Wildlife Photography Advice from Shannon Wild

Shannon Wild

13 Sep 2017

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Capturing the wildlife action

Further to her last blog post on Arctic photography tips, our specialist leader, Shannon Wild, has now provided helpful tips on how to capture the perfect wildlife shot.

When trying to freeze movement of a moving animal or shooting from a constantly moving zodiac, a fast shutter speed becomes essential.  However, this often leads people to compromising on Aperture and ISO settings.   

Finding a balance between Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO is essential. Let’s break down how I see each element.

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Aperture

Aperture is the creative decision. How much or little you want in focus? Do you want a lot in focus (i.e. f8 and over) or would you prefer separating your subject from the background more (shooting with a low aperture such as f4 or f2.8). The amount of available light will also be a determining factor, but shooting in 24hr daylight (depending on weather) often means you have plenty of flexibility in this department. 

 

This means shooting at a low f-number (Aperture), which also has the added benefit of allowing plenty of light in, giving me greater flexibility with my other settings. 

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ISO

ISO for image clarity. Always remember you want to keep your ISO as low as possible for the clearest image result.

Start at around 100-200 ISO and see if your shutter is at an acceptable speed. If you feel it isn’t, then start to increase your ISO so you can also then increase your shutter. I’ve rarely had to shoot above ISO 800 in the Arctic, as there is usually plenty of available light. I also know that my camera still produces an acceptable quality image at ISO 800 but I’ll always strive for as low as possible.

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Shutter Speed

Now there are a few things to consider, such as subject and focus length. If the subject is fast moving, such as a bird, then I want a shutter speed that doesn’t go below 1/1000 sec, preferably higher. If the subject isn’t quite as fast, then I have more leverage to go a bit lower than that, especially if it’s overcast and I have less light to work with. 

When shooting from a moving zodiac (even if it's just bobbing in the ocean swell), you need to treat your settings like you’re trying to capture something moving so keep that shutter speed fast.

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Focal Length

The longer the lens the more pronounced the potential motion blur.

For example, shooting at 500mm it’s best not to go below 1/500 sec. With that said, most telephotos lenses have excellent built in image stabilization these days, so this becomes less of an issue and the main decision can be then focus around your subject and shooting conditions. 

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With these points in mind, it’s about finding a balance between your Aperture (how you want to image to look), your ISO (as low as possible for clarity) and a fast enough shutter speed (to freeze the action).

Aside from finding the right combination of exposure settings, it is also important to choose the right focusing mode. For moving subjects that usually means switching to Continuous Focus Mode (AF-C on Nikon, AI Servo on Canon, or similar on other camera models). This will then track focus on your subject. The speed and quality of that tracking is influenced by many factors including lens and camera quality and combination, the subject itself and also light quality.

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Focus Points

Next I decide on how many focal points I want the camera to utilize while trying to track the subject. This can range from: 

Single focus point.

The middle point will always be the most responsive and sensitive, especially in lower light, and is good for smaller subjects, or tricky lighting conditions.  Make sure to keep that focal point over your subject as you track. 

Dynamic/multiple focal points.

This can be excellent for tracking subjects that may be too hard to track with a single focus point (such as erratic movements), or for subjects that are easier for the camera to define in frame.

All focal points.

You can also utilize all focal points in frame.  This works well if you have a subject that is quite distinct from the background.  The camera should then do a good job of tracking it throughout the frame.  This has less specific control over exactly where you are focusing though.  Generally it will keep focus on whatever is the most prominent object in frame.

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At the heart of all good photography is what I refer to as the three P’s …
  

Patience.

Practice.

Perseverance.

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