the effect you’re trying to generate and how fast your subject is moving. For example, when photographing surf rolling onto a beach, or a mountain stream babbling around rocks, an exposure of several seconds will result in the subject completely blurring out. A wave will become quite invisible in itself, replaced by a very soft, often white, smooth silken effect that, though still depicting movement, is actually very calming and which will serve to isolate a static object (such as a rock) from the rest of the view, and removing any clutter.

Replace that very long exposure with a rather faster one, say one-tenth of a second, and the blur will become rather jagged, producing what I call a ‘shards of glass’ effect, with sprays of water clearly visible. The effect now is very restless and dynamic, very different from the smooth ‘white-out’ of the long exposure.

It’s a similar thing with photography of evening traffic. How long the exposure needs to be depends very much on the amount of traffic and how fast it’s going. However, an exposure of several seconds will be enough for the individual vehicles to become quite invisible, replaced by colourful, continuous red tail-light lines. It’s a highly effective way of illustrating the evening life of any urban district. Using a shorter exposure – say one-tenth of a second – in this scenario is less effective, as the vehicles become visible and the tail-light streams become broken up into dashes that don’t link up into a continuous stream.

Blurred Motion Photography: the static subject

Blurred motion photography of static subjects

This may sound a little odd, but it is sometimes possible to give the sense of blurred motion to a static object. It works particularly well with evening lights, and is achieved by moving the camera during an exposure lasting a few seconds.

This movement may consist of moving the whole camera (while on a tripod), or of turning the zoom ring on a zoom lens, something that produces quite a dramatic and very dynamic effect.

Getting stuck in

Blurred motion photography is a technique that has very variable and unpredictable results. The only true way to really hone one’s skills in this is to get stuck in and just play! Enjoy it, and experiment as much as you can.

Blurred Motion Photography: the disco

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People Photography: capturing the life around us

Nigel’s June 2021 online photography talk

My June 2021 talk, called People Photography: capturing the life around us, has just been held, and now you can see the recording here. Although it’s true that I’m generally not recognised as a people photographer, in actual fact my travel and tourism work has entailed quite extensive work with people in a host of situations.

Little of my photography covers the classic posed studio portraiture so often associated with the term ‘people photography’. Instead, my photography covers people in their environment, often photographed doing what they do in their daily life. As such, this photography fits more into the genres of environmental portrait photography, street photography or documentary/journalistic photography.

So this talk covers many of the techniques I use in carrying out such people photography, and to watch it here just click on the image below to launch the You Tube file.

Thinking ahead: deciding on the kind of approach

Even before starting a shoot, it is important to have a plan for kind of photography you’re intending to do:

  • Will it be staged, posed photography, or rather more fluid, spontaneous shots of someone in action?
  • Do you intend to shoot portraiture concentrating on the subject’s face, with them looking at the camera? Or should the subject more or less ignore you, carrying on with work, for example, while you photograph what they do?
  • What kind of lenses should you use? Your decisions about the previous point will probably affect the type(s) of lens you choose to use: telephoto to concentrate on someone’s face, soften features and blur out the background. Or a wide-angle lens to increase depth of field and to make it possible to show a subject’s environment and their activity as well as their face.
  • What kind of light to use? More often than not, this kind of people photography uses only natural light, but its angle and intensity can have a big influence on the results of the photography. Flash is very rarely used as the main light source, its role (when used at all) mainly for fill-in, removing shadows created by awkward ambient light, for example. The use of fill-in flash can also make it possible to use a much slower shutter speed than would otherwise be possible, an important consideration when having to shoot with the camera hand-held.
People Photography: Capturing the life around us

Getting the light right

As already mentioned, the angle and intensity of the light can have a big impact on the resulting photos. Bright sunlight straight into or side-on to the face can give strong, saturated colours, but it will also put deep shadows and harsh highlights across the face. For example, deep-set eyes may be lost in shadow, a prominent nose will put a shadow across the face, a strong jaw will leave the entire neck in shadow, and may also result in bright highlights above the jaw. Such lighting is often acceptable if you’re trying to emphasise the ‘strength of character’ in a face, but it is rarely flattering.

A much more attractive result can be achieved by having soft, even light across the face. This will result in no dark shadows or harsh highlights, a softening of features and improvements to the appearance of skin. To achieve this, photography on a bright cloudy day is often a good solution, or if shooting on a sunny day have your subject in the shade or indoors.

