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A Guide to Starting Wildlife Photography for Aspiring Animal Photographers

From Sophia, published on 29/01/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Photography > A Beginners Guide to Animal Photography

Shooting in a photography studio is vastly different than capturing images in nature.

A good photographer should be capable of both, and should have learned both of these types of photography while undergoing schooling.

Still: even after the best photography courses, one should choose a specialty.

If you are an animal lover, why not dedicate your career to taking pictures of them?

Superprof has compiled this handy guide for you to follow in snapping quality, professional shots of our furry, scaly, and feathered friends.

Questions to Ask Prior to Becoming an Animal Photographer

Taking photography classes to become a professional photographer is not an off-the-cuff decision.

Considering the cost of a photography course, equipment, and the investment of time certainly indicates that one should engage in heavy speculation beforehand.

Besides pragmatic issues such as finances and time, one should ponder:

Is it realistic to live one’s passion when, inevitably, practical matters will intrude?

While it is all good and well to idealise the world of the professional photographer, you should also consider real-world concerns, such as:

  • Promoting your business: the time it would take to advertise by word of mouth, and maintaining social media accounts and perhaps even a blog
  • Seeking clients
  • Drafting quotes and compiling invoices
  • Paying out: on taxes, for insurance, for software, equipment and supplies; for your studio and advertising

And then, there are other functions every professional photographer must undertake: retouching and editing photos, delivering the finished product and collecting payments…

All of this can take away from one’s time behind the lens!

Furthermore, as a future animal photographer, you should take under advisement:

  • Do you have the patience to work with such unpredictable subjects?
  • Do you have the necessary equipment and props?
  • Do you have the necessary photography skills to work with animals?
  • Are you convinced that animal photography will satisfy both your desire to work with animals and your pocketbook?

In all of your fervor to launch yourself into such a niche, you should nevertheless account for the fact that your clientèle would be but a small slice of everyone seeking professional photographs.

Unlike wedding photography, photojournalism or general portraiture – areas of photography that could be quite lucrative, the animal photographer accepts that his client base would be substantially smaller.

It might be harder to earn enough to make a decent living as an animal photographer.

That’s not to say that you couldn’t make out well, photographing animals of all stripes. It just means that you should target your business toward those clients whose business is animals.

Your client base could include: pet stores and veterinarian offices; travel agencies that promote wildlife tours, magazines that feature nature photography, and those clients who keep portraits of their pets.

One last nugget to chew on: have you drafted a business plan?

How much do you need/want to earn each month? How much time do you wish to spend working? How many photoshoots do you need to complete to meet your living and working expenses?

How much should you charge?

Photographing an animal who generally remains still, like an iguana or a python, should command less than photographing an active Labrador puppy or a sullen tabby cat, don’t you think?

Should you charge more for uncooperative cats than placid pythons? How can you make a stubborn kitty pose properly? Source: Pixabay Credit: Walter_Kowalschek

What Does it Take to master Animals Photography?

There are no requirements or special diplomas needed to promote one’s services as a professional photographer in the UK.

However, we do aver that billing yourself as a professional photographer is much more credible if you have attained a Level 3 certificate or a BA Honors diploma from an accredited photography school.

The most important thing to remember: no matter if you are a freelancer or full-time professional (of any type of business), you must register with HMRC, and pay any taxes levied on you.

With that out of the way, let us look at what type of animal photography you could specialise in.

Portraiture

Indeed, there is a substantial market for snapping portraits of beloved pets.

You may invite clients into your studio for a photography session, complete with backdrops and props, or you could travel to their home, to capture your subject in his familiar setting.

There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

Should your client opt for studio photography, you would already have your DSLR set up, studio lighting in place, and issues of composition settled.

The chore would then be getting cooperation out of your subject. And then, after the shoot, removing any lingering fur.

Should your client request digital photography in their home, you would have to transport your DSLR camera (or your Nikon), along with your filters, lenses, tripod, lighting, props and, if you are using a digital camera, perhaps a laptop.

You would have to adapt your lighting techniques to the environment: is the room overly bright? Or, conversely: unnaturally dark?

Would you be capturing the animal in action? Maybe chasing a ball or jumping through a hoop?

What if you are photographing fish, in a pond or aquarium?

Your skill at macro photography could be called upon to shoot a pet tarantula in a terrarium.

All of these variables will demand different aperture and exposure settings, and perhaps your whole bag of tricks.

The upside to working in your clients’ homes is that your studio remains pristine!

Professional photography of animals is full of curves and twists.

