Animal Photography

Animal Photography

There is more to animal photography then just meets the eye. I am writing this from the perspective on that the reader all ready knows how to light a human subject. Now how about lighting a animal or insect? 
Know your Lighting
When I take a picture of a person I ask myself what how do I want to light this subject. Now there are hundreds of ways to light a subject. The part that shows an experienced photographer from the rest is picking the right way that gets your point across. For example I am not going to just pop open my camera flash to take some brides photo at a wedding. Usually women want to look beautiful. Big Beauty = Big Bulb. Now don’t confuse that with bright. Soft beautiful clean skin is all subjective to the size of the light compared to the object. I have worked on many movies that will hang a huge 30′ by 30′ silk just to light 1 person. So know your lighting and what you want to do with a photo. 

Fast Shutter

This is up for you to judge on how fast your shutter needs to be. If you are using a flash you do not need to worry about shutter as much. You can just set it to the maximum your flash will allow. Mine is 1/180. Let me break this down for you a bit. 1/180 shutter speed is fast but not that fast. In most cases I would never use that speed. For example:

These photos would have looked a lot different if they were taken with a slower shutter like 1/180 or slower. The Sandhill Cranes wings would have been blurred from the motion of its flapping. The Sandhill Crane was taken at 1/320. 320 is about as low as  I go when capturing birds flying and want to keep detail. Get familiar with your gear and learn your sweet spot for your lens and know your shutter speed to get those animal action shots. So how does fast action work on a slow shutter when using a flash? Simple, the flash is what exposes the “film” so if that flash is only 1/10,000 of a sec your photo will only capture that moment in time. Now that is just ridicules if you think about it. That is how you see those pictures of a bullet blasting an apple or water drops breaking the surface of milk. They leave the shutter open and just flash light for a brief moment. With that your results are sharper with a 1/25 and a flash with a fast object then 1/8000 and just using natural light. However in some cases flashes are not good. Like the Sandhill Crane. That was on a 500mm lens on my APS-C sensor so lets say 800mm in the day. That would have been a long way to throw a flash. Whereas, do not write off not using a flash during the day. You might be surprised on how much it can even help then. DISCLAIMER: When I refer to flashes 99% of the time I am talking about off board flashes synced to your camera. Using a built in flash can be useful as a fill but never as a key light. The reason is because you are lighting from the exact same angle as the lens. So you just lit everything the lens sees. Resulting in a flat nasty image. Same goes for News camera men who throw a SunGun on top of there camera to do an interview. It does not look good and sometimes it is the lazy way out.

Above all you need patience when photographing animals both in the wild and captivity. Whether waiting for a bird to fly by or trying to get your dog to calm down so you can get the right pose.

Be Creative
use whatever you have. You don’t have to use a nice back drop or exotic location. Just know what would go with your animal and find things to make it happen. I knew the color blue would be good for my parrots background so I used a camping sleeping pad and tapped it on the wall behind him.


This is my little friend Scooter. He is a Solomon Island Male Eclectus Parrot. When taking this picture I knew I wanted to show off Scooter’s colors and detail. So what that took for me to light it was a lot of light really close to Scooter. I had two 33″ umbrellas Right up against him one on camera right and the other on camera left. Camera right was about 1/3 brighter then camera left to give a little depth to Scooter. I don’t like my light to be the same across the subject looks flat. However I did make the difference between the lights less dramatic then I would with a human. Also the patience part really took a role in this shoot. Anyone who has had a bird knows they fluff up when they are relaxed. Unlike a dog who’s hair will stand on end when they are mad. So trying to get Scooter to get comfortable with all these howling flashes around him was quite the task. It took me a good part of a couple hours to finally snap a shot off when he was in full fluff mode. By the time I got the shot I was so relieved that I forgot to take a picture of the set up and what it looked like. Which might be a good thing because it did not look professional at all. As long as the end result is what you wanted it does not really matter about how it was taken. Here is the reflection of one of my flashes in his eye from the above photo.

Tom The Turtle

This is Tom the Red Ear Slider. My parents bought him for me when I was in 3rd grade. He is around 20 years old. This photo may look like he was climbing over a rock slowly. Which was not the case. He gets really excited when I walk up to the tank and swims like crazy towards me because he loves me so much. Or maybe it’s just because he wants food. I guess we will never know. The point is I just started snapping pictures as he went crazy and out of the 700 I took this one was most natural. Ok not 700, more like 20. This time I did remember to take a photo of the set up! One light was in the aquarium pointing up at the white lid using it as a bounce and the other was was off the side of the aquarium as a back/ fill light. One trick to keeping picture this clear when photographing through glass is to NOT LIGHT UP THE GLASS IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA! One lesson I learned in a short film I did years ago and I lit the actor up in the mirror and no matter how many times we cleaned the mirror it looked so dirty. Well now I know not to light the glass but to light the subject behind the glass. Sometimes it is very hard to do. So in the photo below one flash was inside and the flash on the outside of the aquarium was on a different piece of glass snooted so it did not hit the glass panel I was shooting through.

That is all I have for you today. Here are some more animal photographs I have taken. If you want to know about one and how it was lit just ask in the comments.

Let me know your thoughts or if you have a photography question that you want to see me blog about.

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