7 tips for photographing wildlife this spring

Canadian goose flying high in the sky during sunset.
Photo by Lone Wolf Photography/Shutterstock

After a long winter it’s always exciting when you spot that first patch of green grass, or leaf buds begin appearing on the trees. But nothing could be more thrilling than catching a glimpse of wildlife, whether it’s a fox and her newborn kits emerging from their den, or a bird returning to its nest. Capturing these moments on camera might not be easy, but these seven tips will ensure your photos turn out as incredible as it felt to spot the animal.

Know where (and when) to look

If you’re not already familiar with the wildlife in your region, doing a little research should be your first step. Although you might spontaneously stumble across deer tracks or birds bouncing from tree to tree, you’re going to have more success if you not only know what to look for, but when. With a quick Google search, you should have no trouble finding out when certain animals are coming out of hibernation, or even being born.

Get the right gear

If you don’t already have a telephoto lens, get one—they’re an absolute must when it comes to photographing wildlife. Exactly how long the lens needs to be depends on the size of your subject and how close you’re able to get to it. Small, flighty birds and animals that are extremely shy require a really long lens. The key is to find something that’s big enough to get a good resolution, but not so large that it’s hard to hike with. If an additional tripod is too much to carry, you can usually get away with resting the lens on a large rock, fallen tree, or even your carrying case.

Know the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them

The fundamentals of composition, like the rule of thirds and lead-in lines, will help you frame your shot, and are simple ways to dramatically improve any photos you take, including those of wildlife. If you use the rule of thirds, dividing your frame into thirds and then placing your subject where the lines meet, it will give your shot more energy and interest. Although this is a pretty hard-and-fast rule, it’s important to know when to break it. For example, when there’s noticeable symmetry and a strong point of reference, you can create a pretty powerful image by placing your subject in the centre.

Keep it simple

When photographing wildlife, the goal is to highlight your subject. That means it’s usually best to keep your background simple. The more you work with negative space, the more likely your subject will stand out.

The more, the merrier

While a solitary animal can still make for a good shot, as soon as you add more of the same species, or perhaps even another animal, you’re bound to get some interesting interactions. Wildlife photos with the most depth and emotion are often scenes of two animals battling for a mate, a mother tending to her babies, or a predator stalking its prey, which is another reason it’s best to keep the background as plain as possible.

Don’t sacrifice safety or comfort

When photographing wild animals, especially large predators, you should always give them plenty of space, and never feed them for a closer look. But it’s not just important to keep your distance for your own safety: when wild animals become habituated, they can lose their natural fear of humans. They can also end up spending more time in high-traffic areas and eating garbage, all of which can end up harming the animal.

Be patient

There may be no better advice for photographing wildlife than to just be patient. Nature is unpredictable, which means that even if you’ve been studying the habits of deer, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to duplicate that buck battle you witnessed last fall. Professional wildlife photographers have been known to trek hundreds of kilometres into the wilderness, hanging out in the same position for hours, in hopes of getting the perfect shot. So don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the award-winning image you were hoping for after spending a few hours in your local park or hiking the trails behind your cottage.

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