An alternative approach is to shoot into the sunlight, with the sun shining from behind the subject. You generally need to use a telephoto lens for this to work, and to make sure the sun is not in the image frame. This approach ensures that the face is lit by flat even light, while the sunlight coming from behind lights up the hair beautiful. This is particularly effective on someone with blond hair. However, because the face is effectively in shadow it may come out in the photos a little dark. To overcome this, either use a reflector to bounce light back into their face, or a little fill-in flash, or simply over-expose the image a little.

People Photography: Capturing the life around us

Looking down, looking up

One of the biggest problems I often encounter when photographing people as they go about some activity is that they will almost inevitably be looking down a lot of the time, as they concentrate on their work.

In all people photography it is important to focus on the subject’s eyes, since that is what we, as humans, are hard-wired to look at when we see a face. Focussing on a subject’s eyes can be difficult when they are looking down. They certainly won’t be looking towards the camera, and sometimes it may even appear as though their eyes are closed, only the eyelids visible.

To overcome this you can try a number of potential solutions. If you’re photographing face-on to the subject, try moving so that you’re shooting side-on. Alternatively, try putting the camera lower, so you’re looking up into their face. If these don’t work, then often the only solution is to ask the subject to stop what they’re doing, hold a pose and look up into the camera for a few seconds.

With a cooperative subject this can work wonders, and create images where there is plenty of eye contact between the subject and the viewer. However, with a nervous subject it can cause them to freeze in a very tense posture, something that will be very visible in the photos.

People photography: capturing the life around us

Specialised people photos

Most of the time I photograph people in a way that shows them off quite clearly; well composed and lit to show up both the person and their activity. There are occasions, however, when I deliberately photograph in a slightly more abstract way: a silhouette is perhaps the most obvious example, but another that I commonly use is blurred motion. In this latter type of image part of, or sometimes even the whole person is blurred as they move about. The intention is to put over the sense of movement and energy, rather than to freeze an otherwise dynamic situation into something quite static. The subject of blurred motion photography is the topic for the July 2021 talk, to be held live online on 28th July at 8pm.

And finally…..

I hope you enjoy watching the video of my talk People Photography: capturing the life around us, and reading its summary here. If you have any queries or comments just get in touch. And if you’d like to join a future talk live, just click on the link below to register to be sent the talk’s link. All talks are held once a month, on a Wednesday evening at 8pm (BST).

People photography: capturing the life around us

See more

You can find out more about outdoor portrait photography in the blog that I wrote recently for Ripe Photography Insurance.

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Architectural Photography: the built environment

An online talk giving tips and techniques for top quality architectural and interiors photography

My May 2021 online photography talk, Architectural Photography: the built environment, went ahead on 19th May, and you can now watch the recording here. Just click on the image below to get it started. I hope you enjoy it: if you do, then please Like and Share it.

If you’d like to stay in touch about all my videos then please subscribe to my You Tube channel – you’ll be able to do so towards the end of this video, or by going to the Nigel Hicks Photography You Tube channel.

What is architectural photography?

Architectural photography covers a wide gamut of subject matter: everything to do with the human built environment, ranging from entire urban skylines through single buildings, to tight building details, to intimate interiors. This is true whether you’re dealing with photography of modern or historic architecture: the techniques and purpose are exactly the same.

It is all just architectural photography: the built environment.

Architectural Photography: the built environment

Technically correct versus creative techniques

One of the major challenges of architectural photography is that the great majority of building photos come out with the building apparently leaning backwards, their vertical lines no longer vertical or parallel to each other, but converging towards the top of the frame.

This is an inevitable result of having to tip the camera back in order to fit the whole building into the frame, something that is particularly problematic with tall buildings.

The result may look OK in ordinary snapshot photography, but it doesn’t pass muster in high quality architectural photography. So what is the solution?

The answer lies in the central theme of my talk, that there are essentially two broad types of technique applied to architectural ph0tography: technically correct and creative techniques.

The former are used when you want to reproduce buildings in their correct perspective, that is with their verticals actually vertical and parallel: the building stands up straight in the image, with none of the usual leaning back scenario.

