Good wildlife photographers are made great by three things: Time in the field, knowledge of equipment and understanding of animal behavior. The first two are obvious, however it is the understanding of animal behavior that will allow you to better anticipate images before they happen and thus get in the position to capture them. Fortunately, you are not alone as your ranger/tracker team is there to help you with all of the above points, but in particular the understanding of each animals behavior. There are of course a few points to remember from your side as well…
Be aware that anything could happen at any moment. Make sure you camera is on, beanbag/tripod/monopod setup before you leave the carpark, memory card full of space and settings on the camera set to your preference. A good setting to begin with on most SLR cameras is to put ISO at 400 and set the f-stop to 5.6. Don’t pack up your equipment until you are back at the lodge. There is no rush and once again let me tell you from personal experience that I have missed some really nice pics whilst desperately unpacking my kit because I wasn’t prepared.
Choose Your Subject Matter
Decide on the animals you most want to photograph and then have the patience to sit with it. You have a better chance of capturing a magnificent image by spending 3 hours with a sleeping leopard than you do racing around trying to find something better. That said, if something great is going down around the corner, get there fast and then come back to the sleeping beauty. Additionally, if your ranger is confident that the cat has bedded down for the day, trust his judgement and move on to look for something else.
Leave Room for Error
Let’s say you are waiting to take a picture of a bird as it takes off. Leave enough space in your viewfinder for the direction the bird is going to fly. If it is up and to the right, then place the bird in the bottom left of the screen. The same is true for a leopard descending a tree or a lion cub about to pounce. Anticipate where the animal is going to move to and then leave space in your viewfinder so that when it does move there you are able to capture all of it.
Get up early
Before the sun rises you should be heading out into the bush, looking for tracks and working for your animal of choice. With the skills of the ranger/tracker combo it is quite possible to find an active animal just before sunrise and thus get yourself in position to take lots of pictures in beautiful light. Remember to look for that glint in the eye.
Overcast Days are Whole Day Affairs
Believe it or not, overcast days are great for photography. You are able to shoot throughout the day as the light is softer and does not contrast as much as it does when sunny. There is also the potential that you might get infrequent bursts of light which make the subject matter look brilliant against a dark cloudy sky. It is also cooler and thus allows you to maximise you time in the bush.
Leave the animal momentarily
You are following a herd of elephants when they veer of down a game trail. You can either stay at the back of the herd or you can leave them momentarily to anticipate were the front of the group will come out. Consult your ranger and tracker and then make the decision to leave the herd so that you can get to the end of the trail where they are going to drink and swim. Not only will you be able to pick the right side for light but also have a moment to take into consideration the background, setting and key moment of impact when they rush into the water. Often you will ‘lose’ the animals as you move to a better position, but have faith, communicate with your ranger and more often than not you will get a great image.
What other points of preparation and anticipation have I left out that can enhance your photographs and turn them from good into great? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.