Seen all the great entires into our Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 competition and wondered how you too can take such amazing pictures on safari? While we can’t guarantee you a winning shot we can give you some tips and tricks to improve your wildlife photography! In the below blog Felix Bartelke gives 10 tips that should help you to get the right settings for action wildlife photography.
A professional DSLR gives you more frames per second than you need and almost no noise at insanely high ISO values. If you can afford a professional DSLR that’s great but if not, don’t worry as you can get iconic images out of entry level DLSRs when used properly.
1. Batteries and memory cards
Make sure that your batteries are fully charged to get top performance out of your camera. A battery grip enhances the performance further. Needless to say your memory cards have to be formatted, empty and ready to go.
2. Burst mode
This is maybe the single most important tip. It helps when your camera continuously takes pictures as long as the shutter button is pressed. Having more frames per second increases your chances of capturing the decisive moment. The time for how long you can do that depends on the buffer capacity of your camera and the speed of your memory cards. Shooting small series repeatedly will give your camera time to write on the memory card. That prevents you from being stuck with a full buffer.
3. Image quality and size
I personally like to shoot both RAWs and the highest quality JPEGs at the same time. The JPEGs are immediately available for social media and email. The best RAWs can be perfected in Lightroom. However, shooting RAW + JPG takes up buffer capacity, so if you wish to increase your buffer capacity, you can reduce to only shooting JPEGs.
4. Aperture priority mode
Shooting aperture priority enables me to quickly adjust to changing light situations. Additionally I can creatively adjust my depth of field. In low light I need to open up the aperture to let more light in. This is also good for portraits because the shallow depth of field isolates your subject from the background. If there is more light available you can have a deeper depth of field.
5. Shutter speed
Shutter speed is king. To freeze the action your shutter speed needs to be high enough. That depends on how fast your object is moving. With slow animals you get away with 1/1000 sec but with flying birds you might need 1/2000 sec and faster. As a rule of thumb your shutter speed should be 1/focal length or faster. That is why in low light I decrease my focal length because at 400mm you need at least 1/400 sec. At 80mm you’ll most likely find that 1/80sec is enough.
I increase the ISO as much as needed to achieve a fast enough shutter speed for a sharp picture. Better a sharp picture with a little digital noise than a blurry picture.
The autofocus is the most important feature of your camera for action photography, as you are not able to fix a photo in Photoshop that is out of focus.
Back button focus: Professional cameras have an AF-ON button. Use it. If you don’t have one, you can customise the AE/AF button at the back of the camera for focusing. I always use the so-called ‘back button focusing’ method. The shutter-release button is for taking pictures only.
Autofocus mode: My preferred autofocus mode is AF-C continuous autofocus. I constantly focus, compose, focus, and compose. When I am ready, I press the shutter-release button. That combines the best of AF-S single focus (being able to recompose the picture) and continuous focus (being able to focus constantly on a moving subject).
Autofocus area mode: In wildlife photography it is important to be able to focus on a specific point. That is usually the eye of the subject. In the bush an automatic autofocus will focus on the nearest branches but not on the subject. That is why I set the AF area to single-point AF. This way I can put the focus point where I want it to be.
In cases where you have a less busy foreground (e.g. birds in flight), you can increase your number of focus points to 9-point or 21-point dynamic-area AF. I never use more than 21-points because then I get too close to an automatic modus. More AF points increase your chances of the AF to lock onto your subject. The risk is that the camera chooses a less ideal point to focus (e.g. the tip of the wing instead of the eye of the bird). The most extreme form is 3-D tracking.
I compose generously and give my main subject room to breathe when it comes to action. Nothing is worse than having a leopard at the edge of the picture with the tail cut off.
9. Customised user settings
I have saved all of the below as my action user settings. From there I start to adjust to the actual situation.
Action user settings:
· Aperture priority
· AE/AF button for back button focus
· AF-C continuous autofocus
· Single-point AF (central)
· Matrix metering
· ISO: 400
· RAW + JPG fine
· Burst mode: CH Continuous high speed
10. Back to basics
After using extreme settings, it is important to go back to standard settings again. This way you avoid switching your camera on and having to start to adjust back to normal settings.
Think you have taken the winning image? Enter the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 competition now!