How many times have you flipped through your images after an unforgettable dusk in the bush and felt pangs of disappointment: the photos from your once-in-a-lifetime spotting of a leopard look a little, well, leopard-less. Wildlife must be one of the hardest subjects to capture on camera – but when you get it right, can produce some of the most spectacular results. We asked Dale Morris, a South Africa-based freelance photographer and writer who’s shot more wildlife covers and features for magazines than we care to count, for his top tips when it comes to capturing wildlife on camera.
1/ Have patience and more patience
A good wildlife photographer should enjoy just being in the presence of wildlife. The more patience you have, the better chance you will have of getting a great image. If you are impatient, I suggest you photograph something that isn’t as unpredictable as wildlife
2/ Love your topic
If you have a genuine interest and love for your topic you will take better photos. Personally, I am not very interested in photography or photographic equipment. I am, however, utterly dedicated to and fascinated by wildlife. Learn the behaviour of your intended quarry and then set yourself up to be in the best place at the best time. If you know what to expect from an animal in terms of behaviour, you can predict what might happen in front of your lens. If you can predict, then you will likely get better photos
3/ Don’t be lazy
Get up early to make the most of the best light.
4/ Approach your subject in incremental movements
When approaching an animal, take some photos from where you are, then move forward a bit. Take some more shots and move forward a bit more. Gage how the animal is reacting to you. If it seems concerned with your presence, back off a little or just stay where you are. Allow the animal to become accustomed and perhaps even trusting of you. Move slowly; take your time. If you play the game properly, you may find yourself much closer to an animal than you would normally expect to be.
5/ Go alone or with like minded people
There is nothing worse than feeling like you are being hurried along by company who don’t appreciate what you are wanting to achieve with your camera. Join a photo safari or travel with someone who shares your passion (or at least doesn’t mind sitting around in shrubbery for hours and hours on end).
6/ Buy a macro lens
You won’t regret it.
7/ Buy a nice big lens too
You won’t regret that either.
About Dale’s photograph, above: This meerkat image was taken in South Africa’s Kalahari Meerkat Project, near Uppington. For more then 20 years, scientists, researchers, students and meerkat fans have descended on the Kuruman River Reserve in order to study, photograph and film the stars of the hit television series “Meerkat Manor”. I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks with these meerkats, who have become so habituated to a benign human presence that they will often use a nearby observer as a sentinel post. Quite often, while I was snapping away, a meerkat would peel away from the group and scramble up onto my head for a better view. The late afternoons and early mornings are always a wonder in the Kalahari. The slanting sunlight backlights everything, putting golden glows and ethereal haloes around plants and animals alike.
Photo data: DSLR, 400mm f4 @ 330mm, 1/640s at f/4