This is a guide covering wildlife photography tips.
Wildlife photography is the art of capturing breath-taking photos of animals in their natural wilderness habitat using specialized tools.
Here specialized tools refer to cameras with fast autofocus capability, excellent low light dynamic range, fast continuous capturing speed, and lenses that have a long focal length and fast wide-open aperture.
Wildlife photography as a genre depends as much on the photography skills of the photographer as on the quality of the photography tools that the photographer wields.
More on that later.
Wildlife photography is an interesting genre that can be both financially rewarding and personally gratifying at the same time.
Wildlife photographers are one of the most published among all genres of photography.
However, wildlife photography takes a lot of time and energy to produce.
Chances are that you may have flipped through the pages of a wildlife magazine and admired the photos published therein, not realizing the amount of time, energy, and patience spent by the photographers to capture those images.
In this discussion, we should go through 10 wildlife photography tips that should help you improve your A-game and make you a better wildlife photographer.
7 Wildlife Photography Tips
The following tips will help you take better wildlife photography images.
These have been curated with extensive inputs from professional wildlife photographers who have spent years photographing animals in their natural habitat.
1. Study Your Subject and Learn More About It
One of the best beginner wildlife photography tips that I ever got was the suggestion to study the subject that I was going to photograph.
Understanding its behavior about its environment lets you understand more about its movements and therefore allows you to capture breathtaking photos.
2. Keep a Low Profile
You must keep a low profile whenever you are photographing wildlife.
Stay out of sight as much as possible and maintain sufficient space between you and your subject.
This will ensure that you do not accidentally surprise your subject.
Your choice of clothing is an important consideration. Try to wear green or the foliage color to ensure that you mingle with the surroundings.
3. Use a Blind
Blinds are a great idea for photographing birds in their natural habitat. They let you get close to a bird without attracting any attention.
A lot of professional bird photographers use blinds with great results. Some national parks have built-in blinds for observation purposes. These are great.
However, you can also custom make a blind for yourself using DIY techniques.
To further explore this subject, we recommend this video by Morten Hilmer:
4. Photograph in Live-View Mode
If you’re using a DSLR camera the sound of the flapping mirror can create an excruciating noise that is enough to startle the subject you are trying to photograph.
The solution is to use the Quiet mode. In the Quiet mode, the mirror still flips out and flips in to reset but the spring mechanism is damped out considerably leading to negligible noise.
Mirrorless camera systems don’t have a flapping mirror inside them. When it comes to photographing wildlife photography mirrorless cameras are probably the best option because they are a good deal quieter than DSLRs.
5. Choose the Right Autofocusing Mode
You would think that all there is to autofocus is to leave the camera on AF-C mode. Well, that is just one small step.
You need to ensure that you have selected the right autofocusing area mode depending on the subject that you are photographing.
6. Stay Ethical
For me, a wildlife photographer is also a wildlife conservationist.
The photographs he or she captures not only garner interest in the particular animal or bird but also help promote conservation programs.
Staying ethical suggest using non-intrusive methods of photography.
One of them is not to disturb the animal or the bird nor to destroy the natural habitat It belongs to.
7. Master the Techniques of Post-Processing
If you’re interested in wildlife photography you have to master the techniques of post-processing images especially the ones that are taken in low light.
A majority of your bird photos, as well as animal photos, will be taken in low-lit conditions where the animal/bird might be under deep foliage and therefore you have to photograph at a higher ISO number.
Don’t be hesitant to photograph at a high ISO. Modern DSLRs and mirrorless systems have a high tolerance when it comes to noise.
You can easily photograph at ISO 2000 or higher and not have any major issues with noise.
On the bright side, you will be able to photograph with a faster shutter speed and get a sharp image. You can work with the noise, if any, later during post-processing.
To further explore the subject of wildlife photography tips, we also recommend this video by Steve Perry:
What Makes a Good Wildlife Photographer?
A good wildlife photographer is someone who has oodles of patience. The photographer must be able to sit quietly at a place for an extended period.
When tracking an animal it may be necessary to stay low and stay quiet for more than an hour at a time.
Patience is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography.
Apart from that, the photographer must have excellent natural light photography skills.
All wildlife photography is done in natural light and if you are somebody who is not comfortable using natural light then you will find it very difficult to take great images of wildlife.
How to Learn Wildlife Photography?
The best way to learn wildlife photography is to join a workshop. Preferably a workshop that is hands-on and takes you to the environment where can actually photograph wildlife.
There is no point in studying wildlife photography in a classroom environment because the conditions are nowhere near what you will come across in a real-life situation.
That said, if you are an absolute beginner you can benefit from a classroom session, especially one which talks about the basics of exposure.
You can also do a basic course on post-processing techniques.
That said, the best way to learn wildlife photography is to attend a hands-on workshop.
Accomplished wildlife photographers often conduct such wildlife photography workshops.
They teach the ideal wildlife photography settings for taking wildlife photos, the ideal metering options, how to choose the best gear for photographing animals in the wild, among other important parameters.
Looking at the work of other photographers is a great way to understand what makes a great wildlife photograph.
It is not always about capturing the animal in the middle of the frame or capturing a lot of colors. It can also mean capturing the right moment when everything comes together.
Let’s take an example.
Two photographers attempt to photograph an osprey. The first one captures the osprey flying in to scoop a catch but misses out on the next frame when the osprey actually grabs hold of the fish.
The second photographer with a better camera and a faster continuous photographing speed captures not only the frame where the osprey swoops in but also the frames where it grabs hold of the fish and then flies away with the fish firmly in its talons.
Needless to say, the second photographer will win the competition with a better set of images.
How to Get Into Wildlife Photography?
Getting into wildlife photography is not that difficult, but involves substantial financial investment.
You will have to invest in the right tools so that you can make stunning images.
At the basic minimum, you require a decent camera with fast autofocusing, decent continuous photographing speed, and good low-light performance.
You will also require a lens. Ideally, with a minimum aperture of f/4 or faster and with a minimum focal length of 300 mm. (Check out our best lenses for wildlife photography guide)
These two will set you back by at least $1500 to $2000. The alternative would be to rent the equipment that you need.
Now about the getting into the part. Hopefully, there are national parks, jungles, and wooded areas within drivable distances to where you live.
This gives you the initial playing area to explore wildlife photography without having to spend a lot of money on traveling.
You can start by capturing photos of birds that are endemic to the region. In some places across the world, migratory birds flock during certain times of the year.
Consider those to be a bonus subject for your photography.
Once you have mastered the art of composition, exposure, and tracking you can move on to a bigger game.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you get a good start in wildlife photography.
As you progress you will find out many refinements of the above tips and make your own best policies when it comes to taking wildlife photography. Happy clicking.
Also, be sure to check out the best lenses for wildlife photography.
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV! You can find my Model Mayhem profile here.