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Tips and techniques

A Passion for Wildlife Photography, Part II

By February 26, 2020No Comments

Ten Tips for Better Photographs

This image shows Great Egrets fighting. In this case, the squabble was over a small pool of water filled with tiny fish. Apparently, the third bird wanted no part of the disagreement.
This image shows Great Egrets fighting. In this case, the squabble was over a small pool of water filled with tiny fish. Apparently, the third bird wanted no part of the disagreement.

Story and Photos by Irene Hinke-Sacilotto

Sanderlings are small shorebirds that feed along the shoreline. When waves retreat, the birds follow and feed on mole crabs and other organisms as wet sand is exposed. With incoming surf, they run ahead of it to avoid being swamped.
Sanderlings are small shorebirds that feed along the shoreline. When waves retreat, the birds follow and feed on mole crabs and other organisms as wet sand is exposed. With incoming surf, they run ahead of it to avoid being swamped.

Refining your Images

In the field, I continuously try to refine my images. Typically, if there is time, I take a series of photographs attempting to make each one better than the last.  I examine the composition, carefully scan the edges of the frame, and look for potential flaws and distractions. I also consider alternative points of view so I can take full advantage of each situation. I look for lines, contrast, color, etc. that can lead to the subject and keep the viewer’s eye engaged and within the frame.  I may spend hours with one subject or return day after day to capture a particular image I have in mind.

This Red Fox image was captured with an expression that perfectly fits the saying "sly as a fox". I took several shots of the fox at the time but this was the only one with this look.
This Red Fox image was captured with an expression that perfectly fits the saying “sly as a fox”. I took several shots of the fox at the time but this was the only one with this look.
Red Fox standoff with mouse at Chincoteague, NWR. Every day during this trip I looked for fox in same area where I first saw it. Eventually I spotted it toying with a mouse and slowly moved in to take this photo.
Red Fox standoff with mouse at Chincoteague, NWR. Every day during this trip I looked for fox in same area where I first saw it. Eventually I spotted it toying with a mouse and slowly moved in to take this photo.

Avoiding Background Distractions

Sometimes I squint my eyes when looking at a scene to exclude less important details and see what stands out (including lines, forms, etc.) or could possibly present a problem.   For example, I use this technique when photographing a subject as a silhouette to be sure its shape does not blend with other unlit portions of the scene and that the animal is recognizable by its outline alone.

Silhouette of a Great Egret with fish.
Silhouette of a Great Egret with fish.

For close-up photography, I sometimes shift my camera’s focus off the subject and focus on the background for an instant. This technique allows me to more easily see if strong forms, bright highlights, or other distractions that are in the background and may be a problem. Then I refocus on the subject with this information in mind.

Argiope spider on its web on Tangier Island.
Argiope spider on its web on Tangier Island.

The longer the focal length of the lens, the narrower angle of view. So, these telephoto lenses can help you exclude a something distracting in the background. Small shifts in the camera position can dramatically control what appears behind your subject.  In some situations where the subject is in sunlight but the background is distracting, I position camera so that a shadowed area falls behind my subject.  This approach creates a dramatic image, as is if the animal is lit by a spotlight.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron after catching soft crab. The bird was in sunlight but the background was in shadow. I made the image a bit more dramatic by darkened the background even more during post-processing.
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron after catching soft crab. The bird was in sunlight but the background was in shadow. I made the image a bit more dramatic by darkened the background even more during post-processing.

Shooting from a position level with your subject is often desirable, producing less distortion of the image and suggesting a more intimate relationship between you and your wildlife subject.  The lower angle can also help isolate the subject if the background is distant and well out of the depth of field.

Young Prairie Dogs nose to nose photographed from a low camera position.
Young Prairie Dogs nose to nose photographed from a low camera position.

Capturing the Unusual

I love capturing the unique aspects of an animal’s morphology and behavior.  I look for unexpected behavior and try to capture the emotions evoked by the scene.  Every situation is unique. The behavior, environment, and lighting is never the same.  Don’t pass up on an opportunity expecting it to be there tomorrow. It won’t!

Atlantic Puffin eating flowers. This was so unexpected, that I took a number of photos at the time but only this one best showed what the puffin was doing. The distant background and relatively shallow depth of field helped make the bird and flowers standout.
Atlantic Puffin eating flowers. This was so unexpected, that I took a number of photos at the time but only this one best showed what the puffin was doing. The distant background and relatively shallow depth of field helped make the bird and flowers standout.
Unique photo of Atlantic Puffin using wing for balance while scratching.
Unique photo of Atlantic Puffin using wing for balance while scratching.

Imaginary Gallery

To judge the impact of a photograph, I sometimes imagine it hanging on the wall in a gallery.  I close my eyes and examine the photo as if seeing it for the first time.  Then I ask myself, have I conveyed the thoughts and feelings I experienced while taking the photo?  Is the composition static – perhaps with the subject centered or with the horizon in the middle of the frame? Is the viewers eye drawn into the scene? Does it convey a story? Does it have the impact I desired or is it mundane, a scene I have seen many times before?

This is a humorous shot of a young Brown Bear struggling to hold onto a slippery salmon at McNeil State Game Sanctuary in Alaska.
This is a humorous shot of a young Brown Bear struggling to hold onto a slippery salmon at McNeil State Game Sanctuary in Alaska.

Learning Never Ends

I always am learning something new from magazine and web articles, YouTube, experiences in the field, or from other photographers.

I keep my workshops small so I can provide individual attention to each person, no matter their skill level.  No one should ever be embarrassed to ask questions. I typically learn something each time I conduct a program.  If you have an open mind and see disappointments as opportunities to improve and try new techniques, you will gain from your experiences. Everyone has his own unique vision.  This becomes very obvious when we review images taken during the program.  Even though the photographers are at the same location at the same time, the resulting mages are typically quite different.  Even if a person does not yet have a firm grasp of the technical aspects of photography and camera operation, their images reflect a special way they look at the world.  If committed, the technical skills with come with time.

Badger at its hole near a prairie dog town in the Badlands of South Dakota. My friend, seeing fall color in the distance, did not notice it.
Badger at its hole near a prairie dog town in the Badlands of South Dakota. My friend, seeing fall color in the distance, did not notice it.
Click here to read Part 1 of A Passion for Wildlife Photography Photography which was published on February 19, 2020.

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. 

See more of Irene’s work at www.ospreyphoto.com or on Facebook.