Five Tips for Backyard Wildlife Photography

Posted May 4th, 2017 by   |  Photography, Wildlife  |  Permalink
Coyote

This coyote has been hanging around our yard lately. Whenever the sun is out, he’ll take a nap out in the open to soak up some rays. I shot this from my front porch with a Nikon D500 and a 200-400mm f/4.

If you have a backyard, odds are that you also have animal visitors from time to time. Most urban backyards see their fair share of birds and squirrels. In more rural areas, backyards might even have deer, coyotes, raccoons, and bears come through from time to time.

Photographing wild animals from the comfort of my home is one of my favorite pastimes. I find it gratifying when I’m able to create a beautiful wildlife image on my property, especially knowing that a warm fireplace and a refreshing drink are just a few feet away.

Here are five tips for successful backyard wildlife photography.

Keep a camera & lens at the ready

Always have your camera ready to go with a lens mounted. I make a habit of leaving my telephoto lens & camera mounted on a tripod in my office, so all I need to do is grab the setup and start shooting. Backyard wildlife is often on the move, so you want to be able quickly get into position whenever an animal enters your yard. Rifling through your camera bag while trying to find your gear usually means missing the shot.

fawn

Baby deer in the woods. Every spring, we see a new crop of baby deer in our yard. This one was hiding in the woods and remained motionless while I photographed her with a Nikon D750 and a Nikon 200-400mm f/4.

Use driveway alert sensors

I’ve installed driveway alert sensors at a couple places on my property to indicate whenever something is moving outside. They are very inexpensive and are an easy way to have something always on the alert for wildlife. These sensors allow me to carry on with my life, but be alerted when something is happening outside. (Here’s a link to some driveway motion alert sensors at Amazon)

rabbit and purple flowers

My driveway alert sensors let me know whenever things are moving around in my yard. We have so many rabbits that the sensors that sometimes the sensors drive me crazy! Nikon D500, 200-400mm f/4.

Use your house as a blind

Shooting from inside of the home is a great way hide from wildlife. I recommend opening a window or door so you don’t shoot through the glass. You might need to remove a window screen so you can shoot through the open area.

Whenever I get lazy and photograph through a pane of glass, I find that I get “OK” photographs, but they just aren’t super sharp. Take the time to open the window. You’ll thank yourself later.

Deer in yard

Two deer in the yard licking water off of each other’s face. Nikon D500, 200-400mm f/4.

Shoot at eye level

Your shots will look much better if you are able to photograph the animal at eye level. Whenever possible, get outside and lower your tripod legs so the camera is low to the ground. Shooting from this perspective will produce much more dramatic images. Also, a lower perspective has the added benefit of moving the background farther away so the animal pops from the scene.

Deer in grass

Deer laying in the grass on a rainy day. Photographed from my living room through my open patio door. Nikon D500, 200-400mm f/4.

Use a fast shutter speed

Most of the wildlife you photograph in your backyard will be skittish. Since they’ll probably be moving around a lot, I suggest shooting at 1/500 second or higher. This will help freeze movement from turning heads, twitching eyes, and sudden movements. I you are having difficulty reaching 1/500 second because of low light, then increase your ISO to 3,200 or 6,400 (or higher) in order to get the shutter speed you are after.

rabbit in the grass

Rabbits are twitchy animals and always have something moving on their faces. You need faster shutter speeds to keep everything sharp. Nikon D500, Nikon 200-400mm f/4.





Implied Emotion in Wildlife Photography

Posted December 13th, 2016 by   |  Photography, Travel, Wildlife  |  Permalink

The next time you are out photographing wildlife, I encourage you to look for behaviors and poses that imply human emotion. We are naturally drawn to imagery that mirrors our own emotions. Sadness. Happiness. Shyness. Joy. Anger. If your photograph implies any of these, then viewers will respond very positively to your pictures.

Shy giraffe

Shy giraffe under an acacia tree. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Nikon D800, 200-400mm f/4.

