Wildlife Week: Habitat

April 21, 2010

Photo Tips, Wildlife

American Oystercatcher, Isabela, PR

[Editors Note: This week we are having a Wildlife Photography Tip every day here on DPE. Rick is also doing a tip a day on People photography over on his personal blog, make sure to check it out.]

You may have heard me say over and over again that in order to make the best images of wildlife you need to know your subjects, and know them well. One of the first things to learn about your subject is what is their preferred habitat.

Knowing your subjects preferred habitat is important, not only for locating them, but also in planning the kind of images you are going to make.

I enjoy animal portraits as much as everyone else, and I am known to make many “bird on a stick” images. However, my preference is for images that showcase wildlife in one of their preferred habitats. Images that include habitat tell so much more about that species, plus they can serve as a great compositional element.

Ruby Throat Hummingbird on Nest, Goose Creek SP, NC

Here are a couple of tips on including habitat with your wildlife images.

Supporting Habitat – While I like to include habitat in my images, I almost always make sure that my subject is the main focus of the image. I try to select background elements that compliment my subject, and not detract from it. I try to include habitat elements that frame my subjects and place them in an environment without detracting from the subject.

Separation – Even though you are trying to include some some of the background elements into the image in order to support your main subject, it’s important to maintain separation between your subject and the background. Use only as much Depth-of-Field as you need to keep your subject in focus and no more. There is such as thing as too much DOF.

Simplify – Avoid extraneous objects, one of the tricks I learned a long time ago that has helped me tremendously is to scan the periphery of my viewfinder just before tripping the shutter. What this allows me to do is make sure that I avoid any extraneous objects such as protruding elements, and that I don’t have any competing background elements. At first this may take some time to do consciously, but with practice you will find yourself doing this very quickly and sub-consciously.

Prothotonary Warbler, Chatham County, NC

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This post was written by:

- who has written 347 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Juan is a wildlife photographer who currently lives in Maine. Juan lives and breathes photography and travels around the country making images, teaching and leading photo workshops. Juan’s favorite destination is Yellowstone in winter.

You can follow Juan on twitter at http://twitter.com/jpons

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6 Responses to “Wildlife Week: Habitat”

  1. Mully410 Says:

    Thanks for the interesting tips. This tip goes well with learning the subject. I go to the same spot pretty much every day and have learned the habits and preferences of the various animals. Occasional visitor are often surprise when I tell them to sit still for a minute because the bluebird will land on that mullein, for example. By knowing what they are going to do, it helps be position myself with the best background and light. (tip-o-the-hat to Franz Lanting for teaching me some of that)


  2. jose Says:


    I have to say that those pictures are superb. The tips are great. I will check the Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM yet I have heard that Sigma reliability is compromissed. Anyway if you could share a tip on taking pictures of birds with difficult color for white balance. I mean like a Great Egret mostly white. I have been trying successfully take a picture of a Great Egret during low level flying. I know the bird path and habits inside out so taking the picture is not the problem the problem is I keep getting halos and blue edges around the edge of the white plummage. Any tips on how to avoid it.



  3. Juan Pons Says:


    The issue with Sigma has for a long time been quality control. It used to be that you would get a sharp lens just as often as a not so sharp lens. Things apparently have improved. But what I know some people do is order only from places that have a GOOD return policy. Order the lens, inspect it and if it’s not sharp order another one and send the first one back for a refund.

    On the issue of your Egret images, that sounds a little suspicious. My guess is that it may be either the lens you are using or too high of an iso.

    If you want send me a RAW file using a service like yousendit.com and I will take a look.



    • jose Says:


      Just send a file of an egret for your review. Hope you can give me some information on how to prevent the color cast.



  4. Mitzs Says:

    I love the tip about scanning the area though the viewfinder. I am still at the stage that I am so focused on the set up I see in my mind that I take the image to only get home and see a way ward piece of grass or a tree branch at an odd angle right around subject that it ruined my image unless I want to go in an clone it out.

    Thanks Juan.



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