heron taking flight at sunrise

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Wildlife Basics and Beyond Course Description

Take your wildlife photography to a new level. Go well beyond the static portrait shots of wildlife by making them have impact, learn to capture the peak of action with any type of animal you come across and learn to look and study behavior. This course will have 9 topics with assignments for each to help you focus on getting better with each subject.

Subjects to be covered by lesson

1. Wildlife Portraits / Background / Eyes
Portraits are the most basic of all wildlife images, yet many have as much impact as those at the peak of action. Position, background and other elements combine to let you create a portrait the viewer is drawn to. Portraits can also be termed as environmental wildlife portraits where the animal is just a part of the scene and the setting is as important as the subject. Contrast is another element to getting good portrait images, but not in all cases as will be shown.

What is the key to almost every portrait image? A clear and in focus eye if the subject comes close to filling the frame. Just as when you talk with a person you make eye contact, the same is true when looking at most wildlife images. Does the animal have a dark spot around a dark eye making it hard to see? Wait for a bit of highlight from the sun or a little pop of fill flash to the eye so that it can be seen.

2. Documenting
Telling a story of an area or moment in time is part of the photography process. While there can be a story in an individual image, a group of related images puts everything into perspective. If given the opportunity to photograph a hunting animal for a couple of hours, take the time to stay with it and see how many different and unique shots can result. Even if the animal takes a break, don't feel it's time to leave because it might just be taking a short break to get ready for something even better than what happened before.

Documenting a location goes beyond just taking photos of the animals that reside there. A good case in point is the area of Dutch Harbor, AK, where a large group of bald eagles reside. Why Dutch Harbor? It's one of the largest commercial fishing cities in the world by volume and the eagles know they have lots of chances for some free food. Besides the fishing, there is a lot of history to the area as it was one of the few that was bombed during World War II. Many remnants remain and the photo ops available help tell the full story about a visit to this location.

Spend at least two hours with a subject and capture as much different behavior as possible. The topic of research will be brought up and participants will have to do some research that would help them if they were to have the opportunity to photograph that subject.

3. Lighting / Special Techniques
As with all photographic subjects, lighting is paramount to getting good wildlife images. A beautiful sunrise or sunset with a subject silhouetted in the foreground makes for some incredible shots. Exposing for this can sometime be tricky if the subject starts in one condition and then moves into another setting. Here's where knowing which metering mode and setting to use is critical. Want to get a little more pop with the surrounding colors of birds at sunrise / sunset? Techniques for all of these situations will be covered as will working with the direction of light.

Low light can even be used if you desire to try and get some abstract wildlife shots. The lower light will allow for longer shutter speeds and can lead to intentional blurring, not to be confused with not picking the proper shutter speed and getting an out of focus image.

4. Interaction / Babies / Subject Closeness
When two animals are doing something together there is a sense of intimacy and warmth that can result. Babies and mothers are some of the best subjects for interaction, as well as mating couples. When near each other, these are times when you need to concentrate your time on them and ignore whatever else is going on in the area.

Images of baby animals are always well received. Protection of the baby will be stressed so that your presence does not make a predator aware of it. Ideas on what to look for in creating a good baby wildlife image will be discussed.

How close two animals are to each other either make a picture good or bad. This is mainly a lesson on composition and positioning of the subjects. Are they too far apart, is a backside of one animal sticking out behind the head of one in front? These and other subjects will be focused on.

5. Capture the Moment
Getting the peak of action or special time is where it's at when trying to take wildlife photography to the next level. Studying a subject, anticipation and of course a high speed drive are the keys to getting that great shot. These will be keys elements of this lesson.

Maybe the most you'll ever do with your photography is take it to a camera club for others to see. You know shots where an animal is doing something gets a better reaction than one just sitting there staring at the camera. Action may be as simple as an animal stepping into the water. The key is the timing and position of the animal.

6. Bird Activity
Tips on how to get better flight shots. Some of the subjects covered include how to best get a bird in the viewfinder, tracking with it, ISO manipulation, positioning with the sun and wind.

Flight is not the only activity birds take part in. Their hunt for food, bathing and preening, and time on the nest is a major part of their daily routine. While much of this could be considered capturing the peak moment of action, the opportunities abound when it comes to anticipating when and what will happen.