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 complete wildlife photography guide here.
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What Is Wildlife Photography?
This is one of the most challenging areas of photography. You are dealing with animals that don’t take model direction.
Not only do you need to have superb technical skills, but also know how to expose, frame, and compose well.
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.
Safety for the animals and for yourself is key. Never put yourself or any wildlife in harm’s way to get a great image. Protect the animals in their habitat, too.
If you are wondering how to go about starting your wildlife photography journey, then keep reading. We will touch on what to look for in wildlife photography and how to improve on a few simple ideas and compositions.
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 practising. 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 a few 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 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.
It also has image stabilization for those moving animals. Read a full list of DSLR recommendations here.
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 you take better images. They help you stay comfortable so you 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.
Our recommendation is the YAAGLE Oxford backpack, as it lets you carry two telephoto lenses together. It even has space for all your other items.
You might not want to photograph some animals using a 50mm lens. You can’t even get close enough to some animals to photograph them.
The solution to this 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.
A camera bean bag can be extremely helpful in wildlife photography. It is helpful to use in scenarios where a tripod won’t work. For example, you can place it on a fence post, on a rock, or the ground.
Many times, it is easier to shoot from your car. A camera bean bag helps stabilize your camera and still take sharp photos without a tripod.
In addition, it is easier to get down really low on a camera bean bag than on a tripod.
To read how else a camera bean bag is useful, and how to make one at home, read the rest of this article.
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 all your money. 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 purpose 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. This is great for photographing those animals that have a taste for wildlife photographer served fresh.
It also allows you to close the gap between the subject and the background, which gives an interesting perspective.
Prop your camera on a tripod, and you can get closer to the action without risking any limbs.
Typically, telephoto lenses range anywhere above 85mm. 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 saves you time and effort so that you don’t have 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 get 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, rather than 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 vice 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 reason is that it’s 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.
Actually, most of the best wildlife photography is of common animals. They might be in their natural habitat or foraging for food.
So, 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 wildlife 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. So you have to align, frame, change the settings, and shoot the creature with god-like speed.
If that image doesn’t work as well as you imagined, check 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.
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.
Going on a safari can be an exhilarating experience to get fabulous wildlife photos. But, there can be many unexpected challenges, too. For example, the heat, harsh light, and dust. Not to mention, the fact that most of your shots will be taken from the back of a safari vehicle.
Read this article to be prepared and get helpful secret tips like why you should take two cameras and how to take photos in the bright light.
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 centre autofocus option along with AI Servo mode. This will ensure a sharp, focused subject. 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.
The more animals you photograph, the more you realize that 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 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 the 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 for extreme weather conditions. It also gives you tips on how to look after your gear.
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 depths.
Read more about how to get started in underwater wildlife photography.
But out of the many available in the market, which is the best for you?
The Fujifilm FinePix XP130 is the best value for money. But our top pick would be the Olympus Tough TG-5. Check out this article to find out why, and see the rest of the list of top 12 underwater and waterproof cameras.
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.
Aerial Wildlife Photography
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.
You’d be lucky to see an animal make a funny expression, but you’d be even luckier to manage to capture it. Taking funny animal pictures seems almost impossible to master. So, a good funny animal picture is quite an accomplishment.
2020’s winners were both hilarious and delightful. Here are 10 of our favourites.
Being Respectful and Staying Safe
The number one priority during wildlife photography is safety.
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 a dynamic high or low key image.
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!
Check out our Simply Stunning Landscapes course, next!
Want More? Try Our Wildlife Photography Training
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