I have had a lot of help from some very special people in my quest to improve my wildlife photography. I started taking photographs of birds in late 2015, you can read about my first Albatross trip here. Over the last few years I have read books, asked for advice, watched tutorials and practiced. I have squealed with delight at good shots, and have cursed, sworn and sulked over bad ones. It has been a hard process, I am not a very technical person and each new skill takes a long time to pick up. Hopefully I can provide a few hints that might help you improve faster than I have. Don’t take these words as an order, some techniques may not even work for you or your camera, but hopefully you might learn a trick or two. Good luck!
When I think about wildlife photography I view it as a triangle, there are three major points that make a great photo, 1 out of 3 makes an ok pic, 2 out of 3 make a good pic, but 3 out of 3 make a keeper. The third point is basically why you are reading - it’s the technical stuff, and while all of Part 2 will be about point 3, I want to cover point 1 (Your subject) and point 2 (what it is doing) first.
Point 1 - Subject.
What are you photographing? Is it a seagull, a seal, your cat or the currently data deficient South Island Kokako? What makes it an interesting subject? If you are photographing to post on social media there is a very fine line - too common, no one cares unless it’s furry, or being super cute (hang in there for point 2). Too rare or unusual, no one cares as it holds no sentimental attachment if they can’t relate, so basically... If it’s a sparrow - yawn, if it’s a Campbell Island Snipe - wtf is that?
The perfect balance? Kea, robins, Tui, Penguins, furry things like sea lions, oh and dolphins ... trust me ;)
This doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot the common or conventional, the creepy or curious, just don't be disgruntled if it flops on social media. Use every animal as an opportunity to tell it's story or find a way to make it appeal.
From there, check what else is in your shot. While I appreciate that wildlife is well, wild ... sometimes you can move around your scene. Try to improve your light, take away highlights or shadows, remove potentially distracting backgrounds such as bright leaves, man-made objects, or anything that might draw your eye away from the bird, and ensure leaves etc aren’t obscuring your view - sometimes just a step to the left or right can change the shot entirely. While we are on angles, if you have the choice don’t shoot up at birds - but Tamzin, they are in trees duh.... I know, but where possible shoot at the same level, not up at them or down on them.
Point 2 - What is your subject doing?
Following on from point 1, sometimes you can have a cracking shot of a common subject, but usually it means the subject is doing something cool. Watch for behaviours. Is a mother bird feeding chicks, is an albatross coming in to land, mating, fighting, inter-species interactions, feeding, breaching, jumping etc. Having any sort of movement, action or interaction in you shot will help to tell a story, and will instantly make the photo more interesting. Use your initial few shots to get your lighting and settings right, get an ID shot (if you keep lists of any sorts... stop judging me...) and to get a good strong usable shot. After you’ve taken a few ‘nice’ shots, start to look for those behaviours, as one cracking action shot will trump 100 sitting ducks (pun intended).
So now that you have found a Kea, smoking a cigar, while dancing a jig, in perfect light, with no distracting features, you need to know how to photograph it? That’s all going to be covered in part 2.