Making a portrait of your favorite animal is way easy compared to capturing that same animal in action. So if your goal is lights, camera, action… here are some things to consider.
If you are using a single lens reflex camera, set your shutter speed to 250th of a second.
Canon, EOS 6OD, 250th of a second at f-8
If you are using a point-and-shoot, put your dial on the action icon, but as soon as you can, invest in an SLR. You really can’t get great action sequences without one because you have to be able to stop the movement (action), and that means setting your shutter speed to at least 250th of a second. That is as slow as your shutter can go and still stop the action. Sure, if the animals are perfectly still (they aren’t because they’re breathing ) you can try 125th of a second, but only if they are holding a yoga pose.
Shutter speed controls the movement in your photographs. Trust me on this. I didn’t make it up! So first rule. Start with 250th of a second and go up from there to a faster speed, not down to a slower speed. I am repeating myself, but it’s way important.
If you want to do less thinking, you can set your SLR dial on TV (time value) at 250th of a second or higher, and let the computer in the camera choose the aperture to balance the exposure. Quick review, exposure is a combination of shutter speed and aperture. So if you set the speed you want for TV, the computer will choose as much depth as the light will allow.
Ok. We can do that! If you are photographing animals without any background issues, such as these wonderful dolphins, everything is a go.
Everything is a go, because there aren’t any background issues to deal with. If there were, I’d have to be more careful with balancing the shutter speed/aperture combination becuse the aperture controls depth.
Here’s a photo where there is too much depth, so the background is competing with the subject matter.
EOS 6OD, 250th of a second at f-16
To make it work, I needed to choose a smaller aperture number so the background would become less prominent. See how both the subject and background have equal weight?
Here’s one that’s much better.
EOS 6OD at 25oth of a second, f-5.6
See how the elephant and boy are in sharp focus, while the background is soft? All our attention is drawn into this image and none of it looks beyond the subjects.
So work on using fast shutter speeds and noting what happens to your background with the speed you choose.