Creative techniques, are quite the opposite. Here, almost anything goes, with crazy angles and diagonal lines. Very often that ‘leaning back’ phenomenon is exaggerated for both artistic license and to create some strong diagonal lines that instil a dynamic, energetic mood into what could otherwise be a very static subject.

architectural photography: the built environment

How do we achieve technically correct photography?

The essential step towards achieving technically correct photography is to keep the back of the camera (and hence the sensor inside it) vertical and parallel to the walls of the building(s) being photographed. But how can we do this if the only way to fit the building in the frame is to tip the camera back?

The best method is to use a shift lens. This is a very specialised lens that allows the camera to literally look upwards while keeping the camera back vertical. The lens elements literally slide up and down on a rack, putting them out of direct line with the sensor, creating an upward or downward field of view, instead of the usual straight ahead.

The above is a rather expensive solution. Instead, it is possible simply to use an ordinary wide-angle lens, shoot in the usual way with the camera tilted back, and then correct the perspective aberration using Photoshop post-photography. This works quite well, up to a point, but can result in loss of image quality if an extreme amount of perspective correction is needed.

More commonly, an architectural photographer will use a shift lens for the shoot, and will then simply add a few small final corrections in Photoshop.

It is also possible to use an ordinary wide-angle lens with the camera back vertical. However, this will result in the building being in the top half of the frame with an awful lot of foreground captured in the lower half. If you’re trying to shoot a tall building in this way, you’ll need to back up quite some way to get the whole building’s height in, really opening up the amount of foreground visible in the final image.

This means that your foreground had better be extremely interesting, helping to really augment the building as the image’s main subject. One of the best foreground elements to include, where possible, is calm water, providing the possibility of a beautiful reflection of your subject building, thus doubling its size and effectively bringing it into the lower half of the frame, as well as the top half.

Architectural Photography: the built environment

How do we make use of creative techniques?

It’s actually rather difficult to lay down rules here, as just about anything goes. The usual rules of image composition apply: keep your compositions simple with a single strong subject dominating the frame. It is essential that nothing else in the frame competes for attention: clutter is your worst enemy. And in architectural photography that usually means such issues as parked cars, overhead wires, yellow no-parking lines, wheelie bins, satellite dishes and TV aerials. We really don’t want to see these in your architectural photos!

Within those rules we’re out to capture really geometric compositions, coordinated combinations of diagonals, verticals, horizontals and various shapes. Together they should result in truly graphic, impactful compositions.

Architectural Photography: the built environment

Details

While much of our architectural photography may revolve around entire buildings, the story is not complete without some details. In modern buildings these will often consist of a concentration on curving or diagonal lines in a building’s shape, geometric patterns in the walls or windows, and an interplay of light and reflection off those structures.

In historic buildings, some of these factors may also come into play, though it is also more likely to encompass embellishments, such as sculptures, statues and spires, most often seen on churches and cathedrals.

Villa window close-up

Interiors photography

The inside of a building is just as important to architectural photography as the outside. Indeed, in many instances – such as hotels and restaurants – the interior may be a lot more important.

Interiors can vary enormously, from huge public spaces that make some kind of statement to the world – perhaps civic or religious, for example – through a whole host of different building types, right through to the smallest and most intimate rooms in your home, including the bathroom.

While creative photographic techniques can commonly be used in interiors photography, more often the technically correct techniques are the most important. Leaning walls (usually leaning outwards in interiors photography) just don’t pass muster in most instances.

More often than not these days interiors photography makes use simply of whatever ambient light is available. No additional lighting is inserted, the removal of shadows or bright highlights being left to Photoshop in post-photography processing.

Finally, the most challenging room in interiors photography? The bathroom! It is usually very small and is often filled with reflective surfaces. Together, these two factors can make it very difficult to get a workable angle.

Harpa interior

A final word

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this summary and watching the video of this talk Architectural Photography: the built environment. If you have any queries or comments don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The next talk will be People Photography, on 16th June at 8pm.

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Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants

An online talk by Nigel Hicks, given live on 21st April 2021

Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants is the title for my April 2021 online photography talk. A recording of the talk has now been posted on You Tube, and you can watch it right here. Just click on the image below.

A world of macrophotography

The Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants talk introduced many of the techniques needed for insect and plant photography, focussing most especially on the areas of overlap. This particularly applies to the area of close-up, or macrophotography, the skills needed for the photography of small subjects.

