animal photography

Weekly Theme #12: Let’s Get Wild With Animal Photography

Aloha my friends–welcome to another edition of our weekly theme! For those of you just joining in, every week we announce a new weekly theme and challenge our readers to capture it. Then we all share our photos right here on PhotoBlog and vote for our favorites. It’s a great way to practice and learn new things, PLUS you get to meet a lot of great PhotoBloggers in the process. Join us, this week we’re going to practice our animal photography skills!

Natural Light Theme Winners

For last week’s challenge, we explored the beauty of natural light. This was a great exercise to help us turn into true light stalkers–always on the hunt for that perfect light. Hopefully, we all learned something new and were able to start forming some good photographer’s habits.

It was a fun theme, but natural light can be a challenging thing to photograph. That being said, I’m still not surprised how easy our top entries made it look. Check out the leading three photos:

  1. Keeping It Natural by Paula
  2. Close Ups On Paycockes by Helen
  3. Another Place by Joe

Now, let’s browse through all of the natural light entries. We had some new PhotoBlog community members participate in last week’s theme, so let’s be sure to give them a warm welcome. We’re looking forward to seeing more of everyone’s photos as we carry on with our weekly theme challenges.

Weekly Theme #12: Animals

I get pretty excited about all the weekly themes, but this one is going to be especially fun for me. There’s a soft spot in my heart for animals. I suspect I’m not alone either. Let’s spend this week photographing animals. Wild animals. Your pet cat. The local zoo’s baby hippopotamus, or even your neighbors pet duck. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s of an animal, we want to see your photos in the weekly theme pool.

I love working on these weekly theme posts. I get to spend a little extra time looking through everyone’s photos as I curate the inspiring images to share in the article. After browsing the community for some sweet animal photos, I’m pretty confident this is going to be another spectacular weekly theme.

Look at this insanely awesome shot from PhotoBlog user, Julie Domingo. In fact, check out the entire series on her photoblog. So. Good.

animal photography tips
Photo by Julie Domingo

How To Participate:

Deadline: October 31st, 2016

How to submit: Add weeklytheme12 as one of the tags in your post on the PhotoBlog platform

Check out the submissions: Check the tag weeklytheme12

Vote on your favorites: Like and comment on your favorite posts

4 Tips For Better Animal Photography

It appears you all have pretty polished animal photography skills, but I wanted to take a few minutes to share a handful of tips. Even if you’re already well versed in animal photography, it never hurts to brush up on what you know. So let’s get to it, here are four animal photography best practices:

1. Choosing The Best Lens

Regardless of whether you’re shooting wild animals or domestic animals, a zoom lens is going to be your best friend. That’s not to say animal photography is impossible with a prime lens, you can still take really incredible shots with a fixed focal length lens. However, a nice zoom lens is going to make things a lot easier for you, especially if the animal you are photographing is moving around.

I really like to use my FX 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G on a crop sensor body like a Nikon D7200. Because of the 1.5X crop factor on the DSLR, the lens is actually the equivalent to 42-450mm. The zoom lens is great because it’s easy to recompose an image if an animal moves. It’s likely I will just need to zoom the lens in or out to find an agreeable composition. That’s much better than having to physically move (as I would have to with a prime lens) and risk scaring the animal off. Below is a shot I took using that combination. You can see more with the same setup here.

animal photography
Taken using a 28-300mm FX F3.5 on a D7000. Photo by Tiffany Mueller

Another great thing about using a zoom for this type of shooting is the versatility. Often times, we can’t bring the animals into our studios where we keep all our gear. We have to bring our stuff to them. For me, that often means hiking. No big deal, I love hiking, but I don’t love carrying a bunch of gear. With a zoom, I can carry just one lens and get a wide range of focal lengths.

2. Use The Best Camera Mode For The Job

Earlier today, we published an article about the four essential camera modes. Elliot Pelling, the author and photographer, does a fantastic job breaking down the four main camera modes. I really believe the different camera modes are underutilized. It’s easy to get comfortable with a particular setting and not try out others, even when they would be far better suited for the task.

Priority modes are great for shooting animals because they can often be faster at calculating proper exposure than we are. That’s especially useful when you’re working with a live–and sometimes unpredictable–subject.

