Editor’s note: MatadorU student Coen Wubbles has shot wildlife from all over South America, from Torres del Paine National Park in Chile to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the Galapagos Islands. Here are some of his tips for photographing wild animals.


Problem: You are using multi focus points

When using multi AF (autofocus) focus points, most cameras will try and find the nearest subject towards the center of the frame. In this case it focused on the nostrils of the owl. Knowing exactly what your subject is helps you understand what you want to have in focus.


Fix: Use Single Focus mode

Selecting Single Focus instead of Multi Focus allows you to select one single point to focus on. I have my focus point mostly in the center of my camera and select my subject. In this case I chose the hawk's eye, depressed my shutter halfway to lock the focus, then readjusted my frame to the composition I wanted.


Problem: Your shutter speed is wrong

Animals often move quickly and if you don't increase your shutter speed, you will end up with a blurred image like above (also called motion blur). NOTE: In order to increase your shutter speed in darker surroundings, you will likely need to increase your ISO values and/or widen your aperture.


Fix: Double your lens length to obtain shutter speed

My rule of the thumb to avoid camera shake: I double the focal length to use as my shutter speed. For example, if I have my lens at 100mm, my shutter speed needs to be at least 1/200s to avoid camera shake. To avoid motion blur of a fast-moving subject, I will double it again. This frigate was shot at 1/1000s over 170mm and is tack sharp.


Problem: You are too focused on the subject

You need to be aware of the background behind your subject. In this case there is a nicely blurred backdrop and the dragonfly is in focus, but there is also a dark line of trees in the background, which I find disturbing. The eye of the viewer will be constantly drawn between the subject and the background.


Fix: Pay attention to the entire frame

Move about and try to get other angles with different backgrounds. Here I shot the same dragonfly from a bit higher up and you can see a clean, blurred background, giving you a sense of balance. You will find that your eyes have nowhere to go but to the dragonfly.


Problem: You're not paying attention to your aperture

Choosing the wrong aperture leaves the background too focused and draws attention away from the subject. As you can see here, an aperture of f/4 gave me a blurred background, but not blurred enough to my liking. Using a wider aperture (eg, lowering the number of the f/stop) will blur the background more.


Fix: Open the aperture up to blur your background and put more focus on the subject

Switching to a wider aperture of f/2.4 gave me a far narrower depth of field as well as the nicer blurred background I had been aiming for. As a result the subject is isolated from the surroundings, giving the viewer's eyes rest and a clear landing point: the eyes of the owl.


Problem: You're too comfortable

If you take all your images from an eye-level shooting position, many images will look flat and dull. In order to get an interesting perspective of your subject, you will sometimes need to get into awkward positions and not worry about getting wet or dirty.


Fix: Get down and dirty!

I was on my belly on the beach, in the rain, so I could frame this marine iguana — eye to eye — on the Galápagos islands. Photo: Coen Wubbles


Problem: You're not using a long enough lens

This falcon is too small in the frame. It's difficult to approach wildlife without spooking it off, so in order to fill the frame you need either a very good hiding place / camouflage and lots of patience, or a good zoom lens of minimal 300mm. This 70mm shot clearly doesn't make the cut.


Fix: If you're serious about wildlife photography, invest in some long focal length lenses

A 300mm zoom fills the marine iguana perfectly in the frame.

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