Obviously, this does not apply to the photography of entire or larger plants, but is important in the photography of flowers, particularly the smaller wild flowers commonly seen in the UK’s woodlands and pastures.

The essential problem – especially when photographing insects – is that the subject is usally so very small. You might be tempted to try to shoot using a telephoto lens, but you quickly find that such a lens has a minimum focussing distance that is just too long. It won’t allow you to come close enough to get an insect or small flower large enough in the final image.

There are two solutions to this problem:

  1. To use a dedicated telephoto lens that is specifcally designed to have a very short minimum focussing distance. This the classic macro lens.
  2. Or you can use an extension tube. This is a very small piece of kit, simply a ring containing no lens, that you insert between the back of a standard telephoto lens and the camera body. This lengthens the focussing distance between the back of the lens and the camera’s sensor, allowing the light rights to be focussed correctly.

The first is an extremely versatile, high quality piece of equipment, while the latter is much cheaper and smaller to carry around, quickly converting an ordinary telephoto lens into one that works at close-up distances.

Welcome to the world of macrophotography, as applied to wildlife photography: insects and plants.

Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants

Too close for comfort

So now we can get close to our subject to make it large in our final image. But close enough for us may well be a bit too close for many insects. As you shuffle in with your macro kit it is very easy to frighten off such sensitive animals as butterflies and damselflies, thus completely defeating the object of the exercise. Needless to say, this problem doesn’t apply to flowers, so here we can come in as close as we need to!

So how do we solve the problem of insect shyness? Firstly, there’s the way you approach them, with a couple of does and don’ts:

  1. Never put your shadow across the subject;
  2. Tread very lightly – the slightest vibration through the ground will disturb the insect, especially one that is on the ground;
  3. Absolutely don’t brush against any part of the plant that your subject is resting on;
  4. Don’t rush, just move very slowly. There are times when an insect can seem to accept your presence, but don’t bet on it!

Secondly, there’s the equipment, the right choice of which can help you keep your distance. If using a macro lens, don’t try using one with a focal length of less than 100mm when shooting out in the field. Macro lenses of shorter focal lengths will entail you having to come in just too close for a timid insect to tolerate. Even a 100mm lens is pushing it, and a 150mm lens might be better.

If using an extension tube, you might normally couple it with a 100mm telephoto lens (or equivalent zoom lens). However, if this is making you come in too close then consider coupling it with a longer focal length lens, such as a 200mm or even 300mm lens. Doing this will enable you to stay a reasonable distance from your subject (as much as a metre if using a 300mm lens), helping to soothe its nerves.

If your lens has a hood, think about not using it. Having one of these on the front of your lens greatly shortens the lens-subject distance, thus increasing the problem.

As ever, there is a trade-off. The longer the focal length of your lens and the further you are from the subject, the lower your magnification. If a high magnification is essential to you then you may need to persist with the much closer view.

Keeping it sharp

One of the biggest challenges of macro photography is that of depth of field – the amount of an image that is sharp. As you come in really close to a subject the depth of field becomes really tiny – often less than a centimetre. So focussing is critical. A couple of steps to help this include:

  1. Keep your lens aperture really narrow – no less than f/11, and preferably f/16 or f/22. This will maximise your depth of field (though it will still be tiny!);
  2. Set the lens up so that it is at right-angles to the main surface of your subject (such as a butterfly’s wings), thus maximising your chances of having everything sharp from the head to the tips of the wings.
Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants

Photography on the move

Given that any insect subjects will be constantly on the move, you will need to be too. Don’t try using a tripod – just setting one up will be enough to frighten off your subject. So hand-hold your camera.

So this means having to use a shutter speed fast enough to have no camera shake, which of course creates a conflict with the need to keep the lens aperture really narrow. A narrow lens aperture inevitable means a slow shutter speed (for any given ISO setting) as the amount of light reaching the sensor must remain in balance. To have a fast shutter speed you will need to open the lens aperture to allow in more light. This conflict is a difficult one to solve, but here are a couple of methods:

  1. Put up the camera’s ISO. This makes the sensor more sensitive, and so will need less light to be correctly exposed. The problem with this is that as your ISO goes up so image quality deteriorates. However, with the latest generation of cameras this is much less of a problem than it used to be. So if you have a newer model this is a worthwhile approach;
  2. Use a flashgun. Firing a flash will allow you to use a somewhat slower shutter speed than would otherwise be possible. With it firing to balance with the ambient light, it will also put in some fill-in light on your subject, helping to remove any awkward shadows, particularly on a sunny day.