In the example above, we arrived on scene to find a giraffe resting in the shade of an acacia tree. My first instinct was to position our vehicle to photograph the giraffe from the front so we could have a better view of its body. After thinking about the image for a minute, I realized that the giraffe was rubbing its head against the tree. This behavior made it appear as if it was shy or timid. Rather than snapping a standard full-length grab-shot of the giraffe, I worked a bit harder to find a way to show emotion.

Maybe the image of the giraffe’s head poking out from behind a tree implies a game of peek-a-boo with a young child. Or, perhaps it implies an adult looking around the corner to see who might be there before coming out into the open. Either way, it is a much stronger image.

 

 





Adding Details

Posted December 7th, 2016 by   |  Travel, Wildlife  |  Permalink
Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Sometimes, the most important parts of a photo story are the images showing details that might otherwise be forgotten. This photo of a buffalo skull and rib cage help fill in the larger story of a safari without showing the obvious fight between predator and prey. It graphically demonstrates the harsh reality of life on the African Plains in a very graphic way.

This buffalo was killed by a pride of lions, then hyenas and vultures came in to finish off the job. Days later, all that remained were the rib cage and the skull. They serve as a stark reminder of the dangers to wildlife in the wilds of Tanzania.

The next time you are on a photo trip, work hard to find additional elements of the scene that fill in details of the grand story.





Creating Connections

Posted December 5th, 2016 by   |  Photography, Travel, Wildlife  |  Permalink
Connections

For better photographs, create connections between your subject. Here, the connection between the mother and baby zebra is obvious. Nikon D800, 200-400mm f/4. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

One of the best ways to create better images is to work harder at finding connections. In this image, the connection between the mother zebra and her baby is real. This image goes much beyond a shot that records the existence of the zebra and shows a mother’s bond with her newborn baby.

When taking images on your next adventure, try to find ways that connect the main subjects in a meaningful way. Show a bird in context with its nest. Show a boat in context with the harbor. Show a can in context with the curvy road.





Patience and Diligence

Posted October 17th, 2016 by   |  Photography, Wildlife  |  Permalink
Squirrel

Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii). Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8

A few weeks ago I was shooting a how-to video at a local park and came across this young squirrel on a branch. As quickly as I could, I pulled out my D750 and 70-200mm f/2.8 to try and grab a shot of the cute guy, but it took off behind a tree. Mildly disappointed, I lowered my camera and started to hike back to the trailhead. Before I made it five feet, a little voice in my head chided me that a “real” photographer would stick around and try harder. Since the light was soft and the squirrel was super cute, I decided to stick around and at least attempt to get a nice image of the critter.

Squirrel

Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii). Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8

While scoping out the scene to find a spot to wait, I spotted a large pile of pinecone scales at the base of a tree. These scales were a tell-tale that this tree served as one of the squirrel’s favorite spots for feeding. In fact, upon closer inspection, I noticed a small branch above the pile of scales must be where the squirrel perched when feeding. So, I set up my camera gear at that location and waited.

pinecone scale

Pile of pinecone scales.

After a couple of minutes, the young squirrel poked its head around the side of the tree to see if the area was safe. I stood motionless with my camera at the ready and the squirrel slowly made his way over the the branch. It picked up right where it left off, munching away on seeds while allowing me to photograph it to my heart’s content. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, scampered about, but always returned to the spot to check on me before consuming more seeds. What fun! I’m very happy I stuck around and committed to making the image.

Photography is like that. Whether you photograph wildlife or children or buildings, you have to operate with equal amounts patience and diligence. Patience to be able to wait for the right moment. Diligence to not give up when the situation doesn’t initially go your way

Squirrel

Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii). Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8.

Squirrel

Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii). Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8.





Instagram Leopard Week

Posted December 17th, 2015 by   |  Travel, Wildlife  |  Permalink

Each week we post a new theme to our Instagram account. Here’s the summary of Leopard week.

