Wildlife Photography: How to Take Captivating Animal Portraits | Reuben Clarke | Skillshare

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Wildlife Photography: How to Take Captivating Animal Portraits

teacher avatar Reuben Clarke, Wildlife Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      Know Your Subject


    • 4.

      Getting to Know Individual Animals


    • 5.

      It's All In The Eyes


    • 6.

      Head Angles


    • 7.



    • 8.

      Balance & Flow


    • 9.

      Natural Lighting


    • 10.

      Do I Really Need to Edit?


    • 11.

      Editing a Photo


    • 12.

      Removing CA and Colour Casts


    • 13.



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About This Class

By the end of this class, you will have your very own captivating wildlife portrait.

After over 11 years of experience and being shortlisted in The British Photography Awards, these are my top tips.

This class will teach you what the key elements of a wildlife portrait are and how to use them in your own work. For me, these are:

  • knowledge of the animal
  • creating a connection
  • head angles
  • the importance of the background in composition
  • balance & flow
  • light
  • editing

This class is for anyone looking to improve their wildlife photography or even to take better photos of their pets. A working knowledge of how to use your camera would be beneficial.

You will need a camera (a phone will do for tame animals) and photo editing software to complete the class project.

I will be adding more courses related to photography in the future so please give me a follow if you enjoy this class to stay up to date. I'm also on Instagram if you'd like to connect there too.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Reuben Clarke

Wildlife Photographer


Hi, I'm Reuben.

I'm a wildlife photographer from Surrey in the UK (just south of London) and I've been fortunate enough to be shortlisted in The British Photography Awards twice. I have been photographing animals since 2009.

I'm all about fostering a connection to the natural world through imagery, and encouraging people to get outside and savour nature. My photography revolves around capturing the essence of the animal and the moment I shared with them.

A wise man named Ren Gill once said that art is about creating 'empathy windows' and wildlife photography is no different. I would love to inspire as many people as possible to create these windows into nature, and in doing so, create a world that truly values our planet.


