Simple stock photos: This shot was taken with a 100-400mm lens at 250mm. The lens was easily capable of getting the subject larger in the frame, but this seemed the better composition. The camera was set to ISO 320 with a shutter speed of 1/250th. Stock photos like this will sell.
Taking effective animal photos
Animal photos always figure in a lot of Google royalty free stock photos searches and continue to sell steadily, but it can be surprisingly difficult to get a worthwhile shot of creatures that rarely stand still for long or allow you to get close enough to fill the frame.
Sometimes you can get over this by including the background as context, and it’s usually best to use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. If you’re using a narrow depth of field, however, make sure to focus on the eyes. I’m not sure why, but it is true that a shot where the eyes are out of focus is rarely as effective, so make this a priority.
One of the commonest mistakes when photographing animals is using too slow a shutter speed. We see a lot of stock photos submissions with this problem. When using long lenses, camera shake and wrong focussing are ever-present problems, and it’s usually better to accept a bit of noise by increasing the ISO so you can use a faster shutter speed. Most modern SLRs, however, are pretty good at handling high ISO settings, so it’s less of an issue than it used to be.
Another issue, which took me a long time to get to grips with, is the wild claims made by camera and lens manufacturers for their various image stabilisation systems, few of which give reliable results past one stop. If you want pin sharp shots, stick to the time honoured formula of matching shutter speed to lens length. In other words, if you are using a 400mm lens, don’t go below 1/400th of a second and everything will be as sharp as you want.
Finally, a word about one of my favourite bits of kit, the monopod. I was sceptical at first, as on the face of it, there seems little advantage in something that isn’t as steady as a tripod but still adds extra bulk and weight to carry, but it has made a big difference to my animal and people photography. It took just one model shoot to prove how much quicker and easier it is to use, move around and adjust. It also seems to cut down interference from the ‘tripod gestapo’ – you know – those people who seem to take it upon themselves to make up laws about photography in public places!
Obviously a monopod isn’t much use with really slow shutter speeds, but given that you can’t go below certain limits when shooting people or animals without blurring the subject, it’s a brilliant bit of kit.