The first in our series of photographic tips and gear reviews to set you on your way to becoming Africa Geographic’s Photographer of the Year!
Corlette Wessels of Africa Photography believes that photography isn’t just a hobby, it allows us to capture a fleeting moment in time. That image that takes us back time and time again to the feeling, the texture, the emotion of that special moment in time. It’s not a piece of equipment or skill. It’s the cataloguing of lives, of a changing world and our connection to it.
Here are Corlette’s seven tips for creating a winning photo:
1. Know your camera
Photographic opportunities with wildlife do not occur in slow motion and most of time are unexpected and happen rather fast. You cannot sit there fiddling with the camera buttons trying to find the ideal setting when the action is taking place in front of your eyes. By the time you’ve figured it out, the action would have been long gone and you would have missed out on the ultimate shot.
– Know how high you can push your ISO and still get an acceptable shot.
– Know how you can toggle between your focus points.
– Know how to change the f-stop and/or ISO fast.
– Have a quick “crop” button on the camera.
2. Know your subject and its environment
I have spent a lot of time in local reserves and have learnt to predict where certain animals will be and at what time. You need to know an animal’s behaviour. For example if you see hippos on the banks of the Chobe and they are moving towards the water, anticipate how you are going to frame this shot and get yourself into the prime position to capture this.
If you see a fish eagle in a tree or on the side of the river, and he makes a “poop”, you can almost be sure the bird is about to take off. Get into position and make sure you aim a bit higher to successfully capture the moment when it takes off. The only way you get to know animals and parks is to spend as much time as you can with them.
3. Work the light
Some advice I got from a professional wildlife photographer a few years ago was to use the light; shoot in the “golden” light of early morning or in the late afternoon. This means you must be up early and get to where you want to be before the sun is out or to make sure you get there before sunset. I mainly shoot early mornings till 10am and again in the afternoon after 3 pm. On cloudy days I shoot the entire day and the rain makes for some excellent photographs too.
However, you can take some good pictures at midday so long as the exposure is set lower than -2,5 f-stops. I particularly like to do this with raptors.
4. Shoot wider and closer
Too many people get fixated on having a big lens. You can get very good photographs and unique shots without big lenses. If you zoom out wider, or use a wide angle prime lens, you are able to capture the environment the animals are in as well as create more ambiance in the photograph. Challenge yourself to take wider angle images to create a better idea of where the subject lives in the wild – habitat says a lot.
5. How low?
I prefer to take shots as low as possible, if I can at eye lever or even lower. Obviously this depends on the environment and the animal; most of the time you will always be lower than a elephant, giraffe or a leopard up a tree while you might not get to the eye level of a mouse or snake.
6. Be patient
Nature and wildlife is unpredictable, anything can happen at any time. After I spent four weeks in the Kgalagadi on my own I learnt to be very patient; sitting at waterholes for four to six hours a day to get that one photograph that would make it all worth it. I make sure I have enough water, snacks and reading material in my vehicle, but don’t forget to frequently look up, watch your side mirrors and check you rear-view mirror.
7. Enjoy it
I often put myself under so much pressure to get “the ultimate photograph” that I forget to enjoy the moment. I have to remind myself to take my eye from my camera and take in the entire ‘picture’ with my own two eyes – not to get to caught up with technical issues. Be grateful for the privilege of being in nature. Do not chase after the big five, rather look for other animals and appreciate them too.
I hope these few tips adds a bit of value to your photography. I wish you all happy times in nature and just enjoy the moments.