Wildlife photography has always been a passion of mine, one that I have been lucky enough to craft into a great career, and through many, many years of guiding, lecturing and hosting photo safaris, I have learnt many lessons.
Every once in a while it is worth sitting back to remind ourselves — and that goes for me as well — of the basics, what to really worry about when it comes to our own photography and why we do what we do.
In no particular order here are a few things I have learnt, and continuously remind myself of, about wildlife photography.
Quite often the moment is bigger than your image. For whatever reason many people get so obsessed with getting the image that they allow the actual beauty of the moment pass them by. Being out in nature and having the privilege of photographing the beautiful places and wildlife around the world is the reason many of us started creating images. Don’t get so stuck on the photography side of things that you allow the magical moments nature has to offer pass you by.
No matter how good an image is, there is no excuse for stressing out an animal. Whether shouting, throwing things or driving a remote controlled camera right into an animal’s comfort zone in order for it ‘do something’ or create different photographic opportunity is just not on. Don’t do it.
Don’t worry what people think about your images. The moment you worry about what people are going to think of your images, whether while looking through the viewfinder or processing your images, you are doing it for the wrong reason. The moment this happens your focus is wrong and your images will eventually show this. You will never keep everybody happy all of the time, so shoot for yourself and actually enjoy the entire photographic process.
Don’t get so stuck on the photography side of things that you allow the magical moments nature has to offer pass you by.
Choose whose advice you listen to. Not everybody with a few nice images is an expert, and social media has made it very easy for anybody to dish out advice. It is completely impossible to follow all of this advice, so make sure you filter through all of the noise and look for information and inspiration from photographer’s whose images speak to you. Photographers who are passionate about what they are doing and not just in it for fake online fame. Look for people with a solid background, true passion for photography, and the willingness to share what they have learnt.
Wildlife photography in itself is not a competition. Photography is an art and should not be approached from a mine-is-better point of view. By doing this, your focus will again shift to what other people think of your work rather than doing it for yourself. By all means, enter photography competitions and see it for what it is, but don’t get stuck in trying to compete with others all the time. They probably don’t even know you are competing with them.
Let your images do the talking. More and more photographers are using websites and social media channels to be, for lack of a better word, controversial in order to get engagement going and to be a part of a community. Yes, conversation and debate is always good and can challenge our creative boundaries, but not when it’s always about the same thing and not when it takes away from just being a photographer and sharing your images.
New destinations means new inspiration. Traveling is a great way to open your eyes and your mind to all the wonders that world has to offer. The same goes for visiting and photographing different wildlife destinations. Want to improve your wildlife photography? Spend more money on traveling to new destinations and less money on gear.
Focus on the basic principles of photography, try new things, and shoot with childish abandon and you will create uniquely wonderful wildlife images.
Gear is good. Vision is better. Leading on from the previous point, I stole this one from David du Chemin as it is something that cripples many wildlife photographer’s growth. Yes, we all like big lenses and yes, the sound of 11 frames per second is awesome, but you do not — do not — need them to create striking wildlife images. Focus on the basic principles of photography, try new things, and shoot with childish abandon and you will create uniquely wonderful wildlife images.
Remember why you picked up your camera in the first place. This is probably the most important thing as that moment encapsulates the essence of what you should still be focusing on now. Passion. Curiosity. Telling stories. Having fun.
You’ll never be the best. Or the worst. No matter how long you have been shooting, there will always be someone out there that is better than you. But don’t worry. There will always also be someone looking at your images, thinking that one day they will be as good as you.
The journey never stops.