One of its most entrancing features is that you never quite know what to expect, from one photo shoot to the next!

Commercial Photography

The aforementioned travel agencies, pet stores and wildlife magazines all fall under this heading.

Most likely, if you are a commercial photographer of animals, you would pack your photographic gear to capture your subjects in situ.

This task could be made easier by stowing a complete kit, already arranged and ready to place in the boot of your car.

These different modes of photography require their own measure of skill and creativity.

That last might well be challenged within the framework of customer requirements!

Night Photography

Let’s say a nature magazine has contracted you to capture nightlife in the wild: a colony of feral cats that terrorise a neighbourhood, or some recently spotted red foxes, for example.

You would have to learn how to lense them, set your shutter speed and remain innocuous enough that they do not become spooked, run away and hide.

Of course, workflow of night photography becomes much easier if your local zoo contracts you to build a brochure of their newly-opened nocturnal animals wing.

Imaging unpredictable, unsociable animals, in the wild or otherwise, is a challenge perhaps only an advanced photographer would relish undertaking.

And, speaking of the zoo…

That is a great location to apply the basics of animal photography, and expand your skills set!

Capturing nocturnal animals requires patience, practice and skill The zoo is a great place to hone your skill in night photography Source: Pixabay Credit: Alexa_fotos

The 7 Golden Rules to Perfect Photography of Animals

The photographer of animals should adhere to the following principles in order to find success.

Study Your Subject

Doing research prior to setting out on a photoshoot is essential, because it will help you determine what type of photography equipment will be needed.

Learning everything you can about the animals you will capture on film has practical value. Is it nocturnal or diurnal? What does it eat? What type of environment does it live in? Is it a social animal, or a loner?

Is it a particularly active, or a fast beast?

These factors will all impact how you image them: the time of day that the lighting would be best, where you might find it and what filters and lenses you should bring with you.

If you prefer film photography: what speed film should you use?

And, studying the terrain will help you decide what type of personal protective equipment you should wear!

Envision the Image you Wish to Capture

Doing so will prevent a lot of unproductive time, setting up in one location or another, before finding your ideal setting and backdrop.

Here too, studying your subject and its environment is helpful!

Also, envisioning your money shot permits you to settle for nothing less; it gives you something to actively strive for.

Become Invisible

Especially when photographing animals in their natural habitat, one must become a master of camouflage!

Even during studio photography of pets, photographers must minimise the stress on the animal in order to successfully photograph it.

Expertise in wildlife photography does not come cheap or easy. Many a photographer has tales of animal attacks, when plying their camera in the wild!

Conversely, the animal in question could just be curious, which would afford you delightful close-ups of twitching noses and enlarged eyes!

Overwhelmingly, those who know how to photograph animals in the wild know to not disturb them, or attempt to isolate them from their environment.

While it would be easy to lure your subject with food in order to get that perfect shot, animal photographers on assignment generally do their best to blend in, snapping the animal in its habitat.

The only time isolating an animal would be effective is when creating advertisement photos, or maybe a zoo brochure.

Patience and Observation

Most wildlife photographers (and studio photographers) will tell you that patience is a requisite in photographing animals.

Indeed, unless you have a motion-sensing camera, or a remote controlled one, you are likely to sit in the same spot, unmoving, for hours in order to capture your elusive subject.

That means that, if you are shooting polar bears in the Arctic circle, you should dress suitably!

Equally important: you must cultivate your powers of observation.

Wild life, especially prey animals are masters of camouflage and have a highly refined sense of danger.

It will be up to you to spot them, even if they are still partially concealed.

Don’t go Overboard in Hunting your Subject

In the dead of winter and on the most dangerous terrain is where you would most likely encounter artful beasts, but it is not worth your life – or risking your equipment to photograph it.

You should be conscious of your environment at all times, advise the experts.

To avoid becoming prey or succumbing in an avalanche, it would be best to pursue that elusive money shot elsewhere, in more agreeable conditions.

Adopt a Standard Focal Length of at Least 300mm.

Having the camera at the ready allows you to counter any eventuality and not to panic should a subject make a surprise appearance, or do something extraordinary.

You could say wildlife and animal photography is a constant intellectual balancing act between attention to camera settings and attention on your environment.

Shooting a tiger is best done from a safe distance Use the right lens in order to remain a safe distance from your more dangerous subjects! Source Pixabay Credit: Alexa_fotos

Wildlife Photography: a Tantalising Pinnacle to Aspire to

In spite of the fact that, in the UK, anyone with photography equipment could, in theory, bill themselves as a professional photographer, it is a profession that is difficult to succeed in.

