From urban geese and snowy stags through to underwater habitats and forest close ups, the standard of images at the 2014 British Wildlife Photography Awards was incredible (you can see the winners’ gallery here). If you’ve been inspired by the amazing images from the competition, professional nature photographer Paul Hobson shares his top tips for amateur photographers looking to capture the great outdoors on their travels.
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Taking wildlife close-ups
Taking extreme close up photography, also known as macro photography, is a great way to capture a new perspective of your destination. But showing intricate details in a larger-than-life way can be tricky. Here are Paul’s top macro tips:
Try to get low: Lying down on the ground to photograph close-ups creates a lovely blur effect before and after your subject, helping it really stand out.
Find interesting subjects: Macro subjects are everywhere. Think about patterns such as tree bark or leaves resting on moss. Every season is different – autumn not only adds lovely colours but is the best time for fungi which make brilliant macro subjects. The main thing is to experiment and look for different patterns and textures.
Learn your equipment settings: Paul says “I always shoot in Aperture Priority (Av). I choose my F number when I consider what depth of field I need. However if you have a compact it will usually have a macro setting, choose this. Depth of field is very small when using macro lenses so you often have to use large F numbers like 11, 16 or 22. Learn to understand ISO and use this to increase the speed in low light situations. Be careful though; if the ISO gets too high the image becomes grainy (called noise).”
Buy a large lens: If you are considering purchasing a macro lens try to get the largest size you can afford. All dedicated macro lenses produce an image that is 1:1, i.e. life size. A 90/100mm macro lens produces the same image size as a 60mm macro lens but you are nearly twice as far away. A 180mm macro lens will produce the same image size but at twice the distance of a 90/100mm lens from the subject. The further away you are reduces the chances of disturbing or scaring away skittish subjects (like butterflies).
See more of Paul’s macro photography tips
Taking photos of animals
Woodland animals are notoriously shy, which makes capturing that elusive moment you see them so exciting:
Stalk or wait? Forest animals are very timid. You have to decide if you are going to stalk them or wait for them to show up in one place. Some animals, such as deer in forest parks, are used to people so will allow a closer approach. It’s often better to practise with animals that are used to seeing humans so you can build up your skills.
Get up and out early: Most mammals and birds are most active just after dawn, during the early morning and towards sunset. The light is always better at these times generally. Check out the location you want to photograph a few times before actually taking your camera to work out where you want to aim the lens. A few days watching and learning can make all the difference to your success rate before that first early morning with your camera.
Use a tripod: If you are going to wait for your subject, such as birds coming to food you have put out, use a tripod. It means you don’t have to keep holding the camera for hours. A comfy chair or seat also helps. In some situations you may also need a hide but in others such as a fox walking down a well-used path you can snuggle down and wait.
Research: Reading about your subject is always a good idea. There are lots of good books and websites to help. Learn when your animal is most active, what’s the best time of day (and time of year) to spot it, what behaviour you can expect and how good its senses are. For example, badgers have poor eyesight but have brilliant hearing and sense of smell.
See more of Paul’s animal photography tips
Taking nature landscapes
Seek out shadows: Shadows can play a key part in any landscape image and add drama and depth. Think about how they will move, lengthen or shorten during the day and plan your time when you will create your image to get the best effect from any shadows.
Pick a lens size: The best landscape lenses tend to be the smaller ones, depending on whether your camera has a crop factor sensor (most do). Choose a small zoom, say 16-35, 17-40 or 24–105mm. A 70-200mm can be an effective landscape lens but it’s always a good idea to have one that allows a wider angle approach as well.
Think of the composition: For landscapes, think about the sky and if you are going to include it. If you do, try to avoid having the horizon straight across the middle of your image. Sometimes a point of focus in front of the image, say a fern or mossy rock helps to lead the eye into your landscape.
Use a higher ISO and F number: Most landscape images are shot at high F numbers like 16, 22 or 32 to create a big depth of field. You may have to move your ISO up to make sure you get a good speed if you handhold your camera. Better still though is to use a tripod.
See more of Paul’s landscape photography tips.
About Paul Hobson: Paul has received many awards for his images, including being Highly Commended this year in the British Wildlife Photography awards with his image of a toad underwater. Before becoming a full time nature photographer, Paul worked at Sheffield College as an Environmental Science Lecturer. Paul has been photographing wildlife for over 20 years and is committed to raising awareness of the tremendous beauty and fragility of Britain’s wildlife. His work is regularly used in BBC Wildlife, Birdwatch and Natural World.
All images courtesy of Paul Hobson