A bit of flash

A bit of fill-in flash is a highly useful tool for insect photography, but I really don’t recommend it for plants – it can all too often put harsh shadows in around the plant, and may cause white flowers to burn out.

It has to be done with a good quality flashgun, however. Because your subject is very close, the gun must be able automatically to quench its power output down to quite low levels in order to avoid blasting the subject with far too much light. You will often need some manual override too, so you can turn it down even more if necessary.

Furthermore, it is usually better not to fire the flash directly at the subject, but to bounce it off a reflector (attached to the top of the flashgun), thus softening the light.

If your camera body has in in-built pop-up flash, resist the temptation to use it for this technique. It is not sufficiently versatile, it can’t be fired indirectly, and because the subject is so close to the end of the lens it may well put a shadow from the lens across the subject.

Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants

What about the plants?

Most of what I’ve said so far has concentrated on insects. So what about the plants?

There is plenty of overlap in techniques. For small flowers, macrophotography techniques and equipment apply, though of course not the part of about them possibly running or flying away! Also I do not recommend the use of a flashgun, although occasionally it can be useful.

You may be much more likely to use a tripod with plant photography, thus making sure you can use a narrow lens aperture (ie a high f-number) while keeping low shutter speeds and ISO. It also ensures that you keep exactly to the chosen composition, something that is hard to achieve if shooting hand-held.

Of course, a low shutter speed only works if there is no wind to blow the plant around, and many are the occasions when I have had to wait a long time for a lull in the wind to give me a motionless plant!

A wide-angle alternative

One method that applies only to plant photography is wide-angle photography. Of course, the main method of coming in close relies on macrophotography, which is perfect for showing close-up details of the plant. However, it is useless if you want also to show the plant’s environment.

This is where the wide-angle technique comes in. Bringing a wide-angle lens in as close to a plant as its minimum focussing distance will allow, can result in a reasonably close view of the subject plant, while at the same time showing a good chunk of environment in the background.

You won’t be able to come as close to the plant as a macro technique will allow, and for it to work at all your wide-angle lens must have a quite a short minimum focussing distance, something that not all such lenses have.

When it works it is really very effective.

Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants

A final word

Some of these macro techniques are not easy – particularly the photography of insects on the move – and initially success is hard to achieve. But with practice and a lot of failed images success will slowly come. It is worth it because the results can be quite stunning.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of my Wildlife Photography: Insects and Plants talk, and I hope you will/have enjoy/ed watching it.

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Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds

My March online photography talk, Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds, went ahead on the 24th, and you can now watch a recording of the entire talk here.

To watch the talk just click on the screen below:

Preparing to succeed

In talking about Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds I first set out the fact that most of what goes into successfully capturing wildlife images has little to do with the equipment you use. Much of the success lies in the preparation, which includes such some of the following points:

  • Understand the behaviour of the animals you intend to photograph;
  • Know what are the best locations/habitats, times of day and times of year in which to find your subjects;
  • Learn how to stalk carefully, or how to use a hide;
  • Decide whether to work wholly with wild wildlife or accept the inclusion of captive animals;
  • When photographing wild wildlife, research locations where your subject wildlife has become used to the human presence, and so is more approachable than might usually be the case;
  • Have huge amounts of patience and persistence, coupled with an ability to act quickly but calmly and smoothly when things suddenly start to happen;
  • Have a willingness to get out of bed very early and/or stay out quite late, since most wildlife activity usually happens around dawn/sunrise and dusk/sunset.
Puffin in flight. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

Deciding what to photograph

Why take wildlife photos? There are of course many reasons, including such ideas as:

  • Simply ticking species lists;
  • Capturing artistically and/or technically perfect images that individually showcase the beauty of the wildlife around us;
  • Putting together a set of images that collectively tell a story about some wildlife or perhaps a conservation programme.

Whatever the photographic motivation, I would always urge photographers not to blindly follow wildlife fads and fashions (of which there are many). You should always think laterally and shoot a wide range of species, not just the cute, cuddly and famous, but also the ignored, forgotten and ugly. They all deserve and often need to be photographed (for the conservation publicity), and not just because a magazine or TV documentary has popularised it.

