If you are out in the wild, photographing animals, then you are shooting wildlife photography. It involves documenting the creatures, in and out of their habitats.
For everything you need, from gear to techniques, read our wildlife photography guide here.
What is Wildlife Photography?
This is one of the most challenging areas of photography, as you are dealing with animals that can’t take model direction easily.
Not only do you need to have superb technical skills, but also know how to expose, frame and compose well enough.
You will find that some animals are approachable to some extent, and others will require a telephoto lens to get any kind of photographic evidence.
Birds, for example, you will find easier to photograph using a photography camouflage tent.
Animals like deer you might need to stalk for an extended period of time. You will become a photographic hunter.
Any basic camera gear is great for capturing wildlife, but you will make your life easier by using a DSLR or a mirrorless system.
These are more likely to have abilities such as shooting in Raw, and having a high ISO range.
Some scenarios will benefit from clever uses of camera work that eliminate the human presence.
Camera traps, cameras placed on all-terrain remote controlled cars and drones provide great image capturing devices.
They also provide interesting perspectives, different to how humans usually see the world.
Safety for the animals and for yourselves is key. Never put yourself or any wildlife in harm’s way to grab a great image.
In our guide, we will be looking at what camera gear you will need and what lenses are best for different scenarios.
On top of this, we will run through all of the accessories that will help you in creating that stunning image.
How to go about starting your wildlife photography journey, what to look for and how to improve on a few simple ideas and compositions.
Safety here is key for both you and the animals in their habitat. This ensures that no other photographers have problems gaining access in the future.
In the end, we shall look at the post-processing side of things. This area makes sure that your images are as good as they possibly could be.
Have fun, experiment and keep practicing. Your images could one day win wildlife photography awards.
Your camera is your tool for capturing amazing wildlife photography. Any DSLR will capture images, but there are specific settings that will definitely help you.
The ability to shoot in raw is one of the most important tools your camera needs to have. Raw images will give you significantly more details to play with than jpeg.
They are more than 8x bigger in terms of size, as they hold much more data. Any local adjustments are changed without loss of quality.
Read our list here for the best cameras in 2018 for wildlife photography.
Chances are that you will own and mainly use a DSLR. They offer you the most amount of settings, lenses, and accessories.
DSLRs are also better at auto-focusing, fast and continuous shooting and high ISO capabilities. All of these are perfect for capturing moving subjects in wildlife photography.
For the beginner, the Pentax K-3 II is a solid choice. This camera comes well protected from the elements with its 92 seals.
Accessories For Wildlife Photography
If you are serious about wildlife photography, you will find that your images will benefit from more than just your camera.
Accessories help us take better images. They help us stay comfortable so we can stay out, photographing for longer.
The accessory that you won’t be able to live without is a bag. It allows you to carry all of your photographic gear, but also other items, such as clothing and binoculars.
Some animals you might not want to photograph using a 50mm lens. Some animals you won’t even get close enough to photograph them.
The solution is a remote shutter release. This allows you to release the shutter without touching the camera.
This piece of equipment is also great for long exposures. Touching your camera while the shutter is open for extended periods of time could create shake, ruining your image.
That is the last thing you want for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Some are wireless systems, and others don’t require batteries and cost less than $10.
Clothing is one of the most important areas of wildlife photography. They will protect you during the harshest weather conditions.
They will keep you warm when it is cold and dry when it’s rainy like England in April. You will need to know what conditions you may encounter so that you can dress accordingly.
These clothing items have extra pockets for small amounts of gear needed at a moment’s notice. The more comfortable you are in the wild, the higher the chance of your happiness.
This means staying out longer taking stunning wildlife images. Read more about our clothing recommendations here.
When you are starting out in a new field of photography, you don’t want to spend every cent you have. At least until you are sure you will stay interested.
This is why we suggest this list of gear items for those on a budget. One area that can really save you money is a teleconverter.
This little lens-shaped item fits between your lens and your camera body. Its task is to multiply the focal length of the lens you are using alongside it.
For example, if you are using a 24-70mm lens, a 3x teleconverter will turn the lens into a 72-210mm lens.
You now have a telephoto lens without spending the money on a telephoto lens. Neat, huh?
There are many equipment items that will really help your wildlife photography.
Where, when and under what weather conditions are important questions. For harsh weather conditions, a lens rain cover will protect your camera and lens.
This allows you to shoot outside without worrying about your equipment.
Other essential pieces would include a tripod, ensuring camera-shake free images and allowing you to work in low-light conditions.
Invisibility is possibly the most desired attribute for photographers across all photographic fields. Imagine the photos if this were possible.
Hides are a great way to make yourself unseen to the naked animal eye. They come in all shapes, sizes and camouflages.
