August 19, 2020


This article was written by Vallerret Team Shooter Simon Markhof.

Usually I shoot landscapes and my travel destinations tend to be chosen by the possibilities to shoot - no surprise here - landscape photography. The journey I started in September 2019 was a little bit different though. Before winter finally arrives in the middle of Europe I wanted to escape the rainy part of the year for a bit.

Since it has been a dream for a long time I chose Africa as a destination to get a bit of sun and shoot wildlife. And when I say wildlife I mean serious wildlife. It was the first time that I let landscape aside and dedicated my travelling and photography time fully to wildlife. I consider myself a beginner wildlife photographer and my advice is definitely not for pros in this field. But if you are planning a trip around shooting wildlife, and you are doing it for the first time, you might consider these tips useful. Whether you're shooting in the Arctic or in the desert, these tips will help you improve your wildlife photography.

Lion portrait in Africa by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography gloves

1. Which lens to take - the longer the better

 As I had no idea what lenses I should bring I decided to bring everything from 16 to 600mm. While the wider lenses are useful for portraits and documentation they are pretty much useless when it comes to wildlife photography. For shooting animals I almost only used the Sigma 150-600mm f5,0-6,3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. 

Zebras in Africa photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

While on safari you are in a jeep/truck and for your own safety you are not able to get out of the vehicle to change your point of view. Meaning there is no opportunity to get closer to the subject. While there usually is a 70-200mm in almost every photographer's backpack, the longer lenses aren’t part of everybody’s gear list. For occasions like this, you should consider renting a longer lens to get closer to your subject and to capture better details.

What I have learnt is that animals tend to be further away than you might think. That means the longer the lens, the greater the chance to get a good shot. And even if they come close once in a while you might be able to capture some awesome details with longer lenses.

Wild horse in Iceland photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

2. Know your camera and watch your shutter speed

When it comes to photography where the moment cannot be "recreated“ - which is pretty much everything but studio photography - this point is always crucial. Know how to operate your camera. In situations like that you need to be able to change to the right settings in a matter of seconds. So make sure that you know how to change, aperture, shutter speed and ISO without taking you too much time.

Hippopotamus in the water in Africa photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

You can shoot all manual but this is not the best in every situation. Especially when it comes to speed. I set my camera to aperture priority so I can influence the depth of field with the main dial of the camera. Because of the long lens and a maximal aperture of 5.6 on that special lens, I went for a pretty high ISO (around 800-1000). The noise in this range is still quite good and it allows you to keep your shutter speeds as high as possible.

At 600mm you can get pretty shaky shots if your shutter speed is too slow. Also, animals might move quickly and you don’t want to end up with blurred shots. 

As a rule of thumb, you can always say that the shutter speed should be double your focal length to get steady shots. At 600mm this means you need at least 1/1200th of a second. The stabiliser in the lens might help you a bit if you use it but in the end, you should definitely watch your shutter speed while shooting. Keep it as fast as possible to get that crisp shot you are aiming for.

Nothing worse than ending up with a bunch of blurred shots because of the wrong settings.

Zebras in Africa photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

3. Look before you shoot

I know that everybody is excited about getting the shot. But when you are thrown into a new environment with animals you have only seen on National Geographic before it helps a lot to have a proper look before you start pressing the shutter.

So before you start shooting, take a deep breath and have a look at what you want to shoot. Study the animal's behaviour for a bit, so that you may be able to predict the next move. 

Giraffes in Africa photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

I’m not saying miss your shot - this can all happen in a matter of seconds. In general, you should make it clear to yourself which shot you are going for and how to achieve it. With wild animals sometimes it is a mixture of planning your shot and a good portion of luck.

I have learnt that it definitely pays to take that extra time before you start shooting.

4. Bring fast SD cards and Harddrives

I think we all shoot a lot more than we would have with analogue cameras. Especially when a situation is new, rare and exciting. For most people wildlife photography is not a daily thing to do and so you usually want to take a lot of photos. 

When it comes to wildlife you will find yourself in situations where you make good use of the continuous shooting of your camera. For this, you will need memory cards with a fast writing speed. The faster your card is the more images can be taken before the buffer of the camera is full. And while you are at the store grabbing this fast card make sure to grab a few spare ones so you do not run out of storage space.

Elephants in Africa photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

If you bring a laptop and a hard drive make sure you have the fastest possible connection between both of them. Speed is crucial when you are out in the field where you might not find a power supply for a few days and still want to be able to backup to your hard drive. Make sure you get a small SSD with USB 3.0. 

Reindeer in Norway photo by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

5. Don’t forget about composition

With all that talk about speed and stuff make sure that you do not forget the most important part about photography. Composition!

As in every other field, the composition is the most important factor that can make a difference between an absolute banger or a mediocre shot. So take these few seconds to build your image properly. Ask yourself what is your main subject and what contributes to the shot. Leave everything that does not contribute to your image out of your frame. Heading back to the point that you are limited with your position you might have to compromise from time to time but don’t shoot without thinking about the image you want to create before.

Antelope in Africa by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

Actually this is not any secret advice. When you think about it it was all clear from the very beginning. But to know what to watch out for and what to think about before you start on your journey to shooting your first wildlife adventure might come in handy.

Elephant in Africa by Simon Markhof with Vallerret Photography Gloves

You can see more of Simon's work here:

Instagram: @simonmarkhof
Facebook: SimonMarkhofPhotography

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