 





Gear for Getting Your Camera Low to the Ground

Posted July 25th, 2014 by   |  Photography, Wildlife  |  Permalink

YouTube_Channel_tilt_650px

We’ve just posted the last of our six videos on gear designed for getting your camera low to the ground. Check out all the videos over at our YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/MikeHagenPhoto

Our videos from this series covered a wide gamut of gear ranging from high-end to low budget. Here’s the list:

Kirk Mighty Low Boy (Video LinkPurchase)

Mini Tripods (Video LinkPurchase)

Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod (Video LinkPurchase)

Kirk Low Pod PO-2 (Video LinkPurchase)

Kirk Window Mount WM-2 (Video LinkPurchase)

Joby Gorillapod Focus (Video Link Purchase)

In case you want to watch all the videos on this site, here they are:





Gear for Getting Low to the Ground

Posted July 8th, 2014 by   |  Photography, Wildlife  |  Permalink

Here are the first three videos in our six-video series showing off gear for getting low to the ground with your camera gear. Our most recent video is for the Joby Gorillapod Focus while the previous two covered the Kirk LowPod PO-2 and the Kirk Mighty Low Boy. Be sure to watch the videos to see what I like or don’t like about each product. Also, check out our YouTube channel for more videos on photography and software.

Joby Gorillapod Focus/Ballhead X

Buy at B&H: Joby Gorillapod Focus/Ballhead X

Kirk Mighty Low Boy

Buy at Kirk Photo: KirkPhoto.com

Kirk Low Pod PO-2

Buy at B&H: Kirk Low Pod PO-2

Buy at Nikonians: Photo Pro Shop





Cuba on the Horizon: The Caribbean’s Hidden Biological Treasure

Posted June 25th, 2014 by   |  Travel, Wildlife  |  Permalink

Cuba coral reefs

 

 

In preparation for our upcoming photography trip to Cuba, I’ve been posting news and articles related to the cultural, political and natural aspects of this island nation. Here’s a short article from my colleague, Alethea Paradis regarding the status of the little-known coral reefs off of the Cuban shores.

The upside of minimal economic growth since 1959? Pristine environmental beauty. Cuba’s coral reefs, coastal regions and jungles are home to the most diverse range of species in the Caribbean. Unlike most of the islands in the warm-water region, Cuba’s coastal gems have been spared the ravages of over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction which invariably accompanies economic development. Cuba’s slow-to-act government agencies and cultural commitment to scientific exploration work together – paradoxically – to keep their environment in a state of preservation: natural equilibrium, by inertia. As access to the island increases for Americans, and the potential end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba looms ominously in the future, economic boom could mean environmental bust for the natural habitat. “You always have this feeling that it’s about to change—that you’ll be the last one there before it explodes,” observes travel writer Julian Smith. Read the full article and see the beautiful images from the Nature Conservancy June/July 2014 issue

Written by Alethea Tyner Paradis
Friendship Tours World Travel
www.friendshiptoursworld.com





Join Us On A Photo Adventure Trip

Posted May 12th, 2014 by   |  Photography, Travel, Wildlife, Workshops  |  Permalink

world travel with Mike

We have a full schedule of adventure photo trips planned for 2014/2015 and would love to have you along. Photography adventure trips with Mike Hagen and Visual Adventures are great fun and very educational. We’ve taken care of all the trip details so you can focus solely on getting the best shot in the best light.

Our Iceland and Galapagos trips for August/September 2014 are already sold out, but we have space available for Cuba in October, Tanzania in November, Iceland in February and India next April. Stay tuned for more 2015 trips to be announced soon!

Tanzania photo safari

Photographing birds on safari with Mike Hagen in Tanzania.

All of our workshops can be found at this link:
http://visadventures.com/workshops/

Here are our upcoming international trips for the remainder of 2014 and early 2015:

Aug. 12-20, 2014
Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure (SOLD OUT)

Sep. 5-14, 2014
Galapagos Photo Adventure (SOLD OUT)

Oct. 4-12, 2014
Cuba Photography and Cultural Tour

Nov. 4-15, 2014
Tanzania Photo Safari

Feb. 9-15, 2015
Iceland Winter Photo Adventure

Apr. 29 – May 11, 2015
Northern India Tea, Landscape and Wildlife Photo Adventure

Iceland group

Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure.

Galapagos travel group

Galapagos Islands Photo adventure group.

galapagos sea lion

Up close and personal with wildlife in the Galapagos

long lenses

Long lenses and sun hats in Galapagos.

 

 

 





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