First, there is stiff competition: established pros already have studios, portfolios and reputations to boast.

Some offer workshops and tutorials: have you attended any?

You, perhaps a beginner in the world of digital SLR, have to make a name for yourself.

And if you choose the relatively small niche of animal photography, you will be going up against some venerable names whose artistic renderings of wildlife have won awards!

Despite a measure of fame, these advanced photographers do not count solely on their prowess behind the lens to generate income.

Take, for example, Richard Peters.

He is an award-winning photographer who travels relentlessly to some of the most beautiful places on earth, capturing stunning wildlife scenes.

Even while on the road, he writes articles about wildlife photography for various magazines, and is often contracted to write content for websites.

How he supplements his income, besides prize money, is his choice. You too will have to make choices, even as you take your art of wildlife photography to the next level.

One way to gain exposure in the field of animal photography is to participate in contests designed to uncover and promote beginners in the art of photography.

Richard Peters, although well established in the field, still enters competitions, making him one of the best-recognised photographers in the world!

The more recognition you gain, the higher the fee you could command.

However, you should be well aware that, before notoriety, contracts and all-expenses-paid trips, you will have to pay your dues.

That means that travel, equipment, supplies and time are all on your tab.

It is a bitter pill to swallow; perhaps even enough to discourage one from the rarefied air of animal photography.

But it is the reality of the profession.

In light of that truth, why not be realistic? Why not cultivate a subspecialty, such as street photography, or try your hand as a photojournalist?

Have you thought of teaching a photography class or two?

The trouble with freelancing as a photographer (or as a Photoshop editor) is that you don’t have much room for risk, especially if a living wage is of primary concern.

In light of that, you may keep your current job and chase photography as an avocation. Enter your best shots in competitions, build a name for yourself and see how far that goes.

Once you have amassed a bit of recognition, then you could entertain ideas on how to live your passion!

Best Animal Photographers

Andy Rouse has travelled the world, capturing unique moments of light and shadow in the life of animals.

He is one of the most decorated photographers in the UK, having received more than twenty awards for his most stunning imagery of the animal world.

He is also mad for aviation!

He has published fifteen books, so if you just can’t get enough of his artistry, you can always indulge yourself again and again amongst those pages.

Andy’s advice for advanced photography hopefuls: find/keep another line of work.

The stock photo market is completely saturated. My advice is to do it as a hobby, so that you do it for fun and with no pressure.

He also advocates learning the fundamentals through a good photography course, and attending as many photography workshops as possible, that discuss different subject matter.

Not just how to use new technology such as Adobe Lightroom and digital post processing, but how to use natural light and photographing landscapes, for example.

Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas are non-discriminatory wildlife photographers: they photograph birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects, young and old.

They have a captivating collection of other scenes, too: landscapes, architecture, cultural events, plants, and places of historical significance.

It is their desire to inspire people to celebrate and conserve the natural wonders of our planet.

Their advice for the newly-turned-pro: don’t be greedy. Only take snaps, and give back more than you take.

Do you too want to capture hilarious animal shots? Capturing quirky animals on film drives some photographers to the ends of the earth! Source: Pixabay Credit: Oldiefan

In Summary

Seth Godin said: If you aim to sell to the world, you will surely fail. The only option for success is to find something important to sell, to only a few people.

Be sure of your choice! Your love of animal photography does not guarantee you a full page spread in any magazines, nor does it promise a fantastic income.

Take photography lessons in a formal setting! Whether in basics of photography or specialising in animals and wildlife, you will be much more credible in setting up your studio and soliciting clients.

Joining a photography society is not a bad idea, either. Through other members, you can get tips from more established photographers and get your name out, possibly as an apprentice.

Patience and powers of observation are a must in wildlife photography! Even if you are taking pictures of pets, remaining calm and the ability to wait for that perfect pose is an asset.

Respect the environment: dress properly for the job; don’t endanger yourself by becoming prey or freezing to death!

Keep your passion alive! As with so many who have chased their dream, only to find it marred by practical concerns – the real-world aspects of running a business; in the end, it might be hard to remember why you got into animal photography in the first place.

Please pardon the brutal honesty!

This last, most important piece of advice:

Few animal and wildlife photographers manage to make even a decent living off of their work.

Please don’t expect fame and fortune to come to you simply because you ply a camera and capture beasts at play.

But, lucky you if your circumstances permit, that you get to chase your dream!

Learn about studying photography at university.

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