Blog / The 10 commandments of wildlife photography.

Peter Cairns
Monday, April 11, 2016
The 10 commandments of wildlife photography.

You shall know your subject.

You won’t find woodpeckers on a saltmarsh and you won’t photograph red squirrels with ear tufts in August. To some this might sound obvious, but unless you understand the basic behaviour and biology of your subject, you’re less likely to photograph it successfully.

You shall understand light.

The effect of light is probably THE most important factor in creating an image with impact. Get it wrong and your image becomes nothing more than a record snap. Get it right – absolutely right – and you’ll hit your audience with a visual sledgehammer.

You shall not stand upright.

Light. Background. Viewpoint. These are the three words I always say to myself when lining up a shot. The impact of all three is critical to the success of any wildlife image but getting low – or at least level – to your subject is essential in establishing a visual intimacy which isn’t possible by standing up and ‘looking down.’

You shall not stick to the rules.

Who made up ‘the rules’ anyway? OK, there are factors that make an image work and other factors that should generally be avoided, but rules are there to be broken so go on, break the mould.

You shall not resort to automatic settings.

Modern cameras are unbelievably sophisticated but they only do what they think you want them to do. We photographers are fickle – and human - and sometimes you need to take charge.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s images.

It’s so easy to do. You see a shot in a magazine and you want one just like it. But what’s the point in copying what’s already been done? Take inspiration from the work of others but put your own slant on it.

You shall learn from your mistakes.

Sounds logical doesn’t it? It’s surprisingly easy to develop bad habits and equally difficult to break them. Look at your images, I mean really look at them. If they don’t stand up to what you aspire to, work out why then focus on putting that right.

You shall not over-process.

How do you define over processing? This is of course subjective, but generally speaking you should use the power of technology to optimise your images but not to the point where they look unrealistic. Too much colour saturation or sharpening are easy traps to fall into.

You shall edit with a critical eye.

Gone are the days when you need 10 copies of every image to send to different competitions, agencies or even family members. Unless an image is noticeably different from another, bin it; only keep your very best shots.

You shall evolve.

As a society we’re instinctively resistant to change but change we must. Wildlife photography is like any art form - trends come and go. Allow yourself to evolve as a photographer; take some risks; be a pioneer.

Actually there’s a final commandment, the most important of all: You shall never, ever give up. A hearty breakfast, a hot shower, an aching body – they all tug at your resolve but persistence pays so stick at it.

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