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How To: Take Great Photos In The Jungle

by November 2010 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

As with many travel photography scenarios, one of the most difficult issues that you will have to address when shooting in a jungle or rainforest, is the low light levels. Unless you’re in some sort of clearing, you'll effectively be working the whole time in deep shadow. As well as the potential for camera shake – you'll have to use a relatively slow shutter speed - you also need to consider what aperture you need to get the depth of field you want.

 

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. By Steve Davey

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. Photograph details with something in the background for a more effective picture.

 

 

Control

If you're aiming for a shallow depth of field: with your subject in focus and the background in varying degrees of blur, you can easily increase the ISO sensitivity and use a wide open aperture allowing you to handhold the camera. However, if you want to have more of the picture in focus, you’ll need to use a tripod to allow a small enough aperture to get a broad depth of field.

 

 

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. By Steve Davey

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. Shooting on a tripod allows you to use a very small aperture to have the whole scene in focus.

 

As well as low light levels, the other massive problem is contrast. If you have parts of the picture that are lit with sunlight and others in shadow, the difference between them will be too great for your camera to handle. The simplest way to get around this is by changing your composition. If you're exposing your picture for the areas in sunlight, then compose in such a way as to avoid large areas of shadow. If you're exposing for the shadowed areas, having some parts of the picture bleached out by sunlight can add atmosphere, but if these areas are too dominant it can spoil the picture.

 

Wildlife

If you're lucky enough to see any larger wildlife in your shot, then you will usually have to handhold the camera at a higher ISO, to avoid both subject and camera movement. In these instances focus is critical, and you might need to use a point focus mode that allows you to focus on a specific element in the picture, to avoid your camera focussing on a branch or a leaf by mistake.

 

 

Lemur, Madagascar. By Steve Davey

Lemur, Madagascar. When photographing wildlife make sure to focus carefully.

 

 

Brightly coloured lizard, Madagascar by Steve Davey

Brightly coloured lizard, Madagascar. Look out for wildlife - including smaller animals like spiders and lizards.

 

As well as the larger wildlife – such as birdlife, monkeys and reptiles – that often moves fast, you’ll generally encounter a lot of bugs. These can provide some stunning subjects, especially if you experiment with shooting up close.

 

Compose your shot

Stylistically, jungles and forests can present a few issues. Often, it's quite difficult to see the wood for the trees, and seeing a good picture opportunity, let alone photographing it can be tough. Look out for small details like unusual coloured leaves, trees forming patterns and, of course, any type of wildlife. If you’re shooting a wide shot, taking in a lot of the scene in front of you, then look for a good composition. You should try to have a centre of interest in the picture. Be careful of strong objects that break the edge of the frame, although with a forest, this isn't always possible.

 

If you can, try to get up high and photograph over the top of a jungle. This might involve a little bit of research and climbing to the top of a hill, or a tourist viewing platform if there’s one available.

 

Protect your stuff

Many jungles and forests are very hostile environments: for both you and your camera. Much of the time you'll be in high humidity - they don't call it the rainforest for nothing. The constant drizzle can leave you and your equipment soaking wet. Sealable plastic bags and Silica Gel sachets to absorb moisture can help. When you're actually taking pictures, make sure to cover the camera. You can buy a camera raincover, or simply cover the camera with a shower cap, or even cling-film. A lens hood can prevent drops of water hitting the front of the lens.

 

 

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. By Steve Davey

Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia. Always look for interesting angles to show your subject.

 

Steve has his own exclusive range of travel photography tours. Destinations include Laos & Cambodia, Ladakh and Morocco. More details on http://www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours


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Comments
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LisaMarsden November 2010
Dear Steve,

I spend much of my time crawling around the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Often in challenging and low light conditions. I found your article very helpful, albeit I still struggle with the perfect gorilla shot.

Black animal in low light conditions where the terrain is often so challenging, you cant use a tri-pod and they dont allow any flash photography. Always a challenge as every trek I do is different. Most probably why I am now hooked on getting that perfect gorilla shot.

Regards

Lisa

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December 2010
Hi Lisa,

Thanks for the comment... yes the biggest problems there are exposure and also the low light levels. Experiment with increasing the ISO sensitivity: moving up from 200 ISO to 800 ISO might give a slightly more noisy images by can cut out the possibility of camera shake.

Dark foliage and black gorillas can fool your camera into over-exposing the image so that your pictures come out too washed out. You can easily dial in some exposure compensation with most cameras. If your pictures are consistently coming out too light in these conditions, set the exposure compensation to -1 or -1.5 stops of compensation. As this will instruct the camera to need less exposure, it will also help with camera shake.

Sometimes a monopod (one legged tripod) can also help with keeping thte camera still, and these are much more useable than a tripod.

Good luck,

Steve

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andriant December 2010
truly amazing images. thanks for posted this
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SafariTanzania January 2011
Fantastic pictures Steve. Have you ever visited any Tanzanian wildlife parks? If not, then you should definitely consider it.
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GorillaTours May 2011
I have a camera but my picture quality is always low. Can you advise me on the best camera to buy in order to take the best shots?
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June 2011
@Safari Travel - Have shot in a few Tanzanian Parks. Ngorongoro is probably my favourite. Amazing place

@Gorilla Tours – Difficult to say. An entry level DSLR, such as Nikon D3000 or D3100 would be good if you are planning to add lenses etc. If you just want small and simple, and aren't planning on building a system, then a serious compact such as the Panasonic Lumix LX-5. Really amazing camera.

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RachealofSafa June 2011
Any trip to a jungle or forest is such a great experience in someone's life and if one doesn't take photos,u may have less to make u remember the great adventure you had on your trip.The pictures are so amazing and worth remembering.Great information.
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SafariTravelle March 2012
The best gift one can have is a great Camera to capture those timeless moments of travel photography.
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Tanzaniasafari November 2012
Some great tips, thanks! I've always found it hard to snap fast moving critters whilst in dark tree-covered jungle terrain. Any tips on this?
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Steve Davey