Wildlife Photography Tips by Alan Hewitt

Professional wildlife photographer Alan Hewitt shared some useful insights during one of our photo safaris

Keen on wildlife photography? The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great. Photography is all about being creative, taking chances, and expressing yourself. Whether you’re an amateur or long-time professional, there will always be room for improvement. – Text by Regina Muller, images by Alan Hewitt

On behalf of Penda Photo Tours, I recently journeyed across South Africa to visit our Wildlife Photography and Conservation Volunteer Project in the Greater Kruger Area. During my stay, I sat in on a workshop with professional photographer Alan Hewitt; a professional wildlife photographer and writer who was visiting the project. Alan also leads photo safaris here at Penda, and there are still open slots for our Wildlife Photography Workshop with Alan in July 2018!

Lioness hunting Elephants in the river

During my time with Alan I took some notes on his approach to wildlife photography. Here are some of his top wildlife photography tips:

1. Use aperture-priority

Alan recommends using aperture priority to give you creative control over the depth of field. The camera’s meter will determine the shutter speed which can be fine-tuned by adjusting the ISO and exposure compensation. This allows you to give full concentration to your focus and composition – essential for fast moving wildlife!

2. Leave room in your frame

Think about your composition. Most animals aren’t static- they move constantly. When composing your subject in the frame, try to leave some ‘negative space’ for subjects to walk, fly or climb towards. When photographing action, you will be able to shoot rapidly without worrying about chopping off a head, a wing or a leg! You can always subtly crop photos for more pleasing compositions.

chameleon eating

3. Take a lot of shots!

Shoot, shoot, shoot. They don’t all have to be amazing, but some of them will be. You can choose the best ones later during editing. Set your camera’s Release Mode to ‘burst-mode’ or continuous. The shutter will go off continually as long as it is held in and you’ll be able to capture action that the eye may not always see.

4. Know your species

Before going out on a game drive, do your research. When looking for a specific animal, better understanding of species behavior will result in better photographs. Take elephants, for example. They are large, headstrong animals that know what they are doing and where they are going. Generally, they walk in straight paths towards their next destination- often a water hole. If your vehicle remains still to watch elephants approach from a far distance, you can position yourself where you have the best view of their predicted path.

Leopard in the nature

5. Get low!

It is regularly advised to photographers to remember to “look down”, because there is a lot of unnoticed beauty below eye level. However, looking down on a subject at a 45 degree angle is very unnatural. You may get your clothes dirty, but lie down! Get eye level with your subject to get the most interesting and intriguing shot.

6. Allow wildlife to get accustomed to the sound of your firing shutter

This tip is only if you are getting very close to wildlife, close enough that they can hear the sound of your clicking camera. This noise can be startling enough to scare animals away. For example, if you are on a game drive and you see a forkl (group) of kudu, they may approach your vehicle if you park and remain quiet. Start firing your shutter as the animal is farther away and approaching, even if it isn’t the shot you want, so it can get used to the sound as it gets closer. This will decrease chances of startling wildlife away.

7. Take a wider view

Show the whole habitat, not just the wildlife itself. Use a wide angle lens to tackle this technique best.

Elephants in the river

8. Never shoot in black and white

Yes, some shots look great in black and white- but you can always utilize this effect in post processing. Software can provide so many more options for black and white photographs using the colour information in the photograph.

9. Watch the prey

All African wildlife is incredible to observe and photograph, but statistically there are some species that people are looking for more than others. If you are looking for a big cat, for example, look at the behavior of its prey. An impala or wildebeest will know a leopard is in the area long before you.

Keen to put these tips into practice during a wildlife photography workshop? Join Alan in South Africa’s Sabi Sands, an area famous for its incredible wildlife viewing, and become the best wildlife photographer you can be! Find out more here.