Photographing Nature and Wildlife

LillianH · March 8, 2004 9:11 am

I was born in Cornwall, a very beautiful part of the world, and have always been interested in the power and majesty, animals, and insects. My father was quite a noted ornithologist, and I suppose I developed an interest at quite an early age. Also, my Aunt lived and worked on a farm and I spent all my holidays with her, further exposing me to both the countryside and wildlife that existed around me. I have been a member of Renderosity since August 2002, and was rather surprised when asked to write about any aspect of photography, in particular to those who would subscribe to illustrious journals such as this. This article is therefore not going to be about how to take photographs but more about some of the techniques that I have learned over the past 30 years that I use in attempting to capture wildlife on film, and more recently with digital technology. Photographing nature, particularly close-up or macro work (my interest), presents several difficulties that require us to learn to handle special situations. First, the closer we get to a subject, the shallower the (DOF) depth of field becomes. Second, close-in work is very sensitive to light and movement. The zone can be as small as a half of an inch or less. In order to alleviate the shallow DOF problem we need to use a small aperture, which impacts on the available light. Worse still, we have to be careful to keep our subjects most important features in focused in a plane parallel to the film. This has further complications as movement is also greatly exaggerated at close range. Even a minute amount of wind may cause a flower with our butterfly to flutter in and out of focus and our model may disappear from view in a split second! We may also like to use slow to medium film to capture fine details. Using a smaller aperture, in natural light usually requires a slow shutter speed. We need therefore to be first and foremost patient! But a little ingenuity and planning can help us overcome some of these problems.
Useful Items And Important Points 1. Personal Safety This is something that is easy to forget, but please remember that in the wild there are many dangers. I have found myself in precarious positions on a few occasions. It is easy to get carried away and become careless in dangerous situations. For example, are you wearing suitable clothing or safety equipment? In mountainous terrain, weather conditions can change very quickly and you could easily get into trouble. Also, leaning over a cliff to get a closer shot of a Puffin may result in your premature demise, unless you take a rope to fasten to a good secure place, like a tree. Flash equipment can be indispensable. Three or four small flash units rigged to a photoelectric trigger can enable us to achieve very good results. The camera can be set-up and pre-focused and hidden, released by a long cable release. Our flower and butterfly shot can work better by constructing a simple wind shield with a couple of sticks and a plastic bag, and a good reflector made from some white cloth attached by string or more sticks. I carry a broom handle to help bash nettles down. Also, a bit of white card and safety pin can be useful as a diffusing canopy.
A beanbag and some brackets can be great to put our camera on to save lugging a Tripod around. I have made up a pack of items that I always take with me. Serving in the military for most of my working life many things like this have become second nature to me. But please give these factors due consideration, it could save your life! Also keep in mind that some wildlife can be dangerous too! If you want to get the best shots we also need to learn a bit about the behavior and habitat of our subjects, the chances of just being lucky to stumble across wildlife are few and far between. It is important to be patient and plan properly. Much can be learned from field guides: animal behavior patterns, their feeding habits, the time of day they are active, or favorite watering holes and trails will reduce the chances of failure. Most wildlife have far keener senses than us; they are timid and fast so we need to try and keep some distance between us and will tolerate our presence if we dont appear threatening. Using clothing that blends in with the terrain or building a shelter out of natural cover can often aid in getting closer to our subject. Once we are in close enough, we need to proceed slowly to avoid frightening our subject(s) off. Be aware that reflections and noise from the shutter or motor-drive may be enough to spook them! I usually use a dark cloth to wrap the camera to reduce noise, and a lens hood will keep down reflections to a minimum. For serious work use a long focal length lens (200-400 mm) to get clear visibility and to keep a safe distance. Getting good stability will require the use of a good tripod and even more elaborate planning. Please dont be put off by these precautions. It is not necessary to go to such elaborate lengths or travel to exotic places to discover interesting and appealing subjects. Our own gardens, local forests, and woods will provide a plethora of interesting material, and provide plenty of practice for developing good techniques and the patience to master the necessary skills.
You will discover new and surprising aspects of Mother Natures mysteries as the colors, shapes and textures become revealed. Be creative ... the artistic possibilities are endless.
Daniel OByrne
A self taught Artist and Photographer who has been an active member of the Renderosity community for 18 months, posting in Photography and Mixed medium. He has undertaken various tasks writing articles on Photography for the Magazine as well as doing software reviews. A graduate of Portsmouth University, followed by Post Graduate studies at the University of Middlesex He has a specialist interest in the field of Mental Health research. He worked in the Military for 23 years and was a Trauma Specialist there and traveled widely. Danny is working in Buckingham Mental Health Trust at present and been there for 9 years where he has spent time working with Rehabilitation and Community Care for people with enduring mental illness. His hobbies include Chess, Golf and listening to music and reading. An avid lover of nature and wildlife his interests in this has always been the inspiration for his Art and Photography, and considers that lighting is the very soul of his attempts at trying to capture this within his work.