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1. Intro: To me, wildlife photography is a ticket to a deeper connection with nature. When I'm photographing wildlife, I'm hyperfocused on the moment, and everything that's around me. Ultimately that's the main reason to do wildlife photography, it's to enjoy your experience in the outdoors, but also be able to look back on them, in a way that actually does them justice as well. Hi, my name is Reuben Clark. I'm a wildlife photographer from the UK with a degree in zoology. I've also been shortlisted in the British Photography Awards twice. This course is aimed at beginner and intermediate photographers, but I'm hoping there's also going to be some stuff that any advanced photographers that might be wanting to take this course as well. You're going to need your own camera. Although, a phone will work fine if the animals are particularly timed. You'll also need your own editing software. I'm going to use Lightroom and Photoshop, but the methods that I use can be applied to most editing software. I won't be going through the basics of how your camera works in this course. So you will need a working knowledge of how to use your own camera. This class is perfect for anyone that loves animals and wants to better capture their experiences if they're outdoors. It's even great for pet owners that just want to take better photos of their cats, dogs, tortoise, or whatever animal you have at home. But at the end of the day, anyone that's looking to improve their photography, will benefit from what I'm going to teach in this course. In this course, I'm going to cover everything from what you need to know about an animal, before you leave home, how to capture their eyes, and what particular head angles look best. I'll also be teaching you about balance and flow in an image which is basically giving you an eye for composition. I'll be teaching you a very simple natural lighting trick that will without doubt improve your photos if you don't do it already. Then finally I'll take you through the editing process, which I believe is fundamentally important in actually bringing your photo to life, and make it how you want it to look. The skills you learn in this class will help you take better photos of all animals, not just wildlife. They'll help you become a more rounded photographer overall. By the end of this class, you'll be able to anticipate your chosen subjects behavior. Before it happens, you will have developed a better eye for composition and lighting, as well as understanding the editing process. In other words, you'll be able to go through the whole process of taking an animal's photo, from start to finish. Now the intro is over, I'm excited for you to take the course, and get outside, and take photos of wildlife. 2. Class Project: Rather predictably, the class project is going to be taking your own photo of a wild animal of your choice. Don't forget to upload your photo to the project gallery section of the class so that we can all have a look once you're done. 3. Know Your Subject: Knowing an animal's lifestyle and behavior will help you find them, get close to them, and predict moments before they happen. In this lesson, we will cover what I believe every wildlife photographer should know about their subject before the shoot. The first of these is what time of the day are they active? Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, diurnal? What do they eat and how do they eat it? Are they a lion that chases its prey down in open plains and eat zebras or are they like a chameleon where they're hunting insects that are in the branches of a tree? Because if you knew where their food is, there's a good bet that they're going to be there too at some point. You also want to know if they behave differently at different times of year. Do they hibernate like bears in the winter. Do they migrate? Again, Africa, full of migrating herds of animals. Also it says monarch butterflies take generations to migrate through the Americas. Knowing where they are in their migration will stop you wasting time going to the wrong places. Knowing when an animal is breeding can also be great. For example, some species are much easier to photograph when they're breeding. For example, in the UK, there's Skomer Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire, and every summer, the puffins come back to breed and then they'll leave again, come about the end of July, August time. What habitat do they live in? What habitat do they prefer? You've got your deserts, your icy deserts like the Arctic, rain forests, deciduous woodland, marshes. You can go even more specific, some might live in a rainforest, but they only live in rotting wood like certain beetles. Another great thing to know is whether the animal is actually safe to approach in the first place. Obviously, you've got many dangerous carnivores around. You have venomous snakes which you shouldn't be getting too close to unless you're an expert. Other animals are safe at certain times of the year and unsafe at others. Deer are a prime example because in the rotting season, the males become extra aggressive so you have to take extra care around them. Some animals are actually protected by legislation. In the UK, we have the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, and animals that are under Schedule 1 such as birds, it's actually against the law to disturb them, also building a nest or house around it, or to disturb their dependent young. You can actually go to prison whether it's intentional or just reckless. To summarize, what you need to know is what time of the day they're active, what do they eat and how do they eat it? How do they behave at different times of the year? What habitat do they prefer, and are they safe to approach, and are you allowed to? In the next lesson, we'll go through how getting to know particular individuals helped me take these photos of banknote turns and this roadie. 4. Getting to Know Individual Animals: In this lesson, I'll talk you through a couple of examples in my own photography where getting to know certain animals has actually helped me to get better photos of them. Another great way to find out about the animals that you want to photograph isn't through research or books or the Internet, it's actually get outside and spend time in one spot with the same animal. For example, I've got an area of national trust wood that's near me, and every day, I would take my dog there and I would walk and I'll keep an eye out for what was going on around me. Before long, I spotted the same road deer or likely the same road deer that is along the same path at the same time of the day, every evening. I spent every evening for the next week, going to the same spot, setting up, and waiting for them to appear. Sure enough, they will come every single day. The main challenge was keeping myself hidden in order to get the shot. But the point stands, if you spend time in the same place, you will learn the behaviors of these individual animals. This