Wildlife Week: Habitat

May 27th, 2010 by Juan Pons

American Oystercatcher, Isabela, PR

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

Keep up with Juan on The Digital Photo Experience and learn about Juan's workshops at Wild Nature Tours.

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