Article Comments

Misha883 ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 08 March 2004

Fascinating article, and recognition for a fine artist!

danob ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 09 March 2004

I hope people find this useful more of my work at My own webite Also my Gallery here on Rosity danob Cheers Danny

sparky123 ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 10 March 2004

Having seen you in action it shows some of the skills we need but dunno if we can capture them like you buddy!!

edwardmcardle ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 10 March 2004

I have bought myself an expensive digital camera (an EOS 30D), and it allows me to set a "filmspeed". I always leave it on 1600 ASA. It may or may not be grainier than a slower speed (and this is electronics not film), but the result is quite good enough for my purposes. For telephoto shots in bright light, I find it shooting at a 4000th of a second. This would also be good for close-up work.

herbstliebe ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 11 March 2004

hi danob, nice to read somethink about you. greets corinna

vlaaitje ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 11 March 2004

Hello Danny, I know you are a great photographer because I saw with my own eyes how you made a good shot. I don't forget that day that we go to the park where the swans try to attack "ME". You said, if you want I good shot you must take risk. You did, I not, because I am damn scared haha. Can you remember that you almost fall in the water for make that shot from the swans together between the branches. I REMEMBER ALL, and the same you did with the frozen water. You learn me a lot Danny, I am not so good as you but now I look around me before I make a shot. Thanks for all your kindness and most of all that you are a special friend of mine......keep up the good work, you deserve all attention because it is worth it......hugz xx

Kropot ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 11 March 2004

Good stuff, intresting points :) From now on the will travel with me. Tnx

Lalani ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 12 March 2004

Wonderful! =)

funkandjazz ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 13 March 2004

Well done!! Thanks for sharing such valuable lessons Danny... tons of great advice! :)

Varian ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 14 March 2004

Great article. Thanks for sharing the tips that gain you such awesome imagery. Keep up the good work! :)

Akinom ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 15 March 2004

Hi Danny, there are lots of highly interesting aspects in your article... we all can learn so much from you! Thanks a lot for your advices! I'll try to remember when shooting as much as possible to reach a better result in my work in the future. Once again thanks, my friend! hugz, Monika

Irritated_One ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 15 March 2004

As a beginner I found this article very informative and valuable; thank you very much!!!

98Bones ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 15 March 2004

Thanks for the tips, Danny. I'm learning from you already!

bleachfix ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 15 March 2004

Enjoyed reading your article Danny...great advice!

SNAKEY ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 16 March 2004

That made an interesting reading. Your meticulous planning and military precision can be viewed in your gallary. Patience is a virture , which you have in abundance. An Exellent photographer is one that can compose his capture through the lens with minimal post work and your work stands out in this regard. I am glad that you have been choosen to address this subject, there is no better treat than hearing it from the Horses' mouth.;) Bravo my friend. Keep inspiring us with your great work. I rank you as one of the Shephards that show the path. :O)) thanks very much for the article.

DrmzRmyne ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 20 March 2004

Fantastic information Danny! Thanks so much for writing this...very useful information!

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