A great possibility is a canvas dome hide. This system is fast to set up, easy to transport, and easy to move in case of frustrating birds flying away.
Read here on what choices are available and how they will help your wildlife photography.
Camera trapping provides many advantages. It is the act of placing your camera in an animal’s habitat and leaving it, sometimes overnight.
Shutter release happens through motion detection. Either through active infrared (AIR) or passive infrared (PIR) beams.
They allow you to enter and photograph an animal in its natural state, without disturbing their environment.
Read all the information you will ever need on camera traps and techniques, right here in this article.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no best lens for wildlife photography. There is only the best lens for your wildlife photography.
It all comes down to what you are going to be photographing with the lens. If you are photographing animals in motion, then a fast lens is what you will need.
A wide-angle lens will suit you better If you are aiming to capture an animal in its natural habitat. If you have lenses already, then you may not need to invest much, or at all.
A teleconverter can extend the lenses that you have, into something closer to a telephoto lens.
A telephoto lens will get you closer to your subject. Great for photographing those animals that have a taste for wildlife photographer served fresh.
Prop your camera on a tripod, and you can get closer to the action without risking any limbs.
It also allows you to close the gap between the subject and the background, which gives an interesting perspective.
Typically, telephoto lenses range anywhere above 100mm. Any lens that can reach a focal length of 300mm or more is a super telephoto lens.
Both range from affordable to very expensive. If you don’t think you will use a telephoto lens a lot, but want to try it out, get a teleconverter.
If you’d prefer to stay away from the action, get the lens and bask in safety.
An interesting lens option is a wide angle lens. These typically have a wider field of view than what we call standard lenses.
If a standard lens is 50mm, then a 35mm and 24mm lens are slightly wide angle. For the real benefit, you need to look at lenses of a focal length between 11mm and 24mm.
The field of view for these ranges from 84° to 120°. 120° is a third of a 360° panorama, just to put it into perspective.
These lenses will give you some distortion, especially closer to the edges. This is due to the sensor trying to squeeze in all the extra field of view information.
A great way to spot and follow birds and animals is by using scopes or binoculars. This affords you time and effort, not having to pack up and move each time the animal does.
They will allow you to see them from afar, without disturbing their natural habitat or daily life. This way, you can make sure they are not just posing for the camera.
Most wildlife photographers use binoculars that are at least 8x (magnification 8 times). The larger the magnification, the more trouble you will have keeping it steady.
They can cost anywhere from $100 to $2000, and the scopes can cost even more. Secondhand is also a viable option for those on a budget.
Making sure your camera is prepped correctly saves you valuable time. You want to tweak your camera settings when you are photographing, not starting from fresh.
This could grab you that perfect shot, where the other version of you is still moving the dial back to ISO 100.
One area that you shouldn’t overlook is aperture priority (A, Av).
This is a tool that allows you to set the aperture, and the camera changes the shutter speed automatically.
This way, you only need to worry about what aperture you want to shoot at. This can save valuable time, trying to change everything manually.
Do this when you first get to a location, even before seeing any animals.
Use the light around you to get the settings you need. Read here for all the details you will need.
Bird photography needs a different set of skills. They spend their time in the air and prefer to hide away on top of buildings, or in trees.
Birds tend to be fast and dramatic when they are out in the open. Auto ISO combined with a minimum shutter speed will work wonders.
Auto ISO means that your camera will choose the ISO automatically.
It will change as needed. As the light changes and the scene becomes brighter, this will drop, and vise versa.
A minimum shutter speed comes down to what you choose. If you choose 1/1000th of a second, the ISO will set itself accordingly.
There are many camera settings you can utilize for all kinds of captures, not just wildlife photography. You might feel a little overwhelmed at first.
Our recommendation is to not get caught up in all of these settings in the field. You will waste valuable time in doing so, missing many great shots.
Use the programmable custom function buttons for help. Preset these when you get to a location, with a few different variables.
Let’s say one with a wide aperture (f/4 instead of f/16), and another focusing on shadowy areas (-2 EV). This way, you can change your settings in one simple move.
Read here on how to do that, and 4 other great ways to improve your wildlife photography.
Autofocus is a godsend.
For fast moving subjects, AI Servo works well as it keeps track of where your subject is moving to. It refocuses every time the subject drops out of focus.
You can even make a custom preset so that your wildlife photography is at its best. Read here for how to do that.
How To Start Wildlife Photography
There are plenty of reasons why you should try wildlife photography. The number one would be that it is going to be challenging, so you will learn a great deal.
As there are many niches for photographing wildlife, there is something for everyone. It has a big enough variety for photographers with different skill sets.
Humans are very much still connected to nature. We are fascinated by it. Wildlife photography offers us that step back into nature.
