The UK's summer wildlife spectaculars

Photo of someone photographing a Black Tailed Skimmer; Orthetrum cancellatum; Cornwall; UK (c) David Chapman/NHPA/Photoshot Photographing wildlife is perfect for getting closer to nature

Photography is one of the many ways you can get out there and enjoy wildlife this summer.

These hints and tips are aimed for those at entry level looking to improve their wildlife photos on compact cameras or smartphones but there might be the odd tip useful to slightly more experienced photographers.

By following some or all of these tips you could see some big improvements to your nature photos.

And we want you to then share them. So every time you're out there and have a camera, get snapping and share it on our Springwatch Flickr group.

Preparation - Some quick tips before you start

Start Quote

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion…the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.”

End Quote Dorothea Lange

Before you head out there, it can often help to stop and think about what you want to achieve.

  • Pick a topic or a theme and start thinking about a variety of ways to capture it. For inspiration, check out the nature activities happening near you and choose a subject.
  • Have you read the manual?! Sounds silly but it is amazing what you can learn about your camera, photography and also gain a few creative ideas just by reading the instructions.
  • Make sure you check the weather forecast and pack and dress for the conditions (do you need your waterproofs or your sun block, do you need rain covers or lens hoods)
  • Keep a lookout. Have you got a spotting scope or some binoculars? If so, take them.
  • Hold it steady... And take a tripod if you have one. Shaky hands lead to blurry pictures and usually that's not the look you're going for!
  • Be patient - wildlife can be a fickle subject so expect to be out for a long time to capture a cracking photo and pack some snacks.
  • See them eye to eye - get on your subject's eye level as it transforms the perspective of your images.
  • Share your images with friends and likeminded people to get their feedback. This really helps you understand what did and didn't work and why.

Composition - Framing, "Rule of thirds" & Lead-in lines

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Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”

End Quote Matt Hardy

A very simple way of improving your wildlife photographs is to think about the composition of your photographs. This essentially means: where the different elements of your photo are within the frame and vitally, how your eye moves between them.

The "rule of thirds" is a fairly common phrase in photography and you may have already heard people talking about it. And fortunately it's a very simple one to follow.

Imagine lines running through the frame both vertically and horizontally that "divide" the photo into nine sections. Many cameras allow you to select a grid that is visible on your display to help you with this.

Positioning your point or points of interest on them makes them more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. And the points where these lines meet make "sweet spots" for positioning your subject, as you can see in Ruth's bee photo below.

Bumblebee on flower composed to rule of thirds convention

By following the "rule of thirds", you should instantly start seeing some improvements to your photographs. Every rule can be broken and this is no exception - but better to know the rule and how it works before trying to find a good reason to break it!

Lead-in lines are basically any lines that draw your eye from the edge of your photos to different points of interest that you want the viewer to look at.

It doesn't really matter too much where these lines start from. The wings work particularly well in Eddie's demoiselle photo below to "point" to the insect's face.

A banded demoiselle resting on grass

Get close - Use your legs, a zoom lens or a remote trigger

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If your pictures aren't good enough then you aren't close enough.”

End Quote Robert Capa

Nice big close-ups are always fantastic ways to really capture the essence of your subject and work really well for nature photography and there are a few ways of achieving this.

The most obvious one is to move the camera closer to the subject and gives you a nice close up of your subject and a fair amount of detail in the background.

However, this isn't always a practical option with wildlife photography as your subject will more than likely run, swim, slither, or fly away as you approach it!

So the next way is to zoom in. This is easier if you have a DSLR where you can change the lens but a compact camera usually has some degree of optical zoom. But if you are still too far away, what can you do?

Well this is where binoculars can come in handy. By putting the lens of the camera at one of eyepieces, you can allow the camera to focus on the image and then take a picture.

It's not as good as a telephoto lens on a DSLR but it's a lot better than no zoom or having to use the digital zoom functionality.

And if you spin your binoculars, you can use them as a macro lens!

Robin feeding from hand in snow Moving the camera closer with a "standard" lens
Robin stood in snow Using a long lens and zooming into the subject
Robin flying with snowy background Using a very wide angle lens and a remote trigger

The last, and definitely slightly more advanced method which requires more kit, is to use a remote trigger. This way you can position your camera and not scare the wildlife, wait until it's in the right place and then click the button.

David's robin photo shows you the different look he managed to achieve with this method. It usually requires a few attempts to get right but will give you a perspective and image that you rarely see.

Light - Make the most of the conditions

Sunset through a field of grass

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Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

End Quote George Eastman

You might hear photographers talking about "the golden hour" for wildlife photography and that this is the "only" time to take photographs.

The golden hour - or longer in winter - is the time around sunrise and sunset when the light has more atmosphere to travel through, giving it a more "golden" appearance. It also lights subjects from the side, creating nice shadows and therefore texture to photographs.

But what can you do if you aren't out at these times?

Try to avoid the few hours around the very middle of the day as your camera struggles to cope with the bright spots and dark shadows in the middle of a sunny day. Also, your plant or animal will be lit from the top which isn't a particularly nice look.

But what happens when there is no sun (let's face it, that's typical for a British summer!) and you find yourself out on a very cloudy/grey day? Don't worry - all is not lost!

Clouds can be your friend in the form of a very large diffuser, and certain types of wildlife photographs really benefit from this soft and uniform light.

Taking macro photos of wildflowers, or long exposures of woodland streams are usually better off with an overcast sky as it gets rid of those really harsh, bright areas and the really dark shadows.

Kit - You don't need all the gear, just lots of ideas!

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A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they'll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won't do a thing for you if you don't have anything in your head or in your heart.”

End Quote Arnold Newman

Tripods - if you have one then great (and the sturdier the better). If you don't, seriously consider saving up for one as the next part of your photography kit!

But if you need to keep the camera very steady and don't have one or have forgotten it, look around for something to act like a tripod. Is there a wall/ rock/ fence post/ tree stump nearby?

A little trick is to carry around a small beanbag if you have one too. Pop it onto your makeshift tripod and it allows you to straighten up horizons or to tilt up or down slightly.

And to make it even steadier for landscape shots, once you are happy with your framing, use the timer on the camera to take the photo. This minimises any movement that occurs as you press the button and should give you much sharper shots.

Lenses - Your compact camera normally has different functions to choose so make sure you select the right "scene" setting.

Macro (usually indicated by a flower) for the tiny bugs and flowers in your garden etc. and landscape (usually depicted by mountains) for a wide angle look to capture the beautiful vistas.

Try not to use the digital zoom if you can help it.

Filters - Try putting your sunglasses in front of your smartphone or compact camera's lens on a very bright day and see if it helps improve your photos.

Practice makes perfect - so take lots of pictures!

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Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

End Quote Henri Cartier-Bresson

Like with anything you want to get better at, you are going to have to get practising your photographic techniques. Luckily with wildlife photography - or any type of photography - there is no shortage of opportunities or inspiration!

And remember to share your images with us! Every time you're out and about and have a camera, get snapping the wildlife near you and share it on our Springwatch Flickr group.

Was this article useful? We'd love to know if you use this and if so, what you think. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #seeitsnapitshareit

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