is what can give you real insight into an animal's life and a better opportunity to capture something special. This photo was taken on an island called Nusa Penida in Indonesia. We were on our way to a site called Broken Beach that looks just like this. Very beautiful place. But we parked our bikes nearby, right near the edge of a cliff. It was an actual car park so to say. At the edge of the cliff, the sea was quite rough and there is a patch of swirling seawater that really caught my attention and I knew it was going to be an ideal photo opportunity. However, this swirling pattern only formed when there was a particular combination of waves coming in and out. Sometimes it would just wash into nothing basically, but when everything came together, it would create this beautiful swirling pattern. I thought this was a cool photo as it was anyway but as I was waiting for the swirling pattern to form, I noticed there were three black terns that were flying up and down the coastline. As they were flying, they were chasing each other and they were playing, but they would take the same flight path every time. They'd go up and down, up and down, sometimes outside for 5-10 minutes, but they would always come back. This gave me the idea that I wanted to include at least one of these birds in the image and I wanted to put them in a dark patch of water in the swirl to give it some separation. Over the course of about 45 minutes, I waited, they would always fly up and down the coast and then around my swirling patterns and then disappear again. I just waited there until they were in the right place and eventually the stars aligned and they gave me the photo that I wanted. By learning the behavior patterns of these birds, I was able to predict where they would be and fit them into a premeditated photo. In the next lesson, we're going to be looking at the eyes of animals and how they're an absolute make or break component in your photography. If you get this wrong, you may as well delete the photo. 5. It's All In The Eyes: In this session, we're going to cover the importance of the eyes in model of photography. That's going to include where to focus, what catch lights are, and also how direct eye contact can really help to make a photo impactful. This is probably my most important tip. You have to focus on the eye. So many shots can look amazing, apart from the fact the eye is out-of-focus. It's slightly further forwards on the muscle. It's on a wing. It's on another part of their body. I'm just going to interrupt myself here for a second to show you what I mean. You can see in this photo of the hidden monster, the focus is on its nose. Automatically this image has become less engaging because you're not looking into the eyes of the animal and creating empathy. However, if you look at this example, whereas eyes are in focus, you can immediately see it's far more engaging. But anyway, back to the rest of the lesson. If the eye isn't in-focus, you have to delete the shot. Well, maybe that's a bit extreme. There are exceptions to the rule but 99 percent of the time, if you miss focus on the eye, you should delete the photo. This is probably the second best tip that I have, and that is to get down to eye level. You have to get down to the same level as the animal that you're photographing all over. Occasionally, again, there can be exceptions to that rule, but you do normally want to get down to at least eye level. This creates empathy with the animal and it brings you into their world. Everyone's seeing what animals look like from a normal human standing point. But not everyone has seen it through the eyes of an animal. I think this is what can I take some photos really look like snapshot when the photographer hasn't bothered to change their position. When you get down to the ground and you see the world through the animal's eyes. That's where you create a connection and that is how you get a captivating wildlife portrait. Another must-have for me, when it comes to eyes, is a catch light. You can see in my eyes, there is this little white shine on them, that's the catch light. If I removed the white shine from my eyes, they suddenly just become a lot less engaging. But as soon as you have a catch light, it just brings a bit more life into the animal's eyes. Disclaimer, these are not my best photo ever taken, but they clearly show the difference between an animal's face that is in darkness or the eyes, at least are shaded and one way it has catch lights in its eyes and tough for you to agree that the one with catch lights does this look better. My last tip for the eyes is optional to be honest. That is direct eye contact. Now, direct eye contact has the ability to suck you in to the animals world. If an animal is looking slightly away, I mean, sure, it looks nice as a photo and it creates mystery because you think, what are they looking out over there? That adds to the story, but direct eye contact, it draws you straight in. You feel like you have a much deeper connection with the animal. It's strange but it works. If you can wait for eye contact, sometimes. Recap. The number 1 thing is, make sure the eye is focus. Number 2, get down to eye level or lower. Number 3, make sure you have catch lights. Four is optional. That is to include direct eye contact in some of your shots. In the next session, we're going to be taking a look at head angles. This is something I think especially beginners tend to overlook. They're just not aware of it. For me, this is what really separates someone that knows what they're doing and someone who doesn't. 6. Head Angles: In this lesson, we'll be taking a look at head angles and where I think is best for the animal's head to be facing. What do I mean by a head angle? What I mean is the angle the animal's head is at in relation to your camera sensor. It's probably easier if I just show you in a diagram. Before I draw this diagram, I just need to say that the rules vary depending on if you have an animal that has eyes on each side of its head like a bird, or whether you have animals that have both eyes at the front of their head like a monkey. This is a bird's eye view of your camera. That red line is the camera's sensor and we're facing forward, so North. This is a bluebird from top-down view and it's facing to the left. It's head is currently pointing at zero degrees, as you can see from its beak. These are the bad camera angles that you want to avoid and these are the best ones, in my opinion. Now, these white zones aren't bad camera angles. In fact, I use them quite often in my photography. They're just not the foolproof, safe ones like the ones in the green zone. For animals with two eyes at the front of their heads like monkeys, it actually becomes a bit of a golden zone and that's where I would aim to have their heads placed. However, the green zones are still great for these animals, too. If all else fails, just think of the half closest to you as full of good head angles and the half furthest away from you as full of bad head angles. I'll