If, like me, you have a passion for wildlife, you probably enjoy taking pictures of the wildlife you see. Living in the UK we have a wide and diverse range of animal subjects on our own doorstep. Taking photographs of them however, requires skill, fieldcraft and lots of patience.
Wildlife as the name suggests – these animals are wild and are easily spooked by the presence of humans. To get good shots will undoubtedly require the use of a hide and being in position at the unsociable times of the day.
Garden birds however, are perhaps more easily accessible but because of their size they can require the use of large (and expensive) lenses to be able to get a reasonably good shot. Even then a hide may still be required if you intend to get really close.
So what are the other options for photographing wildlife in the UK?
Zoo’s and wildlife parks offer the photographer some good opportunities to photograph animals. The more modern enclosures have good viewing areas which can provide the photographer with easier access to the animals. You are also more likely to get closer to these animals than you would in their natural habitat as they are used to seeing humans.
A DSLR or equivalent is required with a zoom lens around up to 200/300mm. With this magnification you can get closer to your subject and be able to throw cluttered backgrounds out of focus by selecting a large aperture (controlling depth of field).
If your subject is enclosed by wire fencing or a cage it is possible to throw this obstruction out of focus (providing your subject is not too close to it) by resting the front of the lens on the cage/fence (best done with a filter fitted to provide some protection to the lens) and positioning the lens so that you are shooting through the small gap. By selecting a large Aperture and focusing on your subject you can render the obstruction so out of focus that it is almost invisible in the final photograph.
Aperture Priority is probably the best shooting mode as you want to control the depth of field (the area in focus) to be able to draw attention to your subject.
A key skill with animal photography is understanding the behavior of the animal you intend taking a photograph of. Animals are mostly unpredictable, but with some patience and observing their behavior you may be able to predict how they are going to move. In terms of your lens focusing system it is probably best to select the mode where there is some element of continuos focus. This is to ensure that if the animal were to move at the last minute, the camera would attempt to refocus before taking the shot.
There are plenty of zoo’s and wildlife parks dotted around the country. If birds are your particular interest there are also a number of reserves and wildfowl centres. Some independent places offer exclusive collections of big cats or wolves and may offer specific photographic days. As with most things an internet search should help you to locate them.
So what are you waiting for?
Both of the shots in this article were taken within a zoo in the UK.