How Ready Are You?


When you shoot close-ups of dangerous wild animals like lions, be ready with the right telephoto lens. Photograph/Kevin McGee

Being prepared for the perfect action moment helps you capture wildlife at its best. Digantika Mitra shares some ideas to help you get some stunning wildlife shots.

When you venture to shoot wildlife and you want to capture action, seizing the right moment may seem a tough task. A monkey in mid air while it jumps from one tree to another or a bird right when it is putting a worm into its babies’ mouths—these can make excellent captures but require a certain discipline and skill. Advance planning, perfect timing and the right technique will help you shoot wildlife in moments of vibrant action.

Develop Your Skills
Before venturing out into forests and wildlife sanctuaries, hone your skills in your own backyard. Look for bulbuls, squirrels, butterflies, even exotic lizards. Observe how the lizard waits for its prey and catches it. Aim to capture the right moment of action–just when it takes out its tongue to catch the insect. These practice subjects will give you a foundation in basic techniques like focusing right, keeping the camera stable, knowing when to press the shutter.

Do Your Research
If you are going to a new area, research on the geographical details of the place and its flora and fauna. Look up some websites and read up blogs that share experiences of others who have been there. This way you can plan your shooting in advance and be familiar with the place before you reach.

Study Your Subject
Some animals are docile; others could attack you if you go a little close. So you need to know the behaviour of the animals you are going to photograph by learning about your subject well in advance. Study their behaviour patterns, the seasons they usually prefer, their attitude towards humans and any other peculiar mannerisms they might have to be safe as well as to capture the right frame.

Travel Light
You should carry as minimum gear as possible. Go through your camera bag and discard anything may not help you in your shooting. This will ensure that you can stay focused on capturing ‘the’ moment rather than being distracted by the weight and chaos of your luggage.

Carry the Right Gear
To ensure that your camera bag is light, it helps to carry very specific gear, in accordance with what you want to shoot. A macro lens is a must when you want to shoot tiny creatures. Similarly, if you plan to photograph birds, a telephoto lens is your best bet. Carry a monopod if you think you will not have enough time to set up a tripod while you shoot.

Know Your Camera Controls
It helps to be comfortable with your gear in order to work fast when shooting animals in action. Familiarise yourself with button placements, learn to navigate the menu without having to check the camera’s screen too much as these habits will go a long way in improving your speed of operation.

Pre-set Your Camera
If you are sure about the shooting situations you are going to be in, you can even choose some of the settings beforehand, thereby saving some time. Suppose you are going to shoot in dense forests, the light conditions are bound to be dim. Choose an ISO, shutterspeed and aperture setting before you begin shooting. That way you can focus on just the frame. On the other hand places with less vegetation like a desert tend to be quite sunny during the day. Preset your camera accordingly.

Plan to Shoot at the Right Time
When shooting wildlife, you may need to get up extremely early and get into shooting mode. Animals are easier to spot during the early hours. Most flying insects, for example, cannot fly until they warm up. You may need to shoot them before they fly away. To shoot bigger animals like like deer and bison, you can choose to shoot at night because their eyes glow during the dark hours.

Relax While You Shoot
You will fare rather well if you are relaxed instead of too anxious or too anticipative. Your shots will reflect a better understanding of your environment if you are not stressed or hyper. It will also help you stay alert and get the perfect action shot. You might miss great action moments simply by panicking about missing it!

Be Prepared to Think on Your Feet
Sometimes challenging situations may present themselves. A shot may require stability but you may not have the required amount of time to set up a tripod. Improvise in such situations. For instance, you could use the window-sill of your car instead of the tripod to rest your camera. This is also useful when your shoot dangerous animals in the wild and it is safe not to get down from the car.

In a matter a seconds, you should be able to observe the action and plan your composition. You cannot afford to lose a single moment planning while shooting wildlife in action.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Shooting Technique, Better Pictures, September 2010, Digantika Mitra, Wildlife, Getting ready to shoot, Honing your skills, Research, Gear for wildlife photography, The right time to shoot wildife, Camera presets fir wildlife photography