Getting the Shot
No, I did not spend the weekend in a blind with a 1200mm lens waiting to get this shot. I went to the
in Asheville, NC. With a 6MP camera and a 70-300mm zoom lens even older than the camera. I got the shot by virtue of a few tricks that I'm going to share with you today. They will work for almost every camera.
The first trick is to be observant of your shooting environment. My options were to shoot through a chain link fence (not a good option) or to shoot through a limited glass viewing area with lots of grubby smudges. (Slightly better option.) I opted for the glass and looked for an area with relatively few smudges--far to one side. At this point, if you have the option to turn off your built-in flash, do it. It's usually a simple process. Next, I extended the zoom to the magnification I wanted to achieve. Now lean in to the glass so that the front barrel of the lens is touching, or nearly touching, the glass.
Getting close to the glass accomplishes two things. First, it should eliminate any reflections on the glass by virtue of the shadow of the camera and by the reduction of glass area within your view that is exposed to possible reflections. Both of these are huge when you must shoot through glass. If you have to shoot through a window screen, this will also help (with some cameras).
Now focus on your subject. Here is where I greatly prefer a camera with a real viewfinder, partly because it gives me a much clearer view outdoors than an LCD screen and partly because the lens cup around a viewfinder blocks extraneous light to my eye so that I really can see everything in that rectangle. Which is critical if you are trying to eliminate unwanted background details like, in this case, chain link fences. It's really hard to aim your camera in such a way as to not include these distractions if you can't see them in the first place. Look beyond your subject matter on all sides and see if there is something within your viewing frame that you don't want there. Try to aim away from whatever it is.
Now let's look at composition. This is, literally, the way you actively compose your photo. You choose what to include and where to include it. The best tool in your arsenal should be the Rule of Thirds, which is just a simple way of lining things up for the best impact. Looking at the picture above, divide the rectangle into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Print it out and draw lines over it, if it helps. Draw two vertical (up and down) lines across the pictures so that you have three areas between the lines. Then draw two horizontal (side to side) lines across the picture. After drawing these lines, you should have three rows of three areas that are all roughly the same size. The first vertical line starting from the left side would come down right behind the wolf's ears. The first horizontal line starting from the top would come out just above his right front leg at the base of the neck. The positioning is no accident.
If your subject is "headed" in a certain direction, you should always leave room in the picture for him/her/it to go there. A race car would require the same treatment. If the eyes of the subject go there, we mentally require something for the subject to be looking at, even if it is "space." So in this case, we give the wolf the importance of falling right on one of those vertical lines, and then balance the empty space away from his gaze so that he has somewhere to be looking. This places him "within context" in a way appropriate to the wolf so that the setting, and he, look natural.
If the wolf were placed in the middle of the picture, his nose would be nearly up against the right side of the picture. Which would look very wrong. If the wolf is looking straight at the camera, THEN it is appropriate to put him in the center. Doing so robs him of context, so when you place your subject dead center, be absolutely certain that the background is unimportant to the message you want to send. Think of it this way--if you take a picture of a child and her father fishing, a shot of just their faces looking at the camera is great. But if the photo also includes enough information so that years later, they can remember that oh, they were fishing, and oh, it was at such-and-such a lake--even better.
I could get into lessons on shutter speed and aperture--but a lot of cameras today don't give you gobs of control over those functions. But ALL cameras allow you to compose the shot, and all photos can be ruined with a reflection in the wrong place. So get out there and take some new pictures and see what you can do!