For the other nine reasons why you need to start, look here.
When you think of wildlife photography, you imagine a shot of two Bengalese tigers fighting over a fresh carcass.
In fact, most of the best wildlife photography is of common animals. They might be in their natural habitat or foraging for food.
Don’t let the fact that you aren’t around exotic, endangered species stop you. There are many elements that make a great wildlife capture.
One of the biggest tips on how to take great pictures is to get low. Change your perspective to that of the animal for a look into their world.
Read our extensive article here for all the great tips you will need.
After you have found a location and/or subject to photograph, it is time to go through the golden rules. You need these to be a good photographer.
Their purpose is to ensure you are ready to get out into the field and start photographing. The last thing you want is to feel unprepared.
One of the golden rules looks at your passion for wildlife. You won’t get far if you really don’t like your subject or locations.
Dedication comes from working towards something you are passionate about. Your photographs will fall flat if there is no motivation.
Read the other nine golden rules here, in this article.
Birds are some of the most difficult and challenging subjects in wildlife photography. They are fast, nimble and spend most of their time in the air.
Heaven forbid that they may sit still for a few seconds. This would let you align, frame, change the settings and shoot the creature with god-like speed.
If that image doesn’t work as well as you imagined, could it be the background? Perhaps it is taking away the power of the shot?
Our tip for bird photography is to not forget about the background. If it steals the birds’ thunder, the picture will fail as fast as lightning.
Your smartphone is one of the best cameras you have. This is because it is almost ready to use and you have it with you 99% of the time.
They are becoming more and more professional for serious photography. Lenses of all sorts have been developed to get you using your smartphone more.
One way you can use it is to capture wildlife in a location or habitat. The area where you find wildlife says a lot about the animal, even subconsciously.
Read the article here for two more smartphone tips to get you taking better images today.
The do’s and don’ts of wildlife photography are here to help you. They provide you with more information on what is possible in this field of photography.
Do respect the animal and its habitat. This means that you need to put yourself in a position where you do not create any stress for the animal.
This might be successfully hiding, keeping your distance and not running up to them asking for a dual selfie. Animals aren’t into the whole Snapchat thing.
For all the do’s and don’ts, read the article here. It will help you become a better wildlife photographer.
From starting out, you will make many mistakes. Great! This is normal and means you are on the right track. Learning from practice is key.
The biggest problem in wildlife photography is missing moments. This will never leave, as you physically can’t capture them every time they do something.
You can minimalize them. By using a continuous shooting mode, your camera will take many images every second.
For higher-range cameras, this could be 14+ images. This is a second. That’s a lot of leeways when it comes to that perfect moment.
Try this today, but after you have read the other common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Now that you have some understanding of wildlife photography, let’s improve. Hopefully, you have already been out and tried a few of our tips already.
One way to make powerful wildlife photography is to simplify the focus.
Another way you can do this is to use the center autofocus option along with AI Servo mode.
This will ensure a sharp, focused subject, and then you are free to compose the image as you see fit.
Read our article here for the other nine tips on better wildlife photography.
There is always something we as photographers can do better. Either it is our weakest skill, or we are moving from a different area of wildlife photography.
You will find that the more and more animals you photograph, the action is a huge part of this field. We need to freeze these moments that the animals give us.
The fast action is best captured with a fast shutter speed. This allows you to freeze the moment without motion blur. 1/1000th of a second or higher is perfect.
Read our other tips here on how to improve your wildlife photography.
Another way to capture wildlife photography is to utilize macro photography. This field allows you to get really close to a subject.
Macro photography is created by use of a macro lens. And/or the use of a macro converter. It is even possible to reverse the lenses you already own.
This type of photography is perfect for insects and capturing details of animals. If you can get them to stay still, that is.
Read this article on how to successfully utilize macro in your wildlife photography.
Extreme weather conditions can make you feel ‘urgh’ about having to go outside to photograph. Just know, this is a great opportunity to capture great shots.
For one, many other photographers will stay at home, drinking hot cocoa. This reduces your competition, allowing you those unique images.
You will need to dress appropriately. Your gear needs to be protected and overall, and your comfort level needs to be somewhat high.
Read all the information you need in extreme weather conditions. It also gives you tips on how to look after your gear.
Using motion blurs creatively can lead to really powerful wildlife photography. Most photographers look for those frozen moments in time.
But using motion blur gives your images a sense of movement. Some of the animals you will come across might be fast.
It might be their most obvious attribute, one that you want to show off. One way to create these blurs is by using a tripod and panning with a running animal.
As you pan, try and match the animals’ speed, and capture mid-flow. This ensures that the animal stays clear and sharp, showing the blur in the environment.
