Close-up photography of birds and animals is a great way to develop a whole range of photographic skills. Birds are full of character and often have unique habits that make for great subject documentation through photography. Dedicated skills may be required and are often best learnt first-hand through hours in the field, or by studying your subject’s nature, habits and routine. Opportunistic moments may put you in the right place at the right time, yet can at times draw a fine line between necessary action to get the shot and physical danger.
And Thong Marine Park – Northwest of Ko Samui. Photographed for the Mountain Summit, this Marine lake (Thale Nai) is a vivid emerald to aqua green.
When starting out as a photographer, it is often useful to shoot everything with manual exposure and apeture settings. In choosing to control the light yourself instead of having the camera’s metering systems do most of the work, you learn through direct interaction between subject and lighting. The down shot is that manual settings may allow less time for subject composition, especially with insects and birds being such flighty an unpredictable subjects. However, the time spent manually managing the light can help in not over-complicating the image. Sometimes it may be best to start with sunsets off of a balcony or local beach.
This Sunset shot from Southern Thailand is a good example of manual metering and exposing for the highlights. ISO 200 gave good striking contrast and captured the magic of the moment. The angle of the sun was just right to capture a great deal of detail and translucency in the water. This was the best frame of 15 minutes shooting the sun’s beautiful golden honey amber glow and captures dramatic tension between the foreground elements and the light source.
After you have mastered manual metering or at least learnt how to manage light to suit your subject, a more integrated approach to the principles of good subject composition can be applied, with the concept of a framed image in mind at the point of capture. The unique thing about nature photography is that you are always learning something new about environmental conditions, or the behaviour and characteristic qualities of your subject. Birds are always a great challenge as they are fidgety creatures and alarmed by the first sign of danger. However, they can be one of the most rewarding subjects in terms of photographic memories and the intimate relationship that can be forged between photographer and the world of nature.
This kookaburra shot is a classic example of an opportunistic moment – a 400mm lens allowed for around 40 feet of subject distance, yet still fill most of the frame and blur the background. (*This was further achieved because a 400mm lens is equivalent to 600mm on the digital frame format or around 17x zoom).
Some degree of patience with mastering macro features is often essential for photographing insects, although there is no need to go out and by expensive lenses to begin with. Reptiles are often here and gone in a moment and you may need some distance between photographer and subject in terms of safety, especially with snakes. As photographic subjects – reptiles, as with certain birds of prey or poisonous insects need to be treated with a fair deal of respect in the field. Never corner a snakes or large reptile in the field or you may be up against one of your most primitive adversaries in terms of personal safety. The dragon lizards below however posed no threat at all and were a rewarding treat in over ten years spent photographing in this Adelaide Hills Location.
Above top is a baby tawny/amber dragon at only two inches long and too early to tell its sex. The image below is the same lizard – Tawny or Amber dragon (Ctenophorus decresii), only now clearly a juvenile male, identified by its bold cyan blue body and amber gold head. This male is around ten to twelve inches long including tail and starts to lose his colours slightly as he grows into a full sized male of up to two and a half feet in length. Both encounters were highly opportune moments as these animals are rare or seldom seen in the wild, or often quickly dart away at the sight or sound of humans. I observed their habits over a two year period to come back to the same location around breeding time and get the shots. 20 to 30 metres distance was necessary to not spook the more colourful and territorial male. The baby dragon was a joy to photograph and very inquisitive as to the flies buzzing around. I was able to interact with it and get quite a lot of closeup shots before it leaped 20 times it’s body length in a split second and snatched a fly off of my arm.
Reptiles and insects each pose unique challenges as photographic subjects. You may need specialty equipment and some degree of research or study of their behaviour may be necessary before consistent quality shots are assured. The good thing about both insects and small reptiles is they can be found in any park or garden and I always encourage people who are new to nature photography to get out in the garden and just experiment with what equipment they have and the subjects they come across. Take a visit to your local parklands, creek or botanical gardens, or just get out in the world of nature, you never know what photographic moment will make your day.
This Thai butterfly is from Ko Samui Thailand. One of the medium sized and more mild coloured of the greater body of native species. Overcast lighting is helpful when photographing butterflies and try butterfly houses when possible to capatalise on the accessibility of a greater variety of species. Also try and shoot square to the subject and aim for at least 65 to 70 percent of the butterfly to be in focus, as it is often very hard to capture the full body unless the butterfly is perfectly still or resting.