Top photography tips
Photography advice from seven of the best in the business.
Sue Bird – Hunting
1. Love the sport
Having an affinity with the hounds, horses, countryside and wildlife is an integral part of making a successful hunting image. Understanding the hunting etiquette and how to be an unobtrusive part of the day for the hunt staff is imperative.
2. Be prepared for all conditions
Prepare for the worst weather conditions as you are unlikely to get perfect weather and light. Make sure you and your camera equipment are as weatherproof as possible. If you are wet and cold, you will not enjoy yourself.
3. Introduce yourself
When first visiting a pack of hounds, contact the Masters first. Most hunts will have a website with contact details on. Check each hunt’s policy on photography as some prefer photos just to be taken at the meet. Introduce yourself as, sadly, in these difficult times unknown faces can create unease amongst the regulars.
4. Know the country
Familiarise yourself with the hunt country: get to know the trail layers and they will often point you in the right direction. Make sure that you don’t foil the trails or you will not be popular! If photographing jumps, ensure you are standing in a safe place that will not spook the horses.
5. Be adaptable
Lighting conditions are often appalling and you need to be very adaptable. Using your camera on manual, but using Auto ISO, allows you to be in control of your shots, which often have to be taken very quickly with little time to prepare. Set a shutter speed fast enough to cope with the action you are anticipating, i.e. fast moving hounds and horses. Select an aperture to give a depth of field allowing for the amount of shot you want in focus. A good starting point is 1/600 sec for shutter speed and F.7 for aperture whilst out and about. It is easier at the meet to be more creative with your settings as there is more time to prepare shots.
Alan Ward – Wildlife
1. Know your gear
The opportunity for a great action shot usually only lasts for a few seconds. If you are not fully conversant with the settings of your camera or the limitations of your lens, then you will probably miss the shot. You should know the following: The minimum shutter speed to get a sharp image; the maximum ISO for an acceptable image; and how wide your lens is open (aperture). All of these things will make a huge difference to the image you will end up with.
2. Remain camouflaged and concealed
Wild animals are, by instinct, frightened of people. Dressing to blend in with the surroundings is paramount. Stalking quietly through woodland or by rivers on your own is the best option, breaking of twigs or rustling through bushes will scare your subjects away.
3. Make the most of the light
Golden light hours are those when the light is at its best for photography; sunrise and a few hours before sunset. When in the right direction, they provide a nice light that warms the images. Sometimes you will have to change the angle you are at to obtain the right light. Most of the time, light between these hours can be flat or dull and result in images with no real punch. That said, golden light is not essential, I have come away with some very usable images in dull, foggy conditions.
4. Get to know your subject
Wildlife rarely just pops its head up, and wildlife photographers spend many lonely hours waiting for their subjects to appear. Nature is unpredictable and anything can come along at any time. So keep your eyes open, be alert at all times, and use the waiting as an opportunity to get to know the ground. If your subject is too far away for your lens to take a sharp image, use this as an opportunity to learn its behavioural patterns.
5. Enjoy yourself
Don’t get bogged down with camera settings and the technical side of it – remember, the biggest memory card is the one in your head. Seeing the bird or animal at close quarters is special, and if you have the image that’s a bonus.
Steve Magennis – Gundogs
1. Know your equipment
Get to know your camera’s workings and settings very well – the where, the when and the how. Changing settings such as metering mode, focus modes, shutter speeds and apertures should all be second nature. Your camera equipment is a tool and should be treated as such.
2. Meet the dog
Take the time to say hello to the dog you are wanting to photograph, and make it comfortable in your presence and at ease with your equipment. A working dog should always know you are there but still be focused on what it is doing. Never give any encouragement to a working dog when it comes over to you – try and ignore it.
3. Think about your angle of view
Get on the same level as the dog you are wanting to photograph, whether that be kneeling, sitting or lying. For a pleasant looking portrait, shoot from an angle slightly lower than your subject.
4. Focus on the eyes
Action shots are popular but they are also the hardest to produce as a dogs tend not to look at their best when they’re in action, with tongues lolling, ears flapping and faces often contorted! The most effective action shot is the dog running or jumping straight towards the camera. With modern auto focus cameras, keep your focal point on the eyes of the dog and your in-focus image hit rate will be better.
5. Use the environment around you
Your image should tell a story about the subject you are photographing. By using the surroundings such as landscapes, people, guns, birds, and vehicles in the background, you can add interest to your photographs. These features should be noticed but not dominate the image.
Matt Harris – Fishing
1. Look after the fish
When photographing fish, keep them in the water until you have composed the image and taken a test-shot. The fish has a much greater chance of survival this way, and its colours are hugely enhanced when wet. A fish dripping with water looks so much more spectacular than one that’s stiff, dried out and dead. And don’t hold the fish way out in front of you – everyone knows what big hands mean!
