A Guide to Nature & Wildlife Photography
Photography offers the perfect excuse to spend many a happy hour in the great outdoors. Whatever the weather or the season, heading out with your camera is a great way to enjoy some fresh air, stretch your legs, and capture some fantastic photographs of our wonderful wildlife.
The Nature category of the CEWE Photo Award enjoys lots of brilliant entries, not just of UK wildlife, but of exotic creatures in all corners of the globe. Whether you’re on your travels or exploring at home, there are a few tips you can keep in mind to help improve your nature and wildlife photos.
Once you’ve put these hints and tips into action, why not submit your best shots to our competition for the chance to win a host of incredible prizes? Read on to learn how to capture nicer nature photos on your next jaunt outdoors.
Before you head out It may be handy to consider what you’d like to capture on camera before you head out. Think about the season and the type of wildlife that’s around at this time of year: is there a particular animal you’d like to photograph? If you want to go a little further afield than your own garden to take your photos, search for parks and nature reserves in your local area for more varied photo opportunities.
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to photograph, spend some time refreshing your working knowledge of your camera. Whether you’re using a smartphone, compact camera or DSLR, get to know its settings so you can make the most of what your camera can do.
As with any outdoor activity in the UK, the weather is always an important consideration, so check the forecast to see what the elements have in store. Don’t be put off by a rainy day, though, as foliage and trees will look lusher and greener after a shower, and you’ll see a different side to wildlife during a downpour.
In addition to your camera, binoculars may be useful for keeping a lookout for things to photograph, but the most important thing to bring with you is a good supply of patience! Wildlife can be unpredictable, so prepare for a long wait (and maybe bring some snacks).
Giving some thought to the composition of your photographs – referring to how elements sit together within the frame – is one simple way to instantly improve the standard of your shots. One of the basics of photography is the rule of thirds, and it’s one of the most common composition techniques you’ll come across.
Imagine your image is divided by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating a 3×3 grid. Position important elements near to these lines, or close to one of the four intersections of the grid. By placing your subject off-centre, you’ll capture images which are much more natural and pleasing to the eye. For more on this, take a look at our handy guide to the rule of thirds.
Look for leading lines to draw the eye towards the points of interest within your photo. Rows of trees or hedges work particularly well as natural leading lines. Alternatively, look out for more unusual examples – such as how the lines of this old cartwheel point the eye towards the young owl.
Getting up close with your subject can often be key to a successful nature shot – particularly if your chosen wildlife is on the small side. If possible, move closer to your subject, but you may find this tricky to do without frightening them away!
If you’re using a compact camera, avoid using the zoom function, as this can diminish the quality of your photographs. If you’re using a DSLR, you can change your lens, but if you still need to get closer then your binoculars could provide a solution…
Place the lens of your camera at one of the eyepieces to allow the camera to focus. Then take your picture. Although not as effective as a telephoto lens, it’s a quick fix that could help you capture that close up shot without scaring your subject.
Mastering macro photography can be useful for nature and wildlife shots too. If you’re using a smartphone, the smaller size and lighter weight of your phone makes it perfect for getting up close to flowers, insects and other tiny subjects. You can also buy macro lenses to add to your smartphone, making it even easier to capture every little detail.
Use a Tripod
Whilst you patiently wait for a critter or creature to strike the perfect pose, you may find your camera hand beginning to ache. A tripod will save you from aching arms and also reduce movement on your camera, giving you crisper, clearer shots. It will help you look the part too!
Know Your Lighting
The best time to take photographs outdoors is during the golden hour – the time around sunrise and sunset when the light is lovely and golden. This may mean setting your alarm and heading out early, but the other benefit of this is that there will be fewer people around, and therefore less to scare away your subject.
Avoid taking photographs during the middle of the day, as the light is a little too harsh. Instead, use this time for a picnic! And if the forecast predicts cloud, don’t be put off, as cloud cover will diffuse the light, making it softer and removing harsh shadows.
The golden hour is also perfect for capturing striking silhouettes, like the one below. For more on making the most of this time, take a look at our golden hour guide.
Wild at home
Wherever you are in the world, you’re never too far from nature. You don’t have to take a safari to capture wildlife on camera – even in an urban environment, there is still subject matter to be found for the keen nature photographer.
There are a few things you can do to turn your own garden into a haven for wildlife. Plant a variety of species to encourage a diverse range of insects and birds to pay a visit. Hang feeders to attract the birds. Invest in a small pond to entice frogs and their friends. With a little work, you can easily transform your own back yard into a playground for local wildlife.
“I particularly like wildlife photography that still has an artistic element to it.”
Photographer Joe Kirby was a previous UK winner in the CEWE Photo Award and has submitted some brilliant shots to the competition. Here he offers his top tips for improving your wildlife photography. If you’d like to see more of Joe’s work, head over to his website.
“Think outside the box and try to create something different to what’s done most often. There are thousands of sharp images of animals, great shots but just record shots nonetheless. I particularly like wildlife photography that still has an artistic element to it. This could be achieved by the incorporation of great lighting such as I tried to achieve with the ‘Sunset Horse’ photo.
Another way a shot of a beautiful creature can be enhanced is by incorporating it into the landscape and showing it in its environment like ‘The Deer’.
"Patience is crucial in wildlife photography. Getting the right shot or even seeing the creature you wish to shoot can take time. Have fun even when not shooting - enjoy the countryside, the nature, the scenery even if you don't see any animals.
"One of the funnest things about wildlife photography for me is learning about the creature you are aiming to shoot or have come across and shot whilst just wandering. The more you get out into the great outdoors , the more chance there is for you to see beautiful animals and the more you will learn about them."
Follow these tips and you're sure to see an improvement in the quality of your wildlife photographs. If you capture a shot you're particularly proud of when you're out and about, remember to enter the CEWE Photo Award. You can submit up to 100 of your best photos, so get out there and go wild with your camera!