Five top landscape and nature photographers provide expert advice on how to get the best shots this spring
Tips 14-17 from Niall Benvie
Niall Benvie has worked in environmental communications for 22 years as a photographer, writer, designer and guide. He is co-founder of the international Meet Your Neighbours initiative and lives in Angus with his family. www.niallbenvie.com
14. The lowdown
There are many good reasons for shooting wildlife from a low angle. Aesthetic: when you portray the animal from its own perspective rather than a human one, a quality of intimacy is introduced. Technical: long telephotos are supported on a tripod at only one point. There’s a lot of overhang fore and aft, and once the shutter speed drops below 1/60sec camera shake creeps in, no matter how hefty the tripod.
Putting the camera and lens on a beanbag on the ground offers the best stability. As an extra benefit, the background just behind your subject that would be rendered quite sharp from a high viewpoint is hidden and only the distant, very blurry background can be seen.
An angle finder makes viewing more comfortable if your camera doesn’t have an articulated rear screen.
15. What to shoot when it’s wet and windy
Spring is noted for its showers, often accompanied by strong winds. If it is wet and windy, fit a macro lens (or close-focusing zoom) and look at mosses and lichens. Regardless of the weather, you can make intriguing close-ups of these colourful subjects that are actually enhanced by a spring shower. And even in a gale, they won’t move around.
Since you are often working at quite a high magnification, find where your camera’s mirror lock-up function is and use it, along with an electronic release.
It really makes a big difference to sharpness, especially with longer lenses. Normally you’ll want to render as much detail as possible, so identify the principal plane through the subject and shoot parallel to that to make the most of the limited depth of field.
16. Colourful backgrounds
Viewers may do a double-take when their expectations of what is ‘normal’ in a photograph are challenged. We expect to see the subject in the light, the background in shade, the subject colourful and the background muted. If you reverse these relationships you’re sure to catch the viewer’s eye.
Among nature photographers, this style came out of Scandinavia in the late 1980s and typically features plants in shade photographed against a hillside, or a lake reflecting early morning or late evening light.
The success of these pictures relies on preventing the subject from becoming a silhouette (so the sunlight on the background must be weak), to set up tension between the ‘cool’ subject and the ‘warm’ background. And because you need to isolate only a small part of the background, your longest telephoto, perhaps with an extension tube, is your best ally.
17. Elevated sites
What raised beds are to gardeners, elevated sites are to nature photographers. They make the process of getting the low-angle perspective more comfortable and therefore more productive. Many birds stubbornly refuse to leave the ground to feed on a bird table, so you’ve got to make your own bit of ground (perhaps by cutting some turfs), putting the food on it and raising them to your shooting level.
If you’re building a pond to photograph drinking birds, it’s essential that you can shoot at water level from an adjacent hide, so make sure the pool is high enough off the ground. Subjects on elevated spots also make it easier to shoot towards the zenith where the sky’s blue is richest. And if you’re photographing wildlife from your vehicle, a roadside bank puts it at eye-level.