Cheetahs on the lookout for breakfast. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

Psychology and choice

In subconsciously empathising with wildlife, we are programmed to be more attracted to those animals that in some way look at least a little like us: in other words the higher mammals with flattish faces and forward-facing eyes (abbreviated to 4FE).

These encompass most especially the big cats and apes, but also monkeys, horses and dogs, plus a few others. Think meerkats, orangutans and lions as examples. On top of this, babies of almost any species trump just about everything – cute, cuddly and vulnerable, pleading eyes crying out for protection and care will sway human emotions every time.

Of course, birds rarely if ever fit the 4FE idea, but the cute baby consideration still applies, and the adults of a few species do just happen to have cute, appealing faces – think puffins for example.

So these subconscious considerations can have a major impact on what we choose to photograph. While it is inevitable that you will be drawn to photograph these much of the time, I would always advocate that lateral thinking mentioned above. With this, you can ensure you also include those animals that don’t fit those empathetic or cute criteria, but which nevertheless deserve to be photographed.

Grey Seal pup. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

The equipment and how to use it

Once you’ve done all your preparation, you finally get to use the camera equipment. Camera equipment designed for wildlife photography can be hugely expensive, so don’t be too mesmerised by the glossy adverts for all the kit you ‘need’. Instead, follow these the important points:

  • The camera must be able to work well in poor light conditions typical at dusk and dawn. This essentially means being able to produce good images even when shooting with a high ISO (over 400);
  • Focussing (a combination of the lens and camera working together) needs to be fast, crisp and accurate, and be able to continue working well in low light conditions, when contrast between your subject and the background might well be quite low;
  • A telephoto lens will inevitably be needed, but not necessarily a massively powerful one. The bigger lenses can be very awkward to handle in the field, and it can be annoyingly difficult to find your subject in the camera’s viewfinder, let alone getting it to focus. A smaller lens may restrict certain types of photography, but it can make much of your life easier without cramping your photography overall;
  • Whatever type of lens you have, it must have good optics. Without this, even well-focussed images can come out not as sharp as you would like. This may not be as important if you’re photographing purely for your own enjoyment, but it is critical if you’re intending to get your work published;
  • Although a lot of wildlife photography is carried out with the camera hand-held, you still need to have a good, sturdy tripod, especially for when working in a hide;
  • A flashgun may not get used all that often, but it’s useful to have one to hand, for those occasions when you’re shooting in really poor light and your subject is within the firing range of the flash.
Flamingoes at Lak Nakuru National Park, Kenya. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

The shoot itself

So, finally you get to take some photos, something that can be both exciting and frustrating. The latter results from the many photos you’ll inevitably get of disappearing backsides, tree branches where a fraction of a second before a bird had been sitting, or pictures that seem to be well composed but which are blurred due to a failure of focus. But the excitement and buzz that comes when everything works makes it all worthwhile!

Little tips to bear in mind include:

  • Do not disturb or frighten your subjects. Not only is the stress bad for the animals, but it will result in failure for your photography;
  • When photographing a portrait, try to shoot while the animal is looking at you, giving the sense of interaction;
  • Always focus on an animal’s eyes: we are programmed to look at these, so if they are even slightly blurred the image will not work;
  • Make sure the animal’s eyes are open in the final picture(s). Closed eyes (even if just in a blink) usually ruin a shot, so don’t be shy to take a series of shots in quick succession if necessary;
  • Ensure that your backgrounds are blurred so the animal will stand out clearly from that background – especially important when an animal is a similar colour to the background. This is usually easily achieved when shooting with a telephoto lens;
  • If photographing two or more animals interacting, carefully judge the moment(s) to shoot in order to make the most of the inter-animal interaction. Don’t be afraid to take a series of shots in quick succession;
  • When photographing movement/action make sure your lens is set to track the animal(s), continually adjusting focus. This is one area where lens quality is critical. You’ll often need to shoot with bursts of rapid continuous shooting.

Yet another list, but hopefully these pointers will set you on the road towards successful wildlife photography!

A wildlife photography course

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, and watching the recording of my talk, Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds. To learn more about how to actually do wildlife photography in a real life situation, you could join one of my wildlife photography courses. The next one is scheduled for 24th April 2021, and will take place on Exmoor, southwest England. Click on the link to find out more and to sign up.

Philippine Tarsier.

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