Sunday 26 March 2017

A Beginner's Guide To Animal Photography

A goose waking up

  This is a post for all of you who’ve been enjoying the photographs I’ve taken for Woke Animal Party – I’m still in the very, very early days of camera proficiency but, if I do say so with a pinch of modesty, I’m rather pleased with some of the results.

   It’s with this caveat I aim to offer tips for other animal lovers like myself – I’m sure there will be a number of professional photographers, or immaculately skilled lens-men, shaking their heads at either the hubris of this post or the tips therein, but I do intend this to be for people like myself who are in the joyous early stages of learning. Hopefully, one day, I’ll return to this theme as a much more advanced cameraman with much better tips. For the time being this is a guide for and by a beginner.

   Before I begin with any notions of composition, or even consideration of what to capture, I personally have found that the type of camera one uses is perhaps the most important aspect of consideration. Not every camera model is suitable for every photographer: I’ve struggled with a number of small, digital devices and phone cameras are entirely beyond me. Deep down, I’m something of a Luddite who struggles with new technology but I’m sure a set-up like this might suit some of you much better than myself.

   Each of the pictures seen on this site (so far) have been taken by a Canon EOS 1200D DSLR – an item which costs, on average, about £350. If that sounds like an expensive outlay, I’d be inclined to disagree – it’s a sturdy piece of hardware, easy to use (at the simplest level), and boasts high quality pictures too. I should note, also, that I use two different lenses depending on location and the type of shot I’m after: an 18-55ml and a 75-300ml lens both have their uses. The longer lens, I find, is particularly great at capturing intimacy from distance – if there are birds or animals you can’t get near but would like a close-up of, this is a great tool.

   With hardware chosen, the next step is to figure out your subject and how this will affect your lens choice (if you are, indeed, open to multiple options). One of my favourite pastimes is taken pictures of wildlife in the park I’m incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of – deciding which animals I’m going to focus on influences the set-up I bring with me. So, for example, if I’m planning on taking pictures of animals who will run away if I get too close, or for shots of birds in the trees, I will always plump for the 75-300ml lens. For ducks, swans, geese and other less shy animals, the shorter lens allows me to get great, in focus shots by moving (relatively) close to them.

   The next step, and easily the most fun, is taken your camera with you and waiting for/creating the ideal shot. As I’m still learning about what makes for a great photograph, the pictures I aspire to usually involve one of two things: a close-up or an action shot.

   Animals faces, without getting too anthropomorphic, are endlessly fascinating to me – I love capturing close-ups which highlight things you might take for granted without studying their features. So, for animals I can conceivably get close to with a short lens, I’ve very much enjoyed taking pictures (as seen below) which focus in on unusual aspects unique to each of the animals I’ve taken – the raggedy consistency of a goose’s beak, the curls of an alpaca’s fur, a horse’s eye. With these photos, I’d aimed to highlight something about an animal that is often overlooked and focus in entirely on that – a wide shot of a goose, for example, would not have a similar effect as the eyes would be drawn to the scenery around the bird as well as its different parts. In these shots, I have no desire to see the totality of the subject but, instead, an element which is synonymous with it. A pictoral synecdoche if you will pardon the pretention of such language.

Alpaca Fur

A Shetland Pony's Eye photograph
A Goose's Beak photograph
   The second type of picture I like to take, as noted, is the doing shot. For this, the key is to stand back and let the animal get on with their life without interference – distance, and thus a long lens, is the key. For these type of shots, I like to capture movement, rather than an aspect of their physicality, which is unique to the animal. As seen below, these can include a squirrel climbing a tree, a duck scavenging for water and a robin singing. In each of these images, what the animals are doing is the much more important to me than their appearance but, due to their movement, are often much harder to take. That these shots are often taken at full “zoom” means there is little margin for error within the picture – if the capture isn’t perfectly timed then part, or all, of the animal may have disappeared from the frame. The key here is patience and perseverance – digital cameras allow for multiple opportunities to get it right and, if you can’t, there’s always the chance to head back to the park (or wherever your location may be) over and over to get the shot perfect. On a recent half-day trip, I was astonished to find I’d taken over 1’500 pictures in just a few hours! A large proportion weren’t particularly great at all.

Squirrel in a tree
Duck drinking water

Robin singing in a tree

   Finally, we come to the “post-production” stage – what to do with your pictures when they’ve been taken. Sometimes, for a multitude of reasons, our images will need “tidying up”; an edge will need removing or a colour will need boosting. In order to edit your snaps, I’d recommend looking at using a free app or website like PicMonkey or even Gramblr for this. Both give the use the ability to chop their frames to different sizes and alter the colours and lighting of the image. One effect I’ve found to particularly “pop” my images of late is to turn down the brightness of the image through Gramblr before giving a slight boost of the saturation in app too. This, for many of my pictures, has managed to sharpen the image somewhat without making the final image look too synthetic.

   These are my starter tips – I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope I can report back one day with more advanced ideas for you and some new animal photographs too!


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