Digital SLR photography — The easiest way to get better wildlife photos
Published October 18, 2011
I mention this a few times throughout these photography guides, but I’m devoting a whole page to it this time because it’s worth stressing and it’s also such an easy thing to do. I’m talking about just getting down to the subject’s eye level to take your shots.
Lying on the ground in front of this Cane Toad allowed me to get a more interesting shot.
I’m amazed when I watch most people takes photos of small animals. 90% of the time (that statistic is now on the internet so hey, it must be true!) people will walk up to the animal, point their camera down to it and take a shot of the top of its head. I must admit that I used to do that too. I’d be so happy to have an interesting critter in the viewfinder that I’d forget to take an interesting photo. Or in other words, I’d forget to think like a photographer.
As humans, we are very familiar with certain ways of seeing animals. For example, we are used to looking down on a pigeon walking along the ground, or looking up at one flying overhead. So it’s going to be much more difficult to get fresh, original shots of pigeons if we take them from those angles.
Most bird photos are taken from above or from below, with the result being a bunch of boring shots. Meeting them at their eye level, as I did in the third photo above, provides a much more engaging shot. From left to right: Noisy Miner, Rainbow Bee-eater, Red-backed Fairy-wren.
Even some of the smaller creatures can be photographed at eye level, as you’ll see when you compare these photos of Wolf Spiders. However you should obviously take special care when working with venomous creatures.
I chose an eye-level angle for this dragonfly photo (above).
Eye level is a great angle for wildlife shots, but don’t feel like you have to go eye-level every time. In this example I wanted the photo to show off the dragonfly’s wing colour, so I aimed straight down onto it.
By getting down onto your knees or even lying down in front of an animal a few things happen:
- We take the camera to an angle which is unfamiliar to most people and so it becomes more interesting
- We see the creature from eye level. That helps us relate to the animal better in our shots
- The background becomes further away, and so it gets pushed out of focus, which helps to draw attention to the subject
- Our knees get dirty. But hey, this is a photography article and so you’ll have to go somewhere else for information about getting grass stains out of your jeans
Does this mean animal photos should only be taken from their eye level?
No, of course not. I certainly don’t want to be giving you rules on how you’re supposed to take all your shots. And, quite often the occasion will dictate that a much better angle can be used. The important thing is that you let the unique situation surrounding each shot decide which is the best angle instead of letting old habits or laziness make the choice for you. But if you’re in a hurry, then the good old ‘eye-level’ trick is certainly a very handy one to get interesting and engaging wildlife shots.