Ten Tips for Better Photographs
Story and Photos by Irene Hinke-Sacilotto
Why is wildlife my favorite subject to photograph? To begin, I inherited love of animals from my father. He lived in Baltimore’s inner city in a row house with 12 siblings, but escaped whenever possible, walking great distances beyond the city limits, into the woods, with his dog by his side. I am grateful for the knowledge he shared and reserving time to take me for walks in the woods, turning over logs looking for salamanders and looking up into treetops for squirrels. He instilled in me an appreciation for nature and love of animals, no matter how common or unusual.
Engagement & Mindset
I am curious by nature and love the challenges that wildlife photography presents to include locating animals and anticipating behavior. For me, the pursuit of wildlife photography has a calming influence in my life. I call it “Photo Yoga”. When observing animals, my attention is totally focused on the subject. Negative thoughts, worries, and concerns disappear. Immersed in the moment, I often instinctively sense what is going to happen next as my subconscious recalls past encounters and visual cues. Even if I never take a shot, each encounter provides me with a mental database that helps me take better images in the future and with stories to share. The observations are often interjected in my presentations for camera clubs and shared with friends. For some photographers, post processing is the favorite part of rendering an image. For me, my greatest joy is capturing images in the field.
Patience & Perseverance
Patience and perseverance are critical for capturing great images of wildlife behavior. Maybe nothing is happening at the moment. But if you wait, conditions may change. I stay focused but am open to other potential photo opportunities, different than those I originally had in mind.
Knowledge, the Key to Success
The more you know about your subject, the better your photography. Careful observation of animal behavior and research are crucial. Now web searches make gathering information much easier than years ago. Talking to researchers, hunters, fellow photographers, and birders can be quite helpful in identifying new locations for wildlife photography. Often, they can provide insight into the behavior I am observing and help me anticipate what might happen next.
Relax and Let your Imagination Soar
Give up preconceptions or labels. Keep an open mind with child-like curiosity and enthusiasm. Be flexible and experiment. Move and change your camera angle. I might lie on my back for an interesting point of view or shoot while lying on my belly. Zoom out for wider views of the surrounding or increase magnification to capture detail. Sometimes I give myself assignments designed to stretch my imagination. At times, I will go into the field with a single lens or concentrate on capturing patterns, reflections or abstract images. Or, instead of using a fast shutter speed to freeze action, I might limit myself to much slower speeds to produce images that are more impressionistic.
Identify the Attraction
When photographing, it is important to identify what initially attracted you to the subject. Is it rim-light, texture, patterns, repeating elements, reflections, detail, surprising behavior, unique appearance, etc.? Once you realize what caught your attention when you first encountered the subject, you can select the lens, approach, and lighting that will best capture the image. I tend to look for shots that tell a story and show unique behavior.
Irene Hinke-Sacilotto is a frequent judge and speaker at camera clubs with programs on wildlife, bird, nature, and garden photography as well as on locations such as the Pantanal, Assateague Island, Chincoteague NWR, and Tangier Island. For many years, she has taught photography classes and has lectured at Johns Hopkins University and other educational institutions. Additionally, she has written “How To” articles on nature photography for national publications such as Shutterbug’s Outdoor and Nature Photography, Outdoor Photographer and Birding. Her images have appeared in magazines, calendars, and books published by National Wildlife Federation, Natural History Society, National Geographic, Audubon, and Sierra Club. Credits include the book, “Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, an Ecological Treasure.”
For more than 35 years, Irene has shared her photographic experiences and love of nature with thousands of individuals through more than 200 photo classes, workshops, lectures, and tours in both the U.S. and abroad including Kenya, Iceland, Newfoundland, the Falkland Islands, and the Brazilian Pantanal. Recent photo workshops include South Dakota Badlands, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Chincoteague NWR, Assateague National Seashore, the Outer Banks, the Hermitage, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, West Virginia Mountains, and Tangier Island. Program sponsors include zoos, nature centers, and conservation organizations such as National Wildlife Federation, the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Zoo, and the Assateague Island Alliance.