run through some examples of head angles now. As you can clearly see, this is straight towards the camera, as is this. It's the 85-95 degree angle that works. That's our favored 45 degree angle for birds. Same for the reptiles, an eye on each side of the head. Same again, another reptile in that nice green zone. This is now the binocular vision, but it also works well. Here is a variation of head angles which all work together. Same here, these are head angles that I like. Every animal in the image has to have a good head angle. You can't have one with a bad head angle because it starts to ruin it. Finally, we have the one that I teach at the end of the last lesson, which shows a bad head angle, where it's moved its head just very slightly into the red zone. Then finally, here's one with the head angle that we would actually want. This is a rule that can be broken, but in general, you want to make sure that the animal's head is always angled at least slightly towards you by a degree or two. Recap. These are the good angles for animals with one eye on each side of their head. These are the bad angles for all kinds of animals, and there's an additional golden zone for animals with eyes at the front of the head. In the next lesson, we're going to take a look at backgrounds and their importance in isolating your subject and framing it. 7. Backgrounds: In this lesson, we are going to be looking at backgrounds, namely removing distractions from them and how they can be used to isolate your subject, and also how they can be used to help tell a story. The background can often become a bit of an off a little for a lot of people. They see the animal, they focus on the animal and that occupies their mind the most is just getting the animal in the frame and in-focus, and we've all been there. It is tough tracking animals sometimes, and we've all been there. It is tough tracking animals sometimes, but I'm going to make a case for actually contemplating your background well before you even think about taking the photograph of the animal. There are few things that are worse than a distracting background. If you've got elements in the background that are drawing your eye away from the subject, away from this object, away from the focus of the image, or that just make you feel messy and cluttered, it ruins the image. We want to focus on removing these wherever possible. Now I'm going to run through a few example images where they have distractions in the backgrounds. This photo actually has a very nice background apart from the distraction underneath the crow. If that was gone, the photo would be a lot better, because your eye gets pulled there constantly. This background is actually quite messy, and the key issue with this one is the twigs cutting through the kiskadee's head. They act as such a distraction and stop the bird from standing out against the background. This background has quite distracting element right here. This leaf just takes your eye away from the snake at all times. There's a lot of room for improvement overall for this image. Now, other animals can also become a distraction, and that's what you have to watch out for in images like this. As you can see, there can be quite distracting where their bodies intersect in the background, and if you wait for an opportunity where the subject becomes isolated, it becomes a much stronger image in general. This is more of a foreground issue rather than a background, but it's still worth mentioning whenever you have anything like a twig or a stripe piece of grass cutting across the subjects face or a part of the body that you want to focus on, it can become really distracting, and we want to get rid of that where we can. A very important role of the background is isolating your subject. There are many ways that you can accomplish this with the background. It can be through tonal contrast, say light and dark through color contrast in complementary colors. Complementary colors are found on the opposite sides of the color wheel. The classic is teal and orange, and also you have bright orange jellyfish and the sea blue background. That's going to isolate your subject quite well. The background can also help to isolate your subject through a contrast in sharpness as I say your subject is in focus, and you have a very soft, smooth background. Probably my favorite thing to do with backgrounds is to incorporate them into telling a story. We've all seen lots and lots of birds photos in particular, where they just have a completely smooth, creamy background and the bird sitting on a twig. Although technically it's an excellent photo, it just doesn't really do anything for me. I've taken them myself, but they can be boring. What I'd like to do is show you some examples from my own work where I feel the background is helping me tell a story. Now the eagle-eyed among you would have spotted that this is actually one of the bad head angles I mentioned, but I did also say there were exceptions to the rule. This is one of those cases when the animal is looking towards basically the main interesting part of the photo when it's in the background. This image of the background in particular is telling a nice little story of the bird just watching the waves crashing on the shore. This is an image of one of my favorite birds in the Sonoran Desert which is a cactus wren and all the background is doing here is just showing you where it lives. Rather than just zooming in on the head of this red deer, I've included more in the background, which is showing its whole environment of where it lives and it's telling the story of its day-to-day life. Again, rather than just having a blurred-out background that tells us nothing, this one is telling us that this bird is with its partner, just hunting for food. This image is telling a story with the background and the foreground, and it shows how these small cottontail rabbits have to be so on edge and constantly conceding themselves from all their predators in the way that it's hiding behind where the grass is and just peering out. Finally, this is another image where the background is just giving us context for where the animal lives and how it lives its life. Recap. Remove distracting elements from your backgrounds. Isolate your subject by using tonal contrast, color contrast, and sharpness contrast and use the background to help you tell a story by including more of the animal's environment. In the next lesson, we're going to learn about balance and flow, which follows on really nicely from the background as it's all about the composition in the image, and really it's the glue that holds everything together. 