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Are you wild for wildlife? Animals in their natural habitat are some photographer’s dreams. Whether it’s a lion hunting prey or an inchworm crawling on a curb, the imagery can be mesmerizing. Newcomers to wildlife photography often have many questions about the best ways to capture such powerful wildlife photos. What lens should I use? What time of day should I shoot? Do I need a hideout spot? Answers to these common questions – and more – can be found below. You’ll also find a few fail-proof wildlife photography ideas. Follow along and you’ll be a natural in no time.
Animal Photography Tips & Tricks
Stunning nature picture ideas require a well-thought-out plan. This is especially true when you’re shooting wildlife. Wild animals are unpredictable. Before heading outside, review the following