2. Plan your shots in advance
For landscape shots featuring anglers, look for images that will work and pre-plan them, then come back when the light is exactly as you want it. The low light of dawn and dusk is often special but on bonefish flats, for example, high sun can make the turquoise colours of the ocean really sing – especially in conjunction with a polarizer – one of the few accessories I would recommend.
3. A touch of colour is key
A splash of colour can often pull an angler out of a scene – we dress to hide ourselves from our quarry, but a simple motif like a red neckerchief is sometimes all that is needed to take our eye to the angler in the landscape, transforming the composition.
4. Think about perspective
Play with altering the height of the camera – by raising or lowering the camera angle, you can prevent your subject from breaking the horizon line, positioning them instead on a clear uncluttered canvas of water or sky.
5. Use a high ISO for action shots
When shooting jumping fish, use the highest ISO that you are happy with – 800 ASA and even beyond provides amazing quality on the latest generation of DSLRs. A high ASA will allow you to use a fast shutter speed and a forgiving degree of depth of field. Watch the line in the water and try to anticipate when the fish is about to surface. And finally, be ready – amazing things happen quickly, so always have your camera to hand.
John MacTavish – Game shooting
1. Understand your subject
Ask the keeper or host before the drive starts where the birds will be coming from and going to. Understand how they are expected to fly.
2. Know your market
Sometimes a shot that appeals to you as a photographer might not appeal to the market you are shooting for. Badly behaved dogs fighting over a pheasant might make a good photograph for a dog training article, but as an advert for fieldsports this type of shot should be avoided.
3. Know your equipment’s limitations
In bad light know the highest ISO you can go to without compromising image quality, and be prepared to shoot at shutter speeds a little less than you might otherwise use. If you are wanting detailed shots of flying birds, there is no substitute for focal length. Shooting with short focal lengths and cropping in does nothing to enhance image quality.
4. Variation is crucial
Spend the day taking many shots of the same scene but in many different ways. Some landscape, some portrait and some with a Dutch horizon. If you are in a prime spot for getting flight shots, make sure you get some using very fast shutter speeds and some using very slow ones. Variety gives the picture editors many more choices for an article.
5. Keep Photoshop needs to a minimum
If you are shooting to deadlines, the luxury of spending hours bringing out the absolute best in every photo is simply not an option. So get into the habit of getting your shot right in the camera and your time spent in Photoshop will be drastically reduced. Sure, most shots need a touch of level, curves or sharpening, but blurring backgrounds, adding or removing objects, adjusting colours and a host of many other alterations may not be to everyone’s taste. The very best images require very little post processing.
Simon K. Barr – Stalking
1. Keep equipment to a minimum
Too much equipment can impede you while you are hunting, so I tend to hunt with two lenses; a telephoto for wildlife shots and a wide angle for panoramas and close-ups. Get to know your lenses and you will get the most out of them.
2. Pick your moments
It is hard to hunt and take images at the same time – you will end up doing both poorly. Carefully pick the moments that capture the essence and spirit of the hunt and don’t be afraid to ask to stop and get that incredible landscape shot.
3. Master timed images
If you want to personally feature in your images you have to master taking timed images from a tripod. Alternatively you need to find a way to communicate how your camera operates to your guide. This can be tricky. It might be someone that speaks no English and possibly has never seen a camera. A lot of patience is required here, or a reliable auto function.
4. Show some respect
When taking a ‘trophy’ shot, show the animal some respect! Wipe any blood from its muzzle, stick its tongue in, place its feet beneath it and move away from the area it was gralloched. Ideally, take a picture before you open up the beast.
5. Composition is key
Whether taken through the immaculate lens of a Leica M series or an iPhone, nothing beats a well-composed shot. Remember the rule of thirds, have subjects facing into the frame, not out, and keep your horizons horizontal. Basic stuff which is so often forgotten at the expense of the final image.
Tarquin Millington-Drake – Post production
Post-production in digital photography is a fact of life if shooting raw, and although one should try and get things as correct as possible within the camera like John says, it is rare that a photograph does not need any basic post-production work. Most cameras have the option to shoot in RAW and it is better to do this if you can.
Consider some of the most basic settings in any photo-editing software to bring out the colours and sharpness that your camera has captured but needs you to reveal, such as colour temperature, exposure and sharpness (try and look at the full size image to see if key part/s of your image, like the eye of your subject, is sharp).
Try and get the right balance between the lights, the darks, the shadows and highlights. Some colour saturation to perhaps bring out some of the strongest features/colours of your image can work well, too. The objective should not be to produce an image that does not look real or like what you saw at that moment, but to show it in the best possible way, bringing out the strengths of the photograph which make the image itself appealing.
I will end by throwing all that I have said out the window as it is acceptable to turn your photograph into art through fundamental changes such as the use of black and white, sepia etc. Obviously, such changes depart from reality but they should still adhere to a solid and real foundation of what you are trying to achieve with your image. The core image still needs to be of the highest quality.