Thinking about trying your hand at wildlife photography? Check out these great tips for shooting stunning, dynamic wildlife images — even if you’re still new to photography:
5 Wildlife Photography Tips
1. Prepare for the Animals (and Their Behavior). Can you get close to the wildlife? Do you need to stay far away? Do they stay stationary or move quickly? All of this will inform the equipment you need and the camera settings you use.
If you’re shooting up close (e.g. butterflies in a botanical garden), a macro lens and a fast shutter speed will work (meaning you won’t need a tripod). You may be able to adjust your depth of field to your artistic satisfaction, but this will be tremendously dependent on the speed of the animal and how hard it is to spot one in time to photograph it.
If you’re shooting far away (e.g. bison, wolves, bears, or pronghorns in Yellowstone National Park), you’ll need a telephoto lens and a tripod. You probably won’t be able to be too choosy with your depth of field, as these animals tend to come and go quickly and can appear at a distance that might be difficult to judge on the fly.
For cases like these, you’ll also want to bring a set of binoculars for spotting so you’re not trying to move your camera or adjust the settings too often.
2. Be Patient. Be prepared to spend a lot more time waiting than shooting. You’ll also take far more photos than you’re likely to keep. Don’t be afraid to use burst mode. It does take more memory and processing time, but if you’re waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime shot, it would be a pity to miss it because you pressed the shutter half a second too early or late.
3. Be Prepared. Of course you’ll want all of the photography gear you need: lenses, a lens cleaning kit, extra memory cards, spare (charged) batteries, tripod, remote shutter, and so on. But when shooting in the wild, being prepared means much more.
It means being prepared for inclement weather, long stretches away from civilization (even if you’re just a few miles from it), and emergencies.
You’ll want sunscreen and bug repellent (or technical clothing that covers that need), enough food and drink to get through the full day, protective gear for inclement weather (especially quickly available gear to prevent your camera and gear from getting rained on), a first aid kit, a place to sit, and anything else that will help you pass the day.
If you’re going way off the beaten path, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return so they can contact the authorities in the area for help if they haven’t heard from you by a pre-appointed time.
4. Have Your Camera Ready. If you’re hiking, preset your camera and use a quick strap or holster to make it easily accessible. While your intent might be to hike out, set up, and wait for the perfect shot, sometimes life surprises you and you get a great opportunity while you’re on the trail. If your camera is ready to go, you’ve got a much better chance of getting a great photo from that shot.
5. Get Good at Manual Focus Mode. Even though it might be tempting to shoot in Autofocus, you’re more likely to get the shot you want with Manual Focus. Think about how much of the background you want to see and set your depth of field accordingly.
Shooting in RAW also allows you some grace to correct exposure and color in post-production. Be sure you don’t let your shutter speeds get too slow, though, because one thing you can’t correct after the fact is a blurry photo.