Apply these simple techniques to improve your wildlife photography for your family's next visit to the zoo, aquarium or wildlife sanctuary.
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Now... had I forgotten anything?
I'd packed water flasks for everyone, sunscreen, insect repellent, extra set of clothes for the little ones, food (it seems they're hungry as soon as they leave the house), hats and sunglasses. (Yes, comfy walking shoes were, hopefully, still on their feet.)
I'd only planned for a half-day trip to the wildlife sanctuary but it looked as though we were going for a week!
There was still one important thing that I was determined not to forget... a camera.
Now, I do have a DSLR camera and I love it, though I'm still learning how best to use it.
But if you're out with a carload of grandkids, an iPhone can be just as good, probably better. At least, it's easy to slip in a pocket and whip out at an instant for the unexpected and amazing shot. I know... because I've missed some of those in the past: the deer that leaned over the fencing to take a mouthful of my daughter's hat or the surprised look on my son's face when he did, finally, catch a fish-- well, it was an eel, but that still counts, right?
So, with that in mind, I had my iPhone handy and ready to whip out for those memory-making moments. And I was hoping for many more of those at the wildlife sanctuary with my grandkids.
But I've recently discovered a few handy hints to improve my digital photography at zoos, aquariums, nature sanctuaries and other outdoor activities with kids that I thought I'd share with you. First up... though it's not precisely a photography technique, I've quickly learned that, as in any type of photography involving kids (and animals are similar), patience, persistence and creativity will pay off. Just something to keep in mind. :)
1. One of the first considerations is composition and the best advice is to vary your composition. Take some shots with the subject looking straight at you and some with the subject either facing left or right. To do this, you may have to reposition yourself. This is the part requiring the patience and persistence. Try not to move as you actually take the photo. I know that's not easy with excited kids and wonderful animals in plain sight. If you can, use a tripod or monopod to maximize your digital photo sharpness.
2. The other part of composition is subject placement. Use the rule of thirds. Visually breakdown the scene in your viewfinder into thirds both vertically and horizontally, like a tic-tac-toe board. Place your subject on one of the intersecting points in the grid.
3. A simple, but important point, especially when using a iPhone, is to ensure that your lens is clean. After all your phone, no doubt, has been bumping around in your pocket or bag. Then, likely, it has had grimy fingers happily playing with your iPhone game apps, so cleaning it is a good idea.
4. Plan your day. The best time to take photos of animals is just before feeding time. They're pretty alert and active while waiting for their next meal to arrive.
Another consideration to factor in is the time of day. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to shoot. From sunrise, to about 2 hours after, and again about 2 hours before sunset to sunset, produces digital photos softly illuminated with a golden, highly directional light, thereby bringing out the color in your subject. (There's an app that will help you with this, too.)
Two more reasons for shooting early or late in the day is because it is the least crowded, and the animals are most active early and late in the day. After all, in the wild, this is when they normally hunt and eat. During the middle of the day, they rest.
5. If you are trying to show the animals without bars, barriers and wires, you will minimize their presence by using a long lens and shooting at wide apertures to blur the foreground and if necessary the background. If you're using your iPhone, download a good app to help with this. (Check out some of the options.)
While shooting in this non-natural environment, shoot close-ups to minimize any of the environment. If you're using your iPhone zoom, hold it very still.
5. Take note of the habitat and background. In wildlife parks, where the environment is more like it would be in the animal's natural habitat, create an environmental portrait by including more of the animal's surroundings. Here, you want to use a smaller aperture to hold both the foreground and background in focus. The animal will stand out more if the background is pretty neutral. After all, an animal's best defence is to blend with its surroundings so be aware of a highly patterned, busy background.
6. Focus on the animal's eyes. Animals express their emotions through their eyes not their facial expressions. Tap your iPhone screen on the spot you want to focus on and it will also adjust your exposure
7. Take lots of photos. You can always delete the ones you don't like afterwards but you can't easily go back and take extras. Try to take photos from different heights, too.
8. Keep it steady. If you are in a wildlife park with a driving route, shoot from inside your vehicle. Use a window camera mount or a bean bag. Shut off your vehicle's engine to minimize vibration.
9. Keep an eye out for interesting shadows or reflections that you could incorporate into your photos.
10. Make sure the glass is clean. For glass barriers, try to find an area of clean glass and place the lens hood up against it to minimize reflections. It's a good idea to clean the glass first. Remember, many excited, and probably sticky little hands and fingers have been resting on the glass for a closer look at the animals or fish. If you have to use a flash, use it off camera and hold it at a 45 degree angle to the camera and up against the glass.
11. Whenever possible, do avoid using flash. The flash may startle the animal and ruin your shot. For the outside type shots, use a slow ISO such as 100. For aquarium shots, an ISO of 400 or 800 will perform better.
12. Although the animals are exciting, don't forget to include your kids in your photos. Without endangering their safety, look for opportunities to include their enjoyment of the animals and any interactions between your kids/grandkids and the animals.
13. Finally, keep it simple. There is no way that one photo is going to capture everything that you would like to remember and relive. Focus on one simple thing at a time.
Shooting at the wildlife sanctuary or zoo is exciting. Where else can you get in one location, a collection of animals from around the world? Take your time, plan your shots and enjoy the digital photography of animals and the fun of seeing them through the eyes of your grandkids.
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