Rick Hobbs Photography

Wildlife/Nature/Outdoor Photography

Photo Tips

Working Your Subject

This article will give you 10 tips to help you make the most of your opportunities when photographing a subject.

Wild stallions fighting, South Dakota

Tip # 1 - Do your research.

You can help create your own luck with a little research. If you plan on photographing scenes with stunning fall color be sure to find out when the colors usually reach their peak in the desired location.

If your interest is in photographing wildlife, it is important to understand the behavior of your subjects during the year. For example, elk will react much differently during the rut than at other times throughout the year. This knowledge will help you to anticipate opportunities and to stay safe in the process.

When arriving at the destination try to tap into local knowledge about special situations that might be available such as a particularly beautiful spot nearby, or a fairly consistent wildlife sighting.

Fresh bite marks and scars from fighting, South Dakota

Tip # 2 - Get your vision in focus.

Pre-visualize the shot. It helps to try and see the type of images you would like to make in your minds eye. Sometimes this will help you to actually see the image more clearly once presented with an opportunity.

When approaching a potential subject evaluate if the conditions are right for creating a dynamic image. If they are, by all means go for it, however, sometimes it might be better to scout the subject now and then come back to photograph it when everything comes together.

Spring colt and mother, South Dakota

Tip # 3 - Be ready to shoot.

Try to be physically, and mentally, ready to shoot. When photographing a beautiful scene, try to be setup before the light is perfect. If you are running late and worrying about the opportunity getting away, chances are, you will not be relaxed and in the proper frame of mind when creating the image.

When driving in an area where wildlife encounters are likely, be sure your equipment is out and within reach so you can be shooting in a matter of seconds. Often, when trying to photograph wildlife, if the equipment is still in your camera bag the opportunity will be over before you can be ready to shoot. If you need to use the vehicle as a blind you may not even be able to get at the gear without chasing off the subject.

Wild horses drinking, South Dakota

Tip # 4 - Spend time with your subject.

Many people will miss the best opportunities because they are not willing to spend much time with their subjects. They only take a couple of shots and head down the road to the next opportunity. Please remember, it is the "being there" that matters most.

Every beautiful scene will look different from a variety of locations and subtle changes in the light can make a huge difference. Whenever possible you should keep working an area because each day the subject could have a different look as a result of the weather, lighting, or some other factors.

When you have a chance to spend time with wildlife subjects try to enjoy the encounter and make the most of the opportunity. Usually the longer the visit the more you get to see and learn about your subjects. Some of the best images will come after both you and the subject get used to spending some time together. Only then can you begin to have a true connection with the subject that goes far beyond capturing an image.

Wild horses runing, South Dakota

Tip # 5 - Be flexible and open to the possibilities.

While it is true that it helps to pre-visualize images in your mind and look for those types of opportunities when working in the field, it is also extremely important to be flexible and open to other possibilities that might be presented. Often, you may be heading to photograph one subject and find several others along the way.

This is especially true when photographing wildlife. Things can change very quickly and you may have little time to respond. Many times the unexpected opportunities turn out to be gifts from nature and you don't want to miss those.

Spring foal - only a couple days old, South Dakota

Tip # 6 - Use a variety of tools and techniques.

Usually a photographer has an idea of which lens and technique they prefer to use for a subject. After creating the images you are happy with, continue to work by using a different lens, filter, or technique to get a different look and create a variety of photographs. Keep working the area since quite often there are pictures within pictures if you keep going.

As long as the conditions are right, and the subject cooperates, keep working and trying different things. You can always make a final decision when editing the images, but at least you will have more choices.

New foal stays by mothers side, South Dakota

Tip # 7 - Shoot different types of images.

Mix it up so your images don't all start to look the same. To get the most out of any photo opportunity try to shoot many different types of images. Include both grand landscapes that take it all in and intimate landscapes that show the viewer only the parts of the scene you want them to focus on.

If you have a cooperative wildlife subject try to shoot intimate portraits that only show part of your subject. Also shoot portraits that fill 50% or more of the frame with the subject and environmental portraits that fill 50% or less of the frame with the subject. Of course, try to capture as much behavior as possible.

New foal resting, South Dakota

Tip # 8 - Capture your subjects in different lighting situations.

After making photographs of the subject in lighting you prefer, continue working the subject by shooting it in different lighting situations. The subject will look significantly different when photographed using front-lighting, side-lighting, back-lighting, and flash when appropriate. Depending on the subject, and the time of day, you can often create interesting images using a variety of different lighting situations.

Mother caring for newborn, South Dakota

Tip # 9 - Try several different compositions and backgrounds.

Just as we have discussed using a variety of lenses, techniques and lighting, you can also create a variety of images by moving the subject around in the frame. If you have time, try composing the images so you can shoot both horizontals and verticals that are interesting.

When photographing wildlife try to work the subject with several different backgrounds. Even with the same subject, each image can look significantly different just by using a different background.

The family unit - mother taking a break, South Dakota

Tip # 10 - Take advantage of varying weather conditions.

Whenever possible try to go back to a location or subject and photograph it in different weather conditions. Weather is one factor that can make the same subject look dramatically different and set a mood for the image.

Consider shooting the same subject on a clear day, puffy cloud day, in the fog or a snowstorm, or even with an approaching thunderstorm. Each of these images could be very interesting and quite different.

Wild horses at sunset with storm clouds rolling in, South Dakota

Hopefully these tips will come in handy and help you to get the most out of your photo opportunities.


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