Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking photos of animals
What to look for
Animals can be among the most unpredictable of subjects, and in many ways they're more difficult to shoot than children. You may be able to train a dog to sit still and look at you when you call, but with a squirrel or a penguin, forget it.
Unless you can say for sure when an animal is going to do something particular, you need to be ready to fire the shutter when they appear or start performing. This can be hard to judge, so choose a camera that gives you easy access to its burst shooting mode and check out those that offer the best performance.
Ideally, burst mode would be activated using a button on the rear or the case (it's often part of a four-way controller or wheel to the side of the screen), as wasting seconds digging through the menus to find it could mean you miss the action.
Be sure to check how many frames per second the camera can achieve. Also ask how long it can keep this up before the internal buffer fills up and it needs to pause or slow down to offload data to the memory card. Be wary of cameras that offer burst speeds in the many hundreds of frames per second by reducing the size of each image. You'd do better to find a model that shoots around 4fps at full size, rather than 240fps at 640x480-pixel resolution or lower.
If you have a tendency to fire the shutter too late, opt for a camera with pre-emptive shooting features. These record the action between the point where you half-press and fully depress the shutter release. This function increases the likelihood that you'll capture the action you'd otherwise miss.
The comparatively rare automatic photo selection options found on cameras like the Nikon 1 J1, J2 and V1 go one step further than this, capturing a stream of 20 images and analysing each one to pick the five best. The best of those -- judged in terms of composition, focus, and if you've included people in your pictures, facial expression -- is set as the pick shot.
Taking pictures through glass
If you're photographing animals at a zoo, you'll spend most of the day shooting through bars, or worse, glass. This can cause reflections, which may spoil your image. In this instance, opt for a dSLR, bridge camera or interchangeable-lens compact to which you can attach a polarising filter.
As you rotate a filter of this type, you block out light coming from particular angles, which makes it possible to reduce or entirely eliminate the presence of reflections in the finished image. Using the same technique to photograph fish will allow you to more clearly see them through the surface of water, rather than seeing the reflected sky.
Be aware of the fact that attaching a filter of this sort will reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor though. When photographing animals, it's unlikely you'd be able to compensate for this with a longer exposure as any movement from the animal will a blur the result. Therefore, be sure that the camera you choose offers easy access to its sensitivity (ISO) or exposure compensation settings, preferably using a dedicated button or wheel on the body.
Pets and animals wish list
- Burst shooting mode
- Pre-emptive shooting option
- Lens thread for attaching a polarising filter