  • Use Aperture Priority when you are photographing animals that are still or very slow moving. This will give you ultimate control of depth of field. You can use this to isolate the animal/subject by blurring out the background.
  • Use Shutter Priority when the animals you’re photographing are moving around. This will help avoid unwanted motion blur.

For more on the different camera modes, be sure to read and bookmark Elliot’s article.

3. Double Check Depth of Field And Embrace Back Button Focus

As I mentioned above, a blurry, bokeh background is often desired in wildlife photography. If your intention is to blur out a distracting background to isolate the subject, make sure the depth of field isn’t so shallow the animal also falls out of focus. Double check to make sure the animal’s eyes, nose, ears, body, and whatever else you want to be in focus are actually in focus. When shooting with wide apertures (small f numbers), the depth of field can be extremely shallow!

Look at the shot below. It’s taken by PhotoBlog community member, Ryan Guinn. Ryan has done a fantastic job ensuring his aperture was just wide enough to keep Hollie the dog in focus, while leaving the rest of the composition to fall off into blur. Great shot, Ryan!

This great shot was taken with a 50mm f2 prime lens. Notice how nicely Ryan controlled the depth of field? Photo by Ryan Guinn
This great shot was taken with a 50mm f2 prime lens. Notice how nicely Ryan controlled the depth of field? Photo by Ryan Guinn

One way to make nailing focus easier is to learn how to use back button focusing. I’m a huge advocate for this technique. Once you give it a shot, you probably won’t want to go back either.

When you have back button (or rear button) auto focus set up, you initiate auto focus by pressing a button on the back of your camera. No longer do you have to struggle with pressing the shutter release button half way down and waiting before you can snap a picture. With back button focus you will be able to focus and shoot simultaneously by pressing both buttons at the same time.

It’s hard to explain with words just how glorious this feature actually is, but I promise to make a full blog post dedicated to its honor in the near future. For now, check your user manual for directions on how to setup back button focus on your camera.

4. Creative Compositions

Sure, there are only so many ways you can photograph a sleeping kitten, but I like to think we haven’t discovered them all yet. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different perspectives and angles.

Humans tend to be fascinated by animals. We love shots that fill the frame with all their fuzzy cuteness. But don’t neglect wide angles! Take a step back and study the big picture. Try to come up with compositions where the animal remains the subject of the image, but doesn’t take up the entire frame. It’s harder than it sounds, but a very worthy challenge!

If you need some help coming up with interesting composition ideas, read these 15 useful composition techniques that will help you start composing more dynamic images. Just pick one or two of the techniques and challenge yourself to capture some animal photos using what you learned.

I think this photo by Harold Meerveld does a great job at utilizing viewpoint, rule #7 in Kendra’s article.

animal photography tips
The photographer uses viewpoint to create an interesting shot. Photo by Harold Meerveld

A Word On Animal Photography Ethics

PhotoBlog writer and nature photography expert, Will Nicholls recently wrote a great article on photographing wildlife here on the blog. In the article, Will explains,

You should never put your photo before the welfare of an animal…Simple rules to follow are you don’t live bait animals, and if anything you’re doing appears to be affecting an animal’s behaviour drastically, stop and retreat.

That’s really good advice, especially when photographing wild animals. If you’re shooting domesticated animals, like your pet dog, you’ll probably want to interact with them and, to some extent, even direct them. When you’re doing that, just remember to be patient–modelling is a lot harder than it looks! Keep your calm and take frequent breaks.

Practice, Share, Repeat!

Remember, if you don’t have the chance to go out and photograph any animals this week, you can always add the weeklytheme12 tag to an existing post. But we encourage everyone to go out and practice your shooting for this week’s challenge, even if you only have half an hour. Go practice and show us what you’ve got!

If you’re really dedicated, challenge yourself to set aside time for two practice sessions this week. Show us both by tagging them with weeklytheme12. In the meantime, happy shooting! We’re looking forward to seeing your photos.

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About the author

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is an adventurer and photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you can find her here on PhotoBlog serving as the fearless leader to the wonderful editorial staff.

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