Animal and Wildlife Photography Training South East, Simple Compositions
I had a new photographer contact me recently expressing a great deal of frustration about her photographic progress – or lack of, to be precise. This lovely lady has been trying to capture pleasing photographs of wildlife and birds which visit her garden, but remains frustrated in her efforts. I think most of us will identify with how she feels – we’ve all been through that stage when we were beginners. In fact this is the very reason why most people who buy a camera will give up very quickly. Photography is demanding – taking decent photos requires at least a rudimentary understanding of the technicalities as well as all the other stuff – like composition, how to use light, and the best way to pose your subjects. These things apply to pretty much every photo you’ll ever take – even the ‘posing’ bit, because getting your subject (be they human or animal) into a pleasing shape is really important.
I remember the years I spent hating most of my pictures and the one thing which make a huge difference to my output was training. Books and videos can be really useful, but sometimes investing directly in targeted tuition can propel you to the next level in a short space of time. At the very least, it should give you the building blocks on which to move forward. Training can take many forms – it can be dedicated one-on-one tuition from an established practitioner. Or it can be evening classes at the local college, or joining the local camera club. It might be attending seminars or workshops run by experienced professionals. It’s important to identify the learning patterns which work best for you.
Sometimes it’s just simple pointers which we need to get us going. The photograph which my friend sent to me was of a Robin in her garden, a bird she loves very much and really wants to photograph successfully. The photograph was similar to the one below, and I mean the photograph with the red X on it. When we compare something which we’re unhappy with to a carefully executed image, we can immediately start to see where we’ve gone wrong. Clearly the ‘bad’ image suffers from a poor and messy background and lacklustre composition. But how can we get around this, if we can’t control our subject? Well, as I prove every week of my professional life, there are things we can do to sort out horrid backgrounds. Most of the time it’s simply a matter of waiting for your subject to move to a better position – and this largely depends on us being quick enough to reframe and refocus quickly. Wild birds and timid wildlife won’t stand about waiting for us to flick our focus points around, or change our exposure. We need to be ready for most eventualities from the start.
Tip: depth of field tables can help you work out how much depth you’ll have at any given focal length, aperture value, distance, and sensor format. The pictures below were taken at f5.6 on a micro 4/3 camera (my EM10) using the long end of the Panasonic 14-140II lens. The bad picture shows just how shallow the depth of field actually is – the bird’s feet are out of focus. I didn’t want to stop down any more because there wasn’t a massive amount of light in the garden, and I didn’t want to end up cranking my ISO even higher to compensate. So in the ‘good’ picture I photographed the bird in profile, this way all of the Robin will be in focus using the same settings. The background was about 5 feet away, so it looks nicely de-focused.
Back to the Robin. These adorable little birds are real characters and they are actually quite easy to make friends with. They’ll dart around you quite happily in a garden, in a park, or in woodland. They like human beings, because we often represent food. Rewarding these gorgeous creatures with some breadcrumbs or some small pieces of cheese can pay dividends. They’ll hang out with us, they’ll regularly change their position, and they’ll do some great poses. All we have to do is get our camera settings ready, stay alert, react quickly, and move ourselves in relation to the bird. You can immediately see the difference between the bad picture and the good one. The good one has been taken when the bird has moved to an area with softer light and an uncluttered background. The rope adds texture and interest. The bird is alert and engaged, so it’s all good.
If you’re interested in improving your photography we offer personalized training. Sometimes small changes can get the ball rolling and give you a head start with your favourite hobby or past time. You don’t need big expensive equipment – these photos were taken with my little EM10 and a kit zoom. But in general, I would recommend focal lengths of not less than 300mm (in 35mm terms) for nature and wildlife.