Even using the top-end DSLR cameras and the fastest lenses, it can be tricky to catch fast movement within your wildlife photos. The physical speed on your autofocus might not be able to track and keep up with a moving subject. Due to the limitations that your equipment might have, you might discover that you miss a fight going on between two animals or a flutter of wings.
Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to overcome these problems. The following are my best tips for capturing action within your wildlife photos successfully.
1. Pay Close Attention To Behavioral Clues
Animals are really good at providing information about what they are about to do next. When you pay very close attention to the subjects you want to photograph, then there is a good chance you can predict the future and end up with a great chance to capture something amazing on camera. You can frequently apply a general overall rule to a certain class of animals, instead of having to learn a hundred or more different cues from all kinds of different species. For instance, when a bird is getting ready to fly off, a majority will lean forwards first and before taking flight appear “twitchy.”
While I was photographing a greenshank, it was taking a bath in a puddle that was in a field. Based on my experience, I knew that after preening and bathing that birds shake off or fluff their feathers. I properly composed the image, then I waited while having the subject in focus and having my finger ready on the trigger. Probably after waiting for around 20 minutes, eventually the bird stretched its wings out and I clicked my camera shutter.
What made capturing this moment possible was having the ability to anticipate this behavior. If I had attempted to jump into the action after seeing the stretch, this action would have long been over before I could even get my camera focused. I applied this same principle to another image. I discovered a black-headed gull who was washing itself and dipping his head underwater. Soon after finishing, the gull threw droplets into the air. What made the image possible was waiting in position.
2. Don’t Use Live View
With wildlife photos you shouldn’t touch the live mode that comes with your DSLR camera. It makes it very difficult to do tracking, and anytime you engage autofocus your live view will go off and the mirror will flip down. Due to the way you have to end up holding your camera, things also become unstable. Stick with using your viewfinder instead. It is a lot easier to track your subject and react quickly with that method.
3. Use A Shutter Speed That Is Sufficient
Of course you need to have a sufficient amount of available light. However, you also need to make sure you use a fast enough shutter speed for freezing movement. One general rule that you will want to use in order to avoid having camera shake is to have 1 over your camera’s focal length. For example, when using a 400mm lens, in order to avoid camera blue your shutter speed should be a minimum of 1/400th second.
However, the rule still might not provide you with a fast enough shutter speed for freezing the subject. Adjustments may be required since animals frequently move very quickly. A good option for flying or fast running animals is 1/1000th second or higher. In terms of what shutter speed you will need, it depends on what you’re wanting to photograph, and exactly how you will be shooting it.
One good tip is making sure you review your images whenever possible and check to make sure you are using a fast enough shutter speed. Zoom in on your LCD and check for motion blue. Increase the shutter speed if you find any.
4. Don’t Stick With Your Tripod
If you feel comfortable holding your camera, then perhaps you can get rid of your tripod. Certain tripod heads, such as ball heads, can restrict you when you are attempting to follow a subject that is moving when it does a lot of stopping and starting. When you have to undo knobs in order you to move your camera, it can really slow you down.
When you free your camera from your tripod it let you move about freely. Engage the vibration reduction on the lens of your camera. That will help to eliminate camera shake. However, if you use a fast enough shutter speed you shouldn’t have that problem.
5. Use Continuous Focus
You should switch over to continuous focus mode on your camera in order to track focus on a moving subject. If you’re having to refocus manually continually due to your camera locking onto one spot after focus is achieved, then most likely you will be one step behind whatever animal you are trying to photograph at all times. Continuous mode helps to prevent the lane of focus from shifting.
Make sure you check the menu on your camera and locate the setting that chooses whether pressing the shutter or achieving focus receives priority. You should set it to shutter. That will ensure you can fire frames off at those opportune times.
6. Lay in Wait
If the focusing motors on your equipment are too slow and unable to keep up with an animal that is moving, you need to change your approach. Search for patterns of behavior, like the route an animal make take on a regular basis. There is a good chance that they will pause at certain places. Focus on that spot, and point your camera directly at it. Then lay in wait, and as soon as the animal comes into view, then fire your shutter.
Whenever you are trying to follow a bird while it is in flight, try to set your focus on a plane that the bird is going to pass through. By this point you will need to be in manual focus. Pan right along with the bird, and hold the shutter down to use the burst mode as the animal passes by you. If you have timed things right, hopefully one of your shots at least will be in focus. In order to get the focal plane adjusted to an optimum distance you will need to do this several times, and have some luck on your side as well!