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How To Make Common Animals Interesting In WIldlife Photography

Two Cream-coloured giant squirrels or pale giant squirrels (Ratufa affinis) inspecting each other on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia.

Two Cream-coloured giant squirrels or pale giant squirrels (Ratufa affinis) inspecting each other on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia.

Many of us don’t have access to a jungle, desert or remote forest teeming with rare wildlife except during short vacations. And that’s only if the rest of the family wouldn’t rather go to a beach resort in Fiji - which, let’s be real, they would. So, we end up taking lots of photos of squirrels, deer, robins, and rabbits. There is nothing wrong with this, but as everyone else also has the opportunity to get these photos, the market is already saturated with photos of them. Here are a few tips on how to make your photos of common animals stand out.

Behavior

I believe this is the easiest way to make an image of a common backyard animal stand out from the crowd. Like the photo at the top of this post, getting a shot of cool behavior that is rarely witnessed by passers-by will likely make people feel some emotion or connection to the animal.

I have seen great photos of squirrels that could compete with some of the best lion photos. Pictures of squirrels jumping over something, leaning from a stone into a puddle of water for a drink, or a mother squirrel feeding her young, would all make me stop to get a second look.

Light

There is a park I like to visit near my house that gets some of the most amazing golden light I have ever witnessed glinting off the surface of the bay every morning. The problem is that light usually only lasts about five to ten minutes if it appears at all.

The secret to getting great light is to be there when it strikes an animals face. This means you have to be there every day, positioned perfectly, waiting and hoping. Sometimes you will be wet, other times cold, and other times still far too hot. But if you are there, every day, it will happen. It may be days, weeks, months, or even years. It will, however, be worth the wait.

Place

Think about the animals you typically photograph and do a Google Image Search of that animal. Where are they usually photographed? If it’s a Great Blue Heron, it’s probably standing in the shallow water of a marsh. A squirrel will probably be in the grass or on the side of a tree. Think about where you can photograph that animal that will make it more interesting.

For example, can you get a squirrel peeking out of its nest at dawn? Or maybe carrying its babies to a safer location? How interesting would it be to get a photo of a squirrel swimming?! Think outside the box. Photography is a creative art, and great creative arts take a lot of time spent inside your imagination.

Composition

The easiest way to photograph an animal, whether common or rare, is to stand straight up with a telephoto lens pointing at it. Therefore, this is the photo most people take. If you want your photo to be different, you have to be different. Get your belly down on the ground and take your photo from the animal’s eye-level or lower.

One of the most important things to me in my photography is removing distracting elements. For me, this typically means backgrounds and any man-made items. This is one of the biggest reasons I bought an f/2.8 lens - I love the blurred out, buttery bokeh look in a photo. When I shoot at f/2.8 I can get my subject’s eye pin-sharp, while having one or two blurry colors swirling in the background. This is a great way to make your subject stand out. If you don’t have an f/2.8 lens, not to worry, you will just need to get closer to your subject and choose a location where the background is further away.

That’s about it. If you have three out of four of those elements you will have a good photo. If you have all four, I can nearly guarantee your photo will turn some heads and stick out from all the other squirrel photos out there. So don’t wait for your next safari; get out in your own backyard at the break of dawn tomorrow and be there when the light strikes.