Wildlife photos: How to take the best shots

Even though the latest digital cameras can take dozens of photographs within a matter of seconds, and reveal instant results, it is still not as easy as you might think to snap a winning image.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition - run by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide - receives thousands of entries. With the 2013 entry deadline approaching, what could you do to make your images stand out? Watch this slideshow - and see the lists below - to get some expert tips.

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Entries for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 must be submitted by 25 February 2013.

All images subject to copyright. Click bottom right for image information. Music by KPM Music.

Slideshow production by Paul Kerley. Publication date 14 February 2013.


David Maitland - photographer

BBC Wildlife Magazine

Natural History Museum - London

Photographer David Maitland's top tips

1. Do not try to "please" the judges - always take pictures for yourself which meet your own aesthetic standards.

2. Do not copy - you can hone your practical skills by trying to replicate technical aspects of other good photographs, but you should aim to produce original work.

3. Be nice to your subject - living things are fragile and special and deserve to be treated with the care and respect. Never harm your subject for the sake of a picture.

4. Live with your subject - spend as much time as possible observing the subtleties of your subject's life to record surprising details and behaviours.

5. Camera settings - modern cameras are magical tools, but I spend a day reading the manual of a new model and then delete all of its 'clever' automatic settings! I then spend time setting the functions that I want.

6. Get the lighting right - lighting can transform the ordinary shot into the extraordinary… and of course bad lighting can ruin a potentially great shot!

7. Break the rules - originality does not come easily, and you sometimes must throw away the rule book that says good composition follows the rule-of-thirds, or that front lighting should be avoided. Experiment to force yourself to see things in a different way.

8. Be selective - not every subject is going to produce a great shot, so the trick is to spot potential in the ordinary. If you have decided to stop and take a picture, make sure you give yourself a chance...

9. Work around your subject - do not point and shoot your subject from a single viewpoint. Try different angles, lenses, lighting and compositions. It is not unusual for me to spend four hours photographing a single blade of grass (it was a special blade of grass!).

10. Do not be afraid to take a shot - once you have gone to the expense of paying for a digital camera, pressing the button to take a photo costs next to nothing - so take advantage and experiment!

BBC Wildlife Magazine editor and competition judge Sophie Stafford's top tips

1. Capture the spirit - images don't have to show all of an animal, or place it centrally in the frame, to evoke its character. By emphasising a distinctive feature, you can create a unique portrait of even the most familiar species. Think eyes, paws, ears, noses, tusks and tails.

2. Set the scene - many of the most successful photos play on the relationship between an animal and its environment, especially if they emphasise a conservation concern.

3. Consider your categories - images may work in a number of competition categories, so pick the one in which your picture will have maximum impact (this may not be the most obvious choice).

4. Pick a moment of magic - do your images capture a truly serendipitous moment? Images that stand out from the crowd are not only technically excellent, but also benefit from a little luck.

5. Be original - the judges look for images that are creative, fresh and unusual. So choose subjects that have the most potential to surprise.

6. Push yourself - take the time (and know your subject well enough) to get something different from the norm. But always respect the welfare of your subject and its habitat, and never put yourself in danger.

7. Read the rules - and follow them. You do not want to be disqualified for something you could easily have avoided.

8. Edit your entries ruthlessly - photographers are often emotionally attached to certain photos, which clouds your judgement. Ask a friend to help you choose which pictures to enter.

9. Process your images carefully - follow the guidelines and avoid over-processing photographs on your computer. Are your adjustments justified? Are they allowed in the competition rules?

10. Don't leave it to the last minute - ensure you have set aside plenty of time to select, process and upload your entries before the competition closing date.

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