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Andrew Cooper's Guide to Wildlife Watching & Photography.

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Photographing wildlife is probably the most challenging of all subjects. Perhaps that is why it is so popular. Nature changes with the light, by the hour and by the season. The subjects are invariably elusive, endangered and often very erratic in their behaviour. I did say it is not easy but it is immensely satisfying.

It is the actual pursuit of nature that makes it such fun and so rewarding. Wildlife photography should not be competitive and the end result should never justify any means. When photographing wildlife, the subject should always come first.


Recent advances in cameras, lenses and mega pixel-count have been extraordinary, but they are no guarantee to success. Here are some of my personal tips for successful wildlife photography:

  • Research your subject – some rare creature may require permits. Do not just rely on local knowledge, read up before setting off.
  • Get up early – very early. Ideally you want to be in a position before sun up.
  • Effort – be prepared to sweat. If necessary get fit.
  • Be patient and quiet – as a wildlife television producer of major BBC programmes, I know the greatest asset a big budget brings – time.
    Impatience gets you nowhere with wild creatures.
  • Be original – look for different ways to take the same shot.

  • Relax - If you are in a beautiful wild location then just relax and enjoy your surroundings. Watch, learn and listen, it will improve your photography immensely.

Don’t just shoot - create

Some of the best photographers of landscape and nature believe that you should not just capture, shoot or snap, you should create, produce, orchestrate or arrange. In the same way that an author plays with words to make something meaningful and memorable, let your creative talent loose in your pictures!

Learn the elements of good composition, then ignore them!
Following the ‘Rule of Thirds’ is a good start but not the end of the story. Don’t try to force a scene into a rule, but lead the eye into the view and let the picture tell a story – the more dramatic and mesmerising the better.

When is a good picture a brilliant one?
The answer is when you cannot take your eyes off it!  A brilliant picture will stop you dead in your tracks and the more you look, the more you will see.

Bigger is not always better
Size does matter but perhaps not necessarily in the way you might think. It seems particularly true in wildlife and landscape photography. Many photographers seem absorbed by the specifications of their camera, the maximum lens aperture or the dimensions of the final print.

Do not get too wrapped up about using the biggest camera or biggest lens available – use the best and you will not regret it. I have always believed that poor workmen blame their tools, so buy the best and you only have yourself to blame when things go wrong!
Some images rely on colour or detail for impact. A vast landscape might demand a large print size. But where images are more intimate or where attention to shape or shade is important and the viewer gains most by being close to a picture, then a small print can add real impact. Let the size of your final print be determined by careful consideration and not simply the biggest that you can afford.

The most important piece of photographic equipment? Your mind!

Very few pictures simply fall into your lap, you have to work at them.