Underwater Wildlife Photography
Underwater wildlife photography can provide you with close-up opportunities of animals and creatures that other people don’t often see.
Nowhere else can you approach so many different animals in the same environment. One of the biggest things to consider here is the light.
Ambient light is a great source of light, but it works best close to the surface. Artificial lighting allows you to go to deeper deaths.
Read more about how to get started in underwater wildlife photography.
Obviously, do not get into the water without finding a way to protect all of your camera gear. That would be a very expensive mistake.
Camera housings are not cheap. They need time and knowledge to maintain, but they are necessary items.
There are waterproof cameras that allow you to photograph up to certain depths. But they don’t offer you the same control as a DSLR or mirrorless system.
All the information you need is here, in this article.
Photographing wildlife underwater needs a lot of research and flawless organization. Even then, you might find that your images fall short of expectations.
The success rate can be quite small. Make sure that you are not pressuring yourself too much in getting those perfect shots. They come with practice.
One tip is to be patient. This works in other areas of photography too (street, architecture, documentary). Here, the creatures will make their way to you.
The other five tips you can find here, in this extensive article.
Aerial Wildlife Photography
We all wish we could get as close to the animals as possible. We want circumstances where the unsuspecting animals stay true to their daily routine.
This is rarely possible without some sort of camera trap. But it doesn’t let you compose for the animal in front of you.
Recently, wildlife photographers have started using robots. Remote controlled cars get you close to dangerous animals.
Read here on how these could really change the way you approach and photograph the wildlife.
As photographers, we are always trying to create more and more interest in our images. One way to accomplish this is to change our perspective.
A drone offers you this unique change in perspective, looking at wildlife from a different angle.
An aerial photograph is interesting as we humans rarely see the world from top-down. A new way to look at the world creates stunning results.
Another way to photograph animals from top-down is to do so with a helicopter. This is no means a cheap way to photograph, but it is special.
To get effective images from the eye in the sky, you really need to know your camera equipment. This is before setting out on that high-flying machine.
You will need to work fast. Keep your eyes open, check both sides of the helicopter as eat and west will differ greatly.
Read here for all the tips you will need on capturing great photographs from the sky.
Compositions in Wildlife Photography
Compositions relate to how the objects and subjects are put together or ‘composed’ in the frame. We are in control of how all of the visual elements connect.
This is either down to your physical location, your perspective, and your camera gear. Namely the camera and lenses.
The composition that most wildlife photographers use is the rule of the thirds. This is a go-to composition to make the image more interesting.
Using negative space is also a great way to frame a scene. Negative space pushes the focus towards the subject and makes the animal stand out more.
Read more here and give it a go on your next expedition.
When it comes to compositions, photographers tend to go for the same again and again.
Break the cycle and start utilizing other forms of compositions that many others overlook.
One way to look at a scene is by focusing on the light. Wait for the subjects to approach the scene, instead of trying to work around the subject.
This gives you something very different and unique and has your viewers eager for more.
Being Respectful and Staying Safe
The number one priority when wildlife photography shooting is safety. There is nothing more difficult than going to photograph animals after an accident.
When we talk about safety, we want to make sure you not only look after yourself. But also the subjects of your images. Anxious animals are dangerous.
Our biggest tip here is to be mindful of your surroundings. Not only of the animals but the environment you are in. You could slip and fall in the middle of nowhere.
Read all of the tips on being safe, here, in this article.
Approaching wildlife needs careful consideration. It not only stops the animal from being anxious and acting unpredictably. But it also ensures your next great shot.
There are two ways you can quietly earn the trust of your subjects. One is to sit and wait for the wildlife and animals to come to you or your focus area.
This allows them to do so naturally, so you keep the scene organic. It also means that you don’t spend all of your energy running around.
For the second tip, you need to read the article here.
Being respectful to animals is not only an important rule, but it also provides many advantages.
It would be frustrating to find out that a spot is no longer accessible due to photographers who were not respectful.
Allow those who come after you to have the same photographic opportunities.
You might be tempted to carry food with you. This is a bad idea. Animals have a great sense of smell and could see you as their next snack.
Read all the rules on how to be respectful here.
Lightroom is the friend of all sorts of photographers, across all fields. Wildlife and nature photographers are no different.
One of the most important aspects that you can use Lightroom for is for correcting white balance.
If you didn’t manage to get it right in-camera, you can still change it in Lightroom.
There are many different ways to complete this action, but the pipetting tool is the easiest and fastest way.
Click on it, then the white area of the image. Voila!
One way of photographing the animals you find in the wild is to create high and low key portraits of them.
Photoshop is a great post-processing software tool. It will help you create something very dynamic.
This is a great way to set yourself apart from other wildlife photographers.
All the information you need on how to create these is here, in this article. Enjoy!