Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 29 June 2009

Dynamic Wildlife Photography – Book By Cathy & Gordon Illg

Dynamic Wildlife Photography

“There is something about wildlife photography that is immensely soul-satisfying.”

The authors point out that some photographers merely document animals taking a few photos before moving to the next subject.

“Great photographers will often stay with a subject as long as the subject will allow.”  This allows time to see how the animal reacts to its environment, to other animals or how it feels at that time.

This is my favorite photography book because the images of the wildlife are truly outstanding, and the photographers share their lessons learned and experiences to help others.  Here are a few of the suggestions:

Lighting strongly affects the feeling of the image.  Front lighting provides an even light source and is good for stopping action.  It is also the best for creating reflections in a pool of water. 

Side lighting helps bring out textures and adds shadows to a photo.

Back lighting is used for silhouettes.  In some cases, it can provide a spiritual feeling and outline your subject if the sun is low in the sky.  It can also make some parts of an animal appear translucent – like the tail of a squirrel or the feathers fanned by a bird.  Sometimes referred to as rim lighting, the authors recommend bracketing at different exposures to see what effect you like the best.

To avoid sun flares, point the camera where the lens hood will block the sun from shining into the lens.  You can also use a tree, a building or anything to help shield the lens.

“To create a silhouette, expose for the background and let your subject go black.”

“Overcast light is some of the best possible light in which to photograph wildlife.”  Just remember to minimize or eliminate the sky in the photo.

“Give your subject adequate room to move within the picture.  It’s usually better to chop off the rear of the animal and still give it room to move into the frame than it is to include the entire animal but have its nose almost touching the border of the photo.”

In some cases, the animals will have room to move in the photo; in other cases, it’s more of a portrait.  The more space the subject takes up in the photo, the less depth of field there will be.  This affects depth of field more than the size of the lens.

When looking through the viewfinder, the authors suggest selecting the elements you want to retain and want to remove from your picture.  “This process will never be easy, but there are a number of techniques, like framing the center of interest, capturing eye contact, balancing more than one center of interest, and the use of rhythm, to help us compose images that go beyond documentation.”

What is your perspective to the subject?  Taking photos from a higher or lower vantage point can make them stand out.  You can also make the subject strong by photographing it at the animal’s height.  This will also help to blur the background, bringing more attention to the subject.

If you can photograph a behavior of the animal, this takes it from being just a documentary image.  “A couple of obvious examples of behavior-rich times are during courtship and when young animals are present.”  Researching information about your subject in advance can help determine the behaviors you might have a chance to witness.

Celebrate the seasons by taking photos that can include an element to indicate what season it is.  To have falling snow show up in your photograph, you’ll need a dark background behind it.

To capture rain in a photo, the rain must be coming down extremely hard.  “Don’t hesitate to follow your subjects through the seasons.  Show your viewers how the creatures handle the vagaries of the weather.  A picture element or two that shows the season or the weather and how your subject relates to it may be all you need to take that photo beyond documentation.”

This book truly goes beyond documentation to help us interpret and enjoy the animal species around us.  There is something “immensely soul-satisfying” about their photography.


Reviewed by Susan Vollmer

Author of Legends, Leaders, Legacies


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