Over the past few weeks I have been advising you on different ways to improve your wildlife photography portraits. I looked at getting creative with light, controlling exposure and keeping in mind your perspective. In this post, I'm hopefully going to convince you to put down the long telephoto lens and try some wide-angle wildlife photography to create an environmental image. Portraits are great, they show off the subject with little distraction and hopefully enable the viewer to appreciate the beauty of the animal alone. Environmental images however, offer a whole new scene, something different, something more.
Environmental wildlife photographs do what they say on the tin, they include the surrounding environment. A shorter focal length is used in order to encapsulate more of the landscape. Whereas my previous images were taken on a long telephoto lens (400mm) in order to enlarge distant subjects, the image below was taken on a much smaller zoom lens (15-85mm @ 28mm). These types of photographs are much harder to do as you need to get physically closer to your subjects rather than rely on large optics. Because of their difficult nature, they are much less common and provide a photographer with a very different perspective:
"A Mountain View"
The image above is of a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) bunkering down on a grassy slope, trying to shield itself from the blustering gales that were occurring. I took this in February this year, as such this hare is seen in it's white winter coat. Only found in the Highlands of Scotland and a small area of the Peak District, it's camouflage protects it throughout the snowy months, after which it slowly turns brown for the warmer seasons.
Sitting on the side of a slope, this individual was spotted from the bottom of the valley and it took time and patience to creep up on it. We would stop every few metres as rushing would only make it bolt for the mountain top. As I slowly edged closer I got in range to start taking photos with my telephoto. Another 20 - 30 minutes and I realised we'd hit the jackpot, a completely relaxed mountain hare. Eventually I was close enough to swap lenses and try for some environmental perspectives.
Environmental wildlife photography is great. It puts your subject in context and tells much more of a story than a standard portrait. For example, this image shows exactly why this species is called mountain hare, a portrait simply wouldn't do that. This perspective gives a sense of scale to your subject and can be used to discuss wider issues. I have a passion for conservation and this style of imagery offers a perfect representation for discussing certain issues, after all, many of the problems our wildlife encounters are habitat based. For instance this photograph could be used to discuss the issues regarding wildlife and climate change. What good is an all white camouflage to protect you from predators if there is no snow in the middle of winter? If global temperatures are expected to keep rising, species at the very edge of their range in the UK are going to suffer the consequences. This mountain hare no longer blends into a winter scene, but sticks out like a sore thumb against a grassy backdrop of snowless greens.
Things to really think about when trying for environmental images are fieldcraft, background and composition. In order to get close enough to try for a wide-angle shot, your fieldcraft has to be top notch. Research your subjects and take your time to understand their behaviour. As the background for these images are no longer out of focus, you need to think about it even more, look for complimentary and simple backdrops that help to tell a story. Usually your subject will be smaller in the frame than a standard portrait, so composition is key to making it work, ensure it's facing into the space and that the scenery leads your viewers eyes into the main subject. Photographers can often get stuck in a single mind frame once they've seen how good their telephoto lenses are at creating beautiful portraits, but as the age old saying goes, size isn't everything!
For more of my work you can visit my website at: www.jamesshooter.com or if you’re on facebook you can like my page at www.facebook.com/jamesshooterphotographyI’ll be back next week with another photograph and more tips.
Thanks for reading,James