Shooting wildlife doesn't have to be close-ups, sometimes your subject is all about its landscape.
With standard wildlife photography, large apertures are often preferred because they allow the fast shutter speeds you need to stop action, and they render distracting background elements as pleasing out-of-focus blurs. But with animal landscapes, which incorporate more of the subject’s surroundings, often you’ll have to stop down to gain extra depth of field. Small apertures such as f/11, f/16, or even smaller may be called for. Accordingly, you’ll find a tripod essential.
Don’t expect to catch any blazing fast action if you’re using small apertures. Animal landscapes are often relatively static images, and too much subject movement can ruin the shot— unless you’re going for a more abstract look (we’ll get to that possibility in a moment). Wait for an animal to strike a pose that complements the rest of the scene.
Above all, make sure that you at least get the animal in focus. Although typically not ideal for wildlife photography, live view can greatly assist you here, especially if you have a wide view and the animal is a relatively small part of the overall scene (see “Bring Nature into Live View,” November 2009).
Incorporating more of the landscape can sometimes let you portray wildlife in a more abstract or metaphorical way than in traditional wildlife portraiture. For example, you might add a sense of mystery by including an animal’s reflection in water. Or, instead of photographing the animal itself, depict something that only implies its presence, such as a trail of footprints in the sand leading from the foreground into the distance.
You can also experiment with long exposures to capture movement over time. If the animal is static and something else in the scene—such as water or wind-blown foliage—is moving, try a shutter speed that allows the motion to blur, such as 1/15 to 1/2 sec. You’ll need to be patient to get an image with your wildlife subject still enough to be rendered sharp, especially if it is moving around.
The image of horseshoe crabs shows the opposite technique: Render the broader landscape scene as sharp but allow for some motion blur with the wildlife, imparting a sense of energy and movement.
Ian Plant’s most recent book is a downloadable PDF eBook, Chas- ing the Light: Essential Tips for Taking Great Landscape Photos. Check it out at www.IanPlant.com.