How to Include Wildlife in your Landscape Photography
Have you ever considered incorporating wildlife into your landscape photographs? Come to think of it, it is a very sensible and practical combination since many of the locations wherein wildlife can be found also have amazing landscapes around them. Perhaps it is because of the difference in pace in shooting landscapes and wildlife that the combination, while not rare, is uncommon.
Living visual elements add a whole new dimension into a landscape photograph. This can either be a human element in frame, or an animal that brings the environment to life. The presence of a living element in frame benefits the overall visual design of the image in 3 different spheres.
For one, a person or animal in a frame automatically gives a sense of scale to the entire frame. It being in the frame allows the viewer to deduce how big the actual environment is which aids in illustrating the beauty and wonder of a particular place.
Second of course is that a discernible figure of an animal works as a possible focal point for the entire composition. While the subject wouldn’t entirely be the animal itself, it works as a focal point which draws the attention of the viewer. By creatively placing the figure on a beneficial part of the frame, it becomes part of the visual experience that you would want your viewers to enjoy when looking at your landscape photographs.
Lastly, the presence of an animal, whether common or illusively rare in the frame would add a multitude of layers of context that would illustrate a story. From a simple image that talks about the beauty of a place, the photograph can go on to tell the story of it as a habitat, it can show how the animals interact with the landscape, and even trigger curiosity and emotions within the viewers of the images.
A mixture of two genres
Of course an obvious reason why we don’t commonly see wildlife in landscape photos is because of the fact that wild animals avoid people probably as much as people also avoid wild animals and these safety precautions are crucial in maintaining the safety of both the people and the animals.
Animals are easily threatened by people who are often a new sight to most of them and at the same time, a prudent photographer would not risk disrupting the ecosystem of these animals as well as risk their safety. There are proper limitations to follow when photographing wild animals that keep the best interest of everyone protected.
Another possible reason why this combination of genres isn’t as common is because of the difference in pace and workflow between photographing landscapes and photographing wildlife. Photographing animals, especially those who tend to move fast, requires a very swift workflow with camera reflex. One would need to shoot in fast shutter speeds and probably wide open apertures for more light and isolation.
On the other hand, landscape photography is usually done at a slower pace with longer exposure times as well as small apertures to get as much detail in-frame as possible. To be able to incorporate one with the other, there would have to be compromise between them which can be challenging.
With the mixing of two entirely different genres comes the need for more versatile gear. To be able to capture landscapes with living elements in it, one would have to be able to make swift adjustments to framing and camera settings to be able to capture the image before the animal moves away. For landscape photography, we often prefer a camera with as much resolution as possible, good lowlight capabilities, as well as high performance lenses that would give the sharpest images.
On the other hand, photographing wildlife often requires fast frame-rate cameras to capture as many frames as possible while the animal is still in sight, fast focusing, and good accuracy. Doing both in one workflow can of course be done by cameras that fall within the specifications of either genres with some compromise, however it can best be done by cameras that come with both speed and resolution such as the Sony A1, Canon EOS R5, and the like.
Choosing lenses for this kind of photography would have to depend on two things. First, is how wide or how large is the view that you want to include in your shot. This generally governs how you will compose it as a landscape photograph with or without any wildlife in frame. Choosing your lenses and framing would depend entirely on how you aim to use space and all the details to artistically portray the location. For images that showcase a wide open vista and large structures such as nearby trees or distant mountains, a wide angle lens would be best. For images that aim to isolate and showcase distant objects and emphasize patterns, using a standard zoom lens or a telephoto lens would be the best option.
On the other hand, it is also important to be able to predict how far away your wildlife subject will be. The factors surrounding these are of course yours and the animal’s safety, the animal’s size, and how sensitive are the animals to humans (and their camera gear) in their habitat. More often than not, dealing with wildlife would require long telephoto lenses to be able to capture their images up close even when shooting from a safe distance.
In other kinds of photography, your attire might seem irrelevant to how successful your shooting process can be. However, with the combination of landscape and wildlife photography, your attire has a huge impact. For one, being out in the wild will require you to wear clothing that gives a certain amount of protection. This means protection from the weather as well as bugs.
More importantly, choosing the right color for your clothing can be crucial. When seeking to photograph wild animals, there is a need to stay as hidden as possible so wearing colors that blend well with the environment matters a lot. Depending on the location and the season, it would be best to wear clothes that blend with grass, trees, or snow. When using camera gear with significant sizes, it would also be best to use camouflage sleeves or skins on your lenses that will help your gear blend in with the environment and avoid scaring away the animals as you point your camera towards them.
Depending on your approach, you might need support gear to keep your shots steady especially when dealing with wildlife subjects that move around a lot. A good monopod can help you be versatile while maintaining stability in seeking animals with relatively longer and bigger lenses. This is ideal for faster paced shooting that requires swift movement. On the other hand, a more landscape-oriented approach would of course require a tripod to be able to use exposure techniques to achieve a more satisfying aesthetic.
Another reason for using a tripod is to keep the camera in position for multiple exposures. One way to be able to use wildlife elements in your landscape photographs is to blend multiple images in post processing later on. One image can be taken with settings that make sure to capture the animal clearly while still in frame. This means using faster shutter speeds, larger apertures, and possibly higher ISO values. The other image or images can be set to be able to capture the environment better.
For this part, you can choose to do longer exposures if necessary, smaller apertures for more detail, and relatively lower ISO for cleaner images. By doing this, you can be sure that all the parts of your image are taken with the best approach. However, this should be guided by the primary aim of your photography. If the image is to be taken in a documentary context where authenticity is of utmost importance, it would be better to consider a simpler approach. However, if the aim is to simply illustrate the scene, then exposure blending and post-processing should not be an issue.
Another innovative approach is to make use of a smart camera trigger that will serve as both a remote control and an automated way of photographing wildlife. The MIOPS Flex is equipped with smart laser sensors that trigger the camera to shoot when anything moving crosses the path of the laser. Having this setup with a smartphone that acts as a remote control allows you to be non-intrusive to the natural environment while also never missing an opportunity when animals come by. With this smart camera setup, the photographer can keep a safe distance and be able to capture the natural interaction between the animals and their environment.
These smart camera triggers also have additional functions that can be useful for both landscape photography and wildlife photography. The MIOPS Flex features a wide array of long exposure tools that can help the photographer bring out the best in any scenario. At the same time, both devices can aid in shooting dynamic time-lapse clips through various intervalometer functions as well as modes triggered using the sound and lightning sensors.
To be able to capture as many frames as possible without causing any distraction, you can set the trigger to interval shooting and maximize the time by continuously shooting as the animal is within the angle of view. By doing this, you can select a particular image taken in the sequence wherein the animal is in a spot visually beneficial to your composition of the entire environment.
Meet FLEX, a smart camera gadget for creative photography.
Photographing landscapes with wildlife can be double the challenge. However, it also offers potentially more rewarding results. Animals are integral parts of the environment that we aim to photograph in landscape photography and having them in-frame adds a multitude of layers in the story that the photograph tells. With proper planning, the use of smart tools, and technical skills, photographing the world with the wonders of the animal kingdom opens an entirely different perspective from what our landscape photographs normally show.
Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela
Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.