Finding the Best Wildlife Photography Subjects to Improve your Pictures
What exactly is wildlife photography? You are taking pictures, and wildlife is your subject — as simple as that. Wildlife as in wild animals, living in a free and natural habitat. What about captive animals? Well, sadly, captive animals don’t make very good subjects for wildlife photography.
Yes, point taken, captive animals give you the opportunity to practice your photography, to get shots difficult to get in the wild (like close-up portraits), and to see animals virtually impossible to see in the wild. Some species are so close to extinction or so nocturnal and shy, that even the people looking for them 24/7 only get pictures of them with camera traps.
In a sense, a leopard picture taken in a zoo can still be considered as wildlife photography and be used to promote awareness for this species and its plight. However, your focus should always be on finding subjects that roam free in their natural habitat. These animals are undoubtedly your best subjects.
It is very easy to tell where a picture was taken and whether the animal was roaming free or captive. This is especially true for trained eyes who operate in nature reserves all the time.
Good wildlife photography feature wildlife that roam free in their natural habitat. Always remember this, and accept that you will have to travel to nature reserves often if you like photographing wildlife.
The Creator in the creature
As you grow into a wildlife photographer of note, you will start developing a special awareness. You will start loving your subjects, and caring deeply about their existence on this planet. It’s almost as if you start seeing the Creator in the creature.
The highest, most noble aim of your pastime will develop into showcasing this beauty for others. To show other people this beauty you’ve come to appreciate so deeply. Your work will create a conserving awareness in them.
For this to happen, it is important that you capture images of wildlife as they exist and operate in true nature reserves. Getting people to appreciate these reserves, and even visit them, is a worthwhile pastime. Make it one of the goals of your photography, and your pictures will improve considerably.
Planning your destinations
For your Action Plan, consider what you will target as your subject. Mammals, reptiles, birds, sub-aqua life forms, or small creatures. These are your options. Make sure your Action Plan allows you the travel opportunities to take pictures of your targeted subject often enough. This will have an impact on the destinations you target.
Sub-aqua photography does not necessarily need to take place under water… Rather, the subject must be one that lives underwater. For example, pictures of whales breaching or the stunning pictures by Chris Fallows of great white sharks shooting out of the water could be considered sub-aqua wildlife photography.
If you are into small creatures, I suggest you look at my Macro Photography section.
Know your subjects
I believe a wildlife photographer should have good knowledge of his subjects. If you know your subjects’ behavior well enough it will often be possible to predict what the creature will do next. It might also enable you to locate a certain animal at a certain time of day, since you can intuit what it is doing.
Let’s say you are trying to find a cheetah. You know that during the late afternoon it wakes up from its nap and looks for a high vantage point to see where it can locate a little snack (like an impala). Knowing this, you check all the ant hills in the area, and as luck has it you get some wonderful cheetah shots!
One way of learning this type of behavior is to look at good shots of wildlife. Where was it taken, what time of day is it? Also, during the time of day not suited to photography, why don’t you just sit and watch the creatures and see if, over time, you can start predicting their behavior. Awareness is a powerful tool for photographers, and developing it is not all that hard.
If you are planning an Africa safari, I recommend that you read (or just keep handy) a book on the behavior of African animals. Richard D Estes has written two excellent books on this subject, The Safari Companion and The Behavior Guide to African Mammals.
Go think long and hard about the wildlife photography subjects you want to target in your Action Plan. Where can you find them in their natural habitat? How can you portray them in their splendor and create awareness about them? How can you get to know them better to improve your chances of capturing a special moment? These are important questions to grapple with.
Thinking about this and planning your destinations will spur you into action. Fittingly, for the next step in your Action Plan we look in more detail at Wildlife Photography Destinations.
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