Photographing animals is important to me as a writer and blogger. Photographs help tell a story. Sometimes photographs are the story and no words are needed. People often ask me how I capture the photos I use on social media and in my written articles. I don’t have any secrets really. I have little training in the use of my camera. Cellphones now take excellent photos for use on social media and many of my favorite photos are taken with my iPhone’s camera feature. When you need a high resolution photo for submissions to magazines or for making prints of your photographs, a digital camera will needed. I try to take photographs with both the phone and my camera so I have plenty to choose from.
I am not in any way an expert with the camera. My tips, that I am passing on to you, are from a beginner standpoint. But if you love your animals, love taking pictures of them and would love to see better results, these few pointers may help with photographing animals and chickens.
1. Get Up Close and on Their Level When Photographing Animals
Sometimes a scene of a bunch of cows or goats, chickens, whatever can come out pretty. But usually the picture is kinda boring. I prefer pictures where the personality or expression of the animal comes through. Goat portraits, if you will. I like to see their reactions to what is happening, come through in the photo. This can not be captured as well when you are ten feet away and there is a lot of background noise going on. If you can’t get down on the ground, try sitting in a low chair or a tree stump. Just try to get to a more even level with your subject.
Here’s one I took while kneeling on the ground. This chicken is normally not very friendly and even though my knees were not happy, I had a chance to photograph her up close using a zoom lens and waiting for her to forget about me.
This is what happened right before the close up.
This full scene is not nearly as compelling as the closeup.
2. Use Shutter Priority for Photographing Animals
If you have a camera with settings, switch to Shutter Priority. (thank you Mark) This will allow the shutter to move at the speed necessary for the movement of the animal. Animals move constantly. The heads of chickens move even more than any other animal! Using shutter priority allows the camera to choose a shutter speed that captures the action with little or no blurring. I don’t completely understand it still but I tried it today and it really made a noticeable improvement in my pictures.
3. Take a lot of shots
It’s digital. You can delete. Keep shooting until you get a decent shot or two. You will be glad you did. Some photos may have one good point that you can crop and have a good photo.
4. Use editing software
There are so many free editing programs on line now. Two of my favorites are Picmonkey and Canva. After you upload your photos into these editing programs, take some time to play around. Every action you take or filter you try, can be undone. Plus, you still have your original file on your hard drive. Play!
The editing tools can be seductive. The photo of the chicken from the previous section wasn’t quite what I wanted. However, using the edits and filters can lead you somewhere else you didn’t really want to go either. For example this result.
I don’t hate it but it’s a bit too much to look at. I showed it to a couple of friends who are accomplished photographers and they said I should lose the effect on the background. So I did. What do you think?
5. Crop the Picture After Photographing Animals
Too much going on detracts from the story you are trying to tell. There are even free apps for your cell phone that will crop a pic for you. Instagram has good photo editing choices and you can crop right on the screen as you edit. To edit on your computer, use Picmonkey or other photo editing software. You can use the auto sizes it suggests or switch to manual and crop the photo the way you want it to look.
Sometimes close ups just don’t work.
And sometimes it isn’t a good idea to get up close and personal if doing so would upset or spook the animal. Our cows are not used to me traipsing around them with a camera. That is what cropping can help you with. Here is an example of the original and the cropped photo of one of our cows.
Why yes, we do have a boat inconveniently parked in our pasture field. It lends a challenge to my cropping skills on many occasions.
6. Sit and Be Patient When Photographing Animals
I find that the best close ups I get are after I have sat with the animals for a spell, and they get used to me. With the chickens, I may sit on the ground while they are free ranging. (weather permitting of course!) Here’s another tactic that works really well with my cell phone. I take pics through the fencing surrounding the run. I place the phone up against the fencing so the fencing doesn’t show up in the picture. It does allow me to get great close ups when the chickens walk over to see what I have in my hands. I can zoom in on a chicken that would never let me get close up if I was inside the run.
With the goats this helps because they are in my face looking for treats when I first sit with them. If I am patient, they eventually wander away and I can photograph them doing goat like things.
This was taken through the chain link fence, cropped and edited with some fun color effects. I love it!
I don’t know why none of the other ducks told Margarita that she had a feather on her bill. But I can guarantee that if I walked up to her, I would not have been able to get the same photo I did by taking the shot through the fence.
No matter what, have fun with the photo shoots. We are so blessed to be able to enjoy some time just photographing animals and chickens here on the farm. Since you are most likely shooting digital pictures, take a lot of pictures. The delete button can be used later.
I know many of you probably have more experience or training than I do. What tips would you add to the list?