Tips for Photographing Animals in the Wild

Learn How to Shoot Wildlife Photos With Your DSLR Camera

Photographs of wild animals can make stunning images. There's a reason why wildlife photography sells so well -- the animal world is fascinating! Shooting great wildlife photos requires patience, practice, and a little know-how. Here are our top tips for photographing wildlife.

  • Be patient! It takes time to learn the habits of wild animals, and you can't expect to shoot a great photograph the first time you try. Be prepared to spend time analyzing the behavior of the wildlife you want to photograph for a couple of days or longer before you plan to shoot the photos.
  • Find a good practice subject. Wherever you live, there's bound to be a particular bird or animal that pops up in your backyard or local park frequently. In the U.K., where I live, I have a lot of foxes in my back garden, and I use them to practice my composition and framing techniques. Because these animals are used to being around people, they aren't as skittish as animals in the wild may be, allowing you to take more time in setting up the shot and to have the time to experiment.
  • Get close to your subject. You must invest in a decent telephoto lens if you want to capture wildlife. I started with a Canon 70-300mm, but I eventually upgraded to Canon's 100-400mm L lens. Wild animals obviously are quite shy, and with a telephoto lens, you can zoom in on them without needing to be too close. If you're having problems in this area, consider shooting animals in parks, where the animals should be a little more comfortable with cars and people. You'll need to use a pod (a beanbag with a tripod screw in it) to stabilize longer lenses. (Many telephoto lenses come with a tripod screw attachment.) If you must be on foot, be prepared to lie down and crawl about, remaining as unobtrusive as possible.
  • Use a fast shutter speed. A lot of wild animals move quickly, and you'll need a fast shutter speed to freeze them in action. A faster shutter speed will help to prevent camera shake, too. An old rule states that your shutter speed should always be the same or higher than your focal length, at least when shooting with a telephoto lens. So, if you're shooting at 300mm, you'll want a minimum shutter speed of 1/300th of a second. To freeze something like a bird, though, you'll need even a faster shutter speed, perhaps 1/1000th or faster.
  • Respect your subject. Wild animals can be extremely dangerous, and you need to be aware of any warning signals that they are showing. For instance, when I worked on a nature reserve in Africa, I quickly learned that rhinos will charge at the slightest noise, but because they have very poor vision, you usually can side step them quite easily! You must always respect a wild animal, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, keeping both you and the animal safe.
  • Shoot in the "Golden Hour." You'll undoubtedly create more interesting shots if you shoot around dusk or dawn, as this tends to be when animals hunt or feed. Additionally, if you shoot at dusk, you may be able to capture shots of nocturnal animals, just as they start to emerge. The light at this time of day is also softer and more colorful.
  • Experiment with your aperture. Use a small depth of field to make an individual animal stand out or when zooming in on the animal's face. Consequently, try a large depth of field if you're shooting animals in stunning landscapes to add pathos.
  • Look into the animal's eyes. Finally, if you're shooting a closeup of an individual animal, always focus on the eyes. Adjust your AF points manually, if necessary, to ensure that the eyes are extremely sharp. That's what makes the difference between a lucky snapshot and a skilled photograph.