8. Balance & Flow: In this lesson, we'll be looking at the importance of balance and flow in an image and how you can achieve this through leading lines, symmetry, the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. The sign of a well-balanced photo to me is one that lets your eye rest on the focal point. It's not pulled from side to side or somewhere, it shouldn't be. It just feels comfortable. It doesn't feel off and you're eye can wander through the frame by following a certain path, but it will always come back to where the focal point is. Now, that probably sounds incredibly wishy-washy and doesn't make much sense, so I'm going to explain further. First things first, I'm going to explain the primary compositional tools that I use in my images to give them balance and flow. The first of these is symmetry, and that is pretty self-explanatory. It just means that one side of the image matches the other. Next is the rule of thirds, and this is probably the most famous of all the compositional tools I'll go through. It's called the rule of thirds because the screen is split up into three equal sections, horizontally and vertically. Now use the rule of thirds grid by placing your focal point on one of the sections where the lines cross. Important elements are normally lined up with the lines and that could be, say the horizon or tree or something like that. Now, this is my absolute favorite method for composition, and it's the golden ratio. This has been used by people for an extremely long time. It's believed that the Greeks use it to build their Parthenon. The Egyptians built there pyramids using the golden ratio and even the human body's proportion seems to roughly follow the golden ratio as shown here in Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man. Now things starts to get interesting when you use the golden ratio to create a rectangle, also known as a golden rectangle. If you use the golden ratio to draw squares that are 0.618 times smaller than the previous one and you keep doing that, you end up with something that looks a bit like this. Then you draw a perfect quarter circle through all of the boxes and it leaves you with something called the golden spiral. The crazy thing is, this spiral is found throughout nature in this nautilus shell. It's also found in the way that the seeds grown in sunflower heads. It's found in growing ferns as they unravel in hurricanes and even in spiral galaxies. That's how far reaching this is through nature and it appears to be something that the human brain finds particularly aesthetically pleasing. If we repeat this golden spiral four times and then draw lines across its intersections, we can create a new grid called the Phi Grid, also known as the rule of thirds on steroids. Now this grid follows the same proportions as the golden ratio, with the middle section being 0.618 times smaller than the outer sections and in my opinion, this is a much more powerful tool for composition than the rule of thirds, which as you can see, it looks very similar on the face of it, but I use the Phi Grid in so many of my compositions, I just think it's the best routes for most situations. All you need to remember on I go through these next examples, is that, a good image to me is w ell balanced and it allows your eye to flow through the photo to the focal point and back. We'll start with an image where I think the rule of thirds is actually best and that is when there's a loss of negative space in the image where the frame is empty for the most part. This image also uses leading lines which draw your eye through the frame, thus creating movement and flow throughout the image. These are created by the horizon and the gaze of the Castro. This next image is called mantle point and was actually shortlisted in the British photography awards. More than one compositional technique has been used in this image. There is both vertical and horizontal symmetry, and I've composed the mantra in this image using the Phi Grid. I had originally tried composing it with the rule of thirds, but it just didn't fit. This is further evidence to me that the Phi Grid is normally best. This is another image where I've set the focal point using the Phi Grid and I've also lined up the node of this tree branch with the Phi Grid as well and this balances nicely with Capuchin's head on the other side. Now if we try cropping it to the rule of thirds grid, you can see it still works, but I feel like my eyes have to work harder to stay focused on the Capuchin's head and overall feels less natural imbalance when compared to the image that's lined up using the Phi grid. What really adds a sense of balance and flow to this image though, is the use of the golden spiral. The shape of the leaves in the Capuchins head follow this spiral almost perfectly and helped to create that sense of flow through the image and it guides your eye around the frame. But shouldn't the center of the spiral be on the eye and not the Capuchins head? The answer is no. As long as the focal point folds in the smaller section of squares, then it will work. The important thing with the golden spiral is that the elements in your frame roughly follow the line the whole way around. Now this is all well and good, showing you what the golden spiral is. But you're probably thinking, how do I actually use this when I'm taking a photo? My response to that would be, don't, just use the Phi grid and the rule of thirds. Simply being aware that the golden spiral exists would this mean that things will naturally start to catch your eye more when you can see the golden spiral in real life and therefore, you'll naturally start to include it in your compositions. But when you're taking photos, just use third grids as a starting point instead. This is another image that was shortlisted in the British photography awards, and it has a few things going for it. The first of which is it's relatively symmetrical composition, which naturally gives a great balance. These branches also acts as counter weights and balance each other out as well and the secret weapon is of course, the golden spiral, creating a nice flow through the image. Obviously, golden spirals crop up quite a lot when you're photographing nature. But as you can see from this image, they're not always there. In this case, it's been broken and there's no focal point where the sweet spot is. This means that your eye tends to data map the image rather than flow through it in a continuous loop. This is one of my favorite photos I ever taken and that's because the composition is made up of multiple golden spirals that guide your eye through the photo to the head of the Spoonbill. But there's also an overarching golden spiral which takes you there and even quicker route. If we go back to the first golden spiral, we can see that the sweet spot lands on the tip of the bill. So your eye is naturally drawn there and this is amazing because the bill then acts as a leading line straight to the spoonbills eyes. This means we have a multitude of ways for your eyes to flow through the photograph and end up at the focal point, which is the sharp in focus eye of the spoonbill. This is all held together by a relatively symmetrical composition and there's roughly the same amount of space above the head is below the head, although you should always give more space to where the animal is looking. That's why there's a little bit extra at the bottom and then as you can see, the remaining body parts all balance each other out as well, so overall, we have a balanced, pleasing image with tons and tons of flow. In summary, create balance and flow and your images by using compositional tools such as leading lines, symmetry, the rule of thirds, and the golden ratio in the form of a golden spiral or a Phi Grid. In the next lesson, we'll be learning about the importance of lighting and the difference between soft and hard light. 9. Natural Lighting: In this lesson, we'll be going through the differences between soft light and hard light, and how you can include more soft lighting in your images. Now, this is probably the easiest thing you can do to significantly improve your wildlife photography. That is, shooting in soft light. What is soft light? It's a diffuse light that creates a smooth transition from shadows to highlights. Note the feathered edges to the shadows in this image, when compared to this one of hard light. Hard light create sharp shadows and in my opinion, creates too much contrast in the photo and then you end up losing detail in the shadows or the highlights. This isn't to say never use hard light, because some images can actually suit it. But in my own photography, I tend to avoid it wherever possible. As I'm sure you know, most of the natural light on Earth comes from the sun. But the quality of this light is greatly affected by the time of day, and the weather. How do we find that coveted soft light? The first hour after sunrise is called golden hour. This is a time full of soft light. This is one of the best times of day to photograph animals, as those that are diurnal are just waking up, and it tends to be when they're most active. You also have a good chance of catching crepuscular and nocturnal animals that haven't gone to bed yet. In the middle of the day, I tend to avoid taking photos in the open, as the sun is high in the sky and creates a lot of hard light. Shade is a great source of soft flight during the middle of the day. Then there's another golden hour during the hour before sunset, which of course means soft lighting. Then there's also the hour after sunset, which is called the blue hour, which has become a favorite time of day for me when there aren't many clouds in the sky. Overcast skies also create soft light. So you can shoot all day, whenever it's gray. Now I'd like to show you some real-world examples of using soft light and hard light. I took this photo of western diamond back rattlesnake on an overcast morning just after sunrise. You should be able to say there's a lack of really harsh shadows in this picture. This photo of a group of juvenile Gambel's quail was taken during the golden hour. This image of a Baird's tapir, was taken under the forest canopy. This was shot late in the morning and the light had already become quite harsh, which shows you don't have to stop shooting during the end of the day, if you can find some shade. This photo of the halo woodpecker was taken about 10 minutes after sunset. This is during the blue hour. I shot this image of a gray heron on an overcast day. You can see how there's a very smooth gradation from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights in this image, which is in stark contrast to these gulls that were shot in direct sunlight in the middle of the day. You won't be surprised to know that I'm not a fan of this photo. Hopefully, I've done enough to convince you that you should be striving to take photos in soft light, and for the majority of the time, leave the hard light out of it. Recap. Shoots in soft light and avoid shooting in the hard light whenever you can. Soft lighting from natural sources is found during the golden hour, in shade, on an overcast day, and during the blue hour. Hard light that you want to avoid is caused by direct sunlight in the middle of the day. In the next lesson, we're going to take a look at editing images, which is honestly one of my favorite parts of the process. I mean, I love it all, but this is where you really bring your file to life, and make it feel like it's got that magic and atmosphere that it had when you took it. 10. Do I Really Need to Edit?: In this lesson, we'll be going through why I think you should be editing your photos and what I think are the five key areas for editing. Why edit your photos? Camera see very differently to the human eye as they try to capture as much information as possible, which results in a low contrast and desaturated raw file. But the benefit is vastly improved dynamic range and more color information in the image. Therefore, we need to edit the photo to make it look more like it did in real life. But what if I shoot JPEG? Now JPEGs are just raw files that your camera edits for you and throws away all of the extra data. This results in an image that ends up having less dynamic range. You lose details in the shadows or the highlights, sometimes both. It also means there's less latitude for editing it later on if you want to change it in the future, and you can't actually change the white balance afterwards like you can with a raw file. When you change the white balance on JPEG, the image will just start to break up if you take it too far one way or the other, whereas with a raw file, you can change it to whatever white balance you need to be and it doesn't affect the photo negatively. JPEGs also give you less control at the sharpening. Because of all of this, I always recommend shooting in raw. The only exception to this is if you're just shooting for fun and editing would destroy yourself. I personally love editing, so don't be scared. What does editing actually consist of? In my opinion, there are five main areas to editing. The first is cropping, the second is tonality. The third is the color. Forth, local adjustments, and fifth is sharpening. Don't be afraid to use the crop tool, especially if you shoot handheld most time like me, it's one of the best ways to reframe your shots and get the composition just as you need it to be. Tonality is all about getting your shadows, midtones and highlights at the right brightness. It's very easy to overdo contrast when you're adjusting the tonality. Definitely watch out for that. The key thing when editing colors is emphasizing certain ones that you want to show and then toning down some of the ones that are distracting. We also need to get the right white balance and remove color cast as well as add saturation into the image in general. Saturation is something that's again, very easy to overdo and something we want to avoid at all costs. Local adjustments allow us to change small parts of the image, which is great for highlighting eyes or darkening down areas that are a bit too bright. Local adjustments would also include things like dodging and burning, which I'll go through in the walk-through later. Lastly, we use sharpening to make the in-focus edges a bit more defined. In summary, you should be editing your photos unless it takes all of the joy out of the hobby for you. The five key areas of editing are cropping, tonality, color, local adjustments, and sharpening. In the next lesson, I'm going to be editing a photo from scratch, so you can see a bit more of my process. 11. Editing a Photo: In this lesson, I'm going to walk you through an edit from start to finish. Now this won't cover everything there is to do with editing. It's quite a simple edit, but this should give you a gist for my general approach to editing photos and should help to guide you at yours in the future. The first thing to do when editing an image in my opinion is to just assess it and see what you want to do with it. Right off the bat, I can tell that I'm happy with the crop as it is. I don't want to change that. The white balance looks okay to me. I can't really see any color cast that look odd. What I do want to do is obviously bring in some more contrast the image, add some depth, and I want to add just a little bit more structure to the jackrabbit, especially around his head and his face, and brighten up that eye a little bit so that it pops out a bit more. Before we carry on, you can see if I left-click, my mouse cursor will turn red, if I right-click, it will turn blue. I normally like to start off in the Tone panel just to bring in the right level of contrast. You can see in my histogram up here, it's what exposed. The shadows aren't clipped and the highlights aren't clipped either so we've got all the information we could need. I personally like to have at least some black in the image which will be denoted by this side of the histogram touching the far left and this little triangle will turn white. I stopped by dropping my blacks, and you can see the blue channels started to clip and become black, and then the sign, and now there you go. There's some black. If I click this, it is denoted by a little blue patches that can be seen over here on the eye and the pupil and over there. That's normally where I like to start. In this instance, I feel I want to just lift the shadows just ever so slightly, and I don't really need to change the tonality here too much. We have everything we want. There isn't actually anything I want to be completely white in this image which is why I'm not basing them at all. The next place I will go here is I want to add a bit of color back to the image. I normally do this with the vibrance slider, and this is different to saturation in that vibrance adds more saturation to colors that are currently less saturated. Whereas if you just boost the saturation, it increases saturation evenly all over the image. If I just drop this off, you can see it becomes really saturated really quickly when compared to vibrance where it adds it where it's needed mostly. That's brought back a lot of the color, I've then often move it that high, but we can fine tune the color later on. After that, turn the black indicator off. I will hit down to the lens correction. I normally enable the profile corrections, which just gets rid of any vignette and changes the warping so that it's neutral. But looking at this, I actually prefer the vignette staying, so I'm going to remove those profile corrections to the HSL panel. How it appears to me is that the greens in this image are quite vibrant, they're fine. I'd like how they look, but the yellows and the grasses could be a little bit stronger for my taste just to even out a bit. I'm going to boost the saturation of the yellows, and maybe drop those greens just slightly, I need this a bit. If you press the backslash, you can check, you can toggle between the before and after. That's what we got before, and this is currently where we're at. The next thing I want to do is actually increase the brightness in this eye. I'm going to do this with a local adjustment brush, if you click here, and then the exposure is currently up, reset that, and if you just paint it over either the eye, you can see the mask overlay here. What I'm actually going to do is increase the whites to brighten it up. Maybe just a tad on the exposure, but not too much, and this can sometimes give it an unnatural appearance. I normally just drop the blacks ever so slightly to bring it back in, but don't want to crush the blacks. If I zoom back out on this history panel, if you go back to when the brush was added, you can see a before and after. That looks a lot better to me, its eye just pops a little bit more. I think I might actually add a little more to it, going back into the adjustment brush, clicking on the little gray dot, and just boosting the exposure just a little bit more, and there we go. His eyes stands out now. Now, this image hasn't needed much editing to be honest, but I almost always finish off with a bit of dodging and burning in Photoshop to add some more depth to the image. I can do that by right-clicking, going to edit in Adobe Photoshop. Remember in Photoshop, what I always do is duplicate the background first by hitting command J. As I said, that gives us a duplicate layer of the background, and I'll just rename this one to Burn, and you can find the Burn Tool over on the left. Currently, it's on the Dodge Tool. If you right-click and so that burn, and make sure that the range is set to shadows, and the exposure is around four percent. If you do it too much, it will be a bit heavy handed. Then I omit the brush size bigger by holding Ctrl and Option and then left clicking with the mouse, and if you drag it right, it will get larger, drag it left, it'll get smaller, and if you drag it up, it will have a soft edge where there's a nice gradient, and if you drag it down it'll have a completely hard edge. I like to use a soft edge for mine so that it looks a bit more natural. I'm just going to add a bit of depth to the shadows, we're just painting over them. Don't do that. I'll just zoom in to the jackrabbit and just darken a few of the shadows to give them a bit more definition. If I toggle that on and off, you can see what we've done so far. I actually think I've maybe been a little bit heavy handed. I'll just reduce the opacity until it looks better. There we go. Immediately, you can see there's a bit more depth to the image, and now I'm going to duplicate the background again and then merge this down. The reason I'm doing that is because the opacity of the layer is only 83 percent, and I want to make another layer that already has a burning on it so that I can dodge on top of that. If I merge this down with the other layer, just create a new layer that has all the burning on it and its opacity is 100 percent. Rename that Burn again, duplicate that with Command J, and then I will rename this to Dodge. Now I can get the Dodge Tool over on the left again by right-clicking and changing it to Dodge Tool, and the areas that I want to emphasize here are especially on the jackrabbit's face. Once again, if you set this now to highlights instead because we want to brightening the lighter areas and keep it on a relatively low exposure, we'll just paint in on these bright spots on its face and just on its coat as well. You can see that just added a bit more punch to the jackrabbit. This is before our dodging and burning, and this is after. If we then go Command S for save, that will send it back to Lightroom. Now the final thing to do is sharpening. You can do this within Lightroom. By default, it will sharpen the whole image which can add noise to these areas. You can see without the sharpening, there's not much noise there, but when I move it up, it makes horrible grainy appearance. What we actually want to do is add sharpening, but only to the areas that we want it to be, which would be mainly on the jackrabbit and its face itself. The way we can remove it from the rest of the photo is by masking, if you hold Option or Alt on Windows and then left-click and drag, the white areas are where sharpening is currently applied, and as we move the masking along, the black areas are where it's been removed from. We just want the sharpening on the areas that are actually in focus. That's mainly the jackrabbit's coat that has branches in the background and around its eye, but I think this is around the right spot, and if we zoom in, if I toggle this off, you can see that it's not affecting the area in the background that's not changing, but the eye, when it's turned off, nothing is affected, and now it's just the jackrabbit's eye. There's also an alternative method for sharpening within Photoshop itself, and this is how I would do it. I would duplicate another layer and cool it, sharpen, and then if you go to Photoshop, and then we go down to Sharpen and then Unsharp Mask, and we'll change the focal point to the eye because that's what we want to be looking at. Now, the radius affects how large the lines are that are being sharpened. When you put it up too high, everything bleeds into each other and doesn't look great. I normally keep this down below three-ish, and the threshold is the same as our masking in Lightroom. Then that doesn't need to be too high either, just to remove the sharpening from the areas that are soft. If we drag our sharpening down, we can see that currently having no effect, and I just eyeball it basically until it looks about right to me. You've got be careful not to over sharpen. That's the sharpening, and then I will just go Command save and it would send it back to Lightroom again. Here's our before photo and here's our after. In the next lesson, I'll be showing you a very simple way to remove chromatic aberration, and I'll be showing you one of the methods I use to remove color casts. 12. Removing CA and Colour Casts: In this lesson, I'll be showing you two very important skills which are: removing chromatic aberration and removing color casts from your image. The chromatic aberration is this green and purple fringing, which we obviously don't want and that is normally due to an area of really high contrast, like this white background and the darker giraffe. If we check this box, it removes most of it. We can see there's still a bit of green fringing around the edges and we can get rid of that by going over into the Manual tab. All you have to do is click on this eyedropper, and then, example, the green area. Click it and then it disappears. It's easy as that. If you click back in there, you can drop the eyedropper back in. Color cast can often ruin what's otherwise a great image, and it happens a lot when you're photographing in a rainforest or somewhere else surrounded by lots of greenery. Probably, it reflects this green light onto everything. You can see in this image, that's just a green tint all over. One way to go over this would be just to change the overall tint, but that starts to look a bit odd to me and just add purple, magenta everywhere. A better option for me is rise the bottom in the calibration panel, this lets you adjust the shadow tint, the red primary channel, the green primary, and the blue primaries separately. For me, that there's no particular art to this, I just eyeball it as I want. So I want to remove some of the green from the shadows, they're down here. The moment seem a little bit more. You can see the shadows are a bit of green wash and if I bumped the tint up, they get their proper brown color like they should be. So that's before and that's after. That's the first thing, that's picks that color cast for me. Then I just move these left and right until they feel the correct color. Sometimes leaves can become a bit too blue. In this instance, there we go, I move the greens. It's just a bit more towards yellow and some of the blues. I want to get that earthy tone in there. So I'm just going to move that down a little bit. It's really just trial and error. But you can see before, we had that green color cast and now that's been removed. Underwater photos can also have strong color casts. In this example, the change will be more of this. You can see in this one that that's again greeny yellow wash. I've been most of the image. I'll just go in and play with the primary channels again. We start with the red. If I go towards the left, you can see it affects it like this. What I want to do is get rid of this color casts. We're just moving it, I'm eyeballing it really until that feels about right. That's too much, I think that's a bit better and then onto the greens. You can see we're starting to get a sense, become a bit more wide and the blues are looking a lot nicer. Maybe too far. Not that way. Another way. That looks about right to me. If I table this off, obviously, the before and after, we have balance those colors out, got the blue that is in the water and the greens and now more clear, but also sticking to where they should be and not scattered throughout the water. So removing chromatic aberration and removing color casts can really give you a photos, a more professional touch. In some photos, it's absolutely essential to do this. So these quick tips, great little tricks to have in your back pocket. 13. Conclusion: You made it to the end of the course. Well done. We've covered everything from what you need to know about the animal before you leave, how to capture their eyes, creating balance and flow with the rule of thirds, the Phi grid, and the golden spiral. You've learned that using soft light can really help to benefit your photos rather than using hard light and you even learned about the editing process. We've covered a lot of ground in this class, nut if there's one thing I want you guys to remember, it's the wildlife photography is about enjoying your time in nature and being respectful to it. I hope what you've learned in this course empowers you to share the beauty of nature and further deepen your own connection with it. Now it's time for you to take what you've learned and go outside and take photos of wildlife. Please remember to upload your photos to projects gallery on the course page so that we can all take a look at it. Finally, if you enjoyed this class, I would really appreciate it if you left a review and followed me on Skillshare. I will be posting more classes in the future so I really do hope to see you there.