By Linda Mellor

When taking pictures with a camera or smartphone how many people stop to consider the subject, angles, composition and background? You can improve your photographs by following some basic advice.

If you are serious about photography a camera is a much more flexible option than a phone. Before you buy a camera take some time to contemplate what sort of photography you plan on doing then find a camera to match your requirements, if you are going high-ground deer stalking you don’t want to be lugging a heavy camera and a selection of lenses around.

A second-hand camera is worth considering especially if you are on a tight budget, and always spend time getting to know your camera’s functionality, and don’t use the auto mode.

Photographing wildlife is highly rewarding, and prior preparation is great investment, so before you leave the car ensure you have everything you need; a lens cloth, extra memory cards and a plastic bag (useful to sit on or to cover you or your camera in a downpour).

As with all wild animals, there are no guarantees of what you will see or when, but if you are prepared to take photographs from the minute you (quietly) close the car door you could make the most of either a one-off sighting or an unexpected visitor. I have lost count the amount of times I have gone out to photograph roe deer (my favourite) and had close encounters with hares, foxes and other animals.

Wearing suitable ‘quiet’ (avoid Velcro) clothing in muted colours helps to blend in, and you are less likely to disturb the wildlife if you walk quietly and slowly while looking around and listening. Always have your camera at the ready (and your phone on silent) and set up correctly so you can take photos should you stumble upon other wildlife especially if you’re out during an active period, like dawn.

Unless you are going to sit in a hide, do not take a tripod with you, it is something else to carry. These days you can take most shots freehand as many cameras have a stabilising function, and if you’re in woodland, you can steady yourself on a tree.

Look around and you will see animal paths and tracks, and particular areas favoured by certain species for feeding. If you are familiar with the species you wish to photograph you will know where to look, but if you are unsure it is worth researching your subject.

Find out where it likes to feed and on what, the best time of day to see it (most wildlife are active at dawn and dusk) and also consider how the weather may influence any sightings.

When you find your subject, stay calm, take deep breaths and take a few images. Don’t be too concerned about getting in close because this can isolate the subject from its environment especially if you’re in a pleasant setting like woodland. Sudden movements may spook your subject so move slowly. If you are interested in deer, speak to a local deer-stalker to ask if they will take you out on a stalk. Stalkers are masters of field-craft and have a vast knowledge of all wildlife and the surroundings.

If you are photographing an angler on the water or riverbank always stop to consider the image you wish to take. To illustrate the angler fishing a pool surrounded by beautiful countryside you will want a wide image. Look around to ensure there are no distractions like objects in the background such as pylons, poles or signs.

You don't want a picture of someone fishing an idyllic spot with a line of cars in the background or a brightly coloured, plastic bag caught in a tree or a distant pylon sprouting from the angler’s head. Either reposition yourself or, if possible, ask your subject to move.

A day’s fishing on a river, boat or bank gives you plenty scope to capture a range of images from close-ups of rods, reels, fly boxes to casting shots across the river. Consider the tone of the backdrop because a lightly coloured line may be lost against a bright sky. Ask the angler to cast towards you. With a high shutter speed, you can take great action shots of the fishing line in the air or being pulled from the water. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in the right spot to take pictures of a fish being caught.

Light plays an important part in your images especially if you are photographing on a river or loch as the water can offer interesting variables. There are magical times of day when the light is beautifully soft and golden. The hour before dawn and just before dusk can be spectacular with the ever changing light, but be ready to work quickly. Avoid the harsh midday sun because the light creates stark contrasts and shadows but if it is unavoidable, try finding a spot in the shade where the trees will filter the light.

Shotgun photography should always be done with safety as the priority and always wear ear protection (a hat is a good investment). Whether its clay shooting or game shooting pay attention to shooters to see if they are left or right handed, and a photograph of their face is much more engaging than the back of their head. Capturing the sharp detail of the spent cartridges ejecting when the gun is broken requires a high shutter speed. On a game shooting day, take pictures from different angles and photograph the gundogs working down at their level as you’ll get far more interesting images (most people look down at them).

Give your subjects looking space and acquaint yourself with the rule of thirds. Don’t rely on Photoshop to enhance your images as they lose their integrity and look over-processed. Photography is about creating images with your camera after all.

If you want professional advice about taking better shots of nature there are many photographers who offer excellent one-day, weekend or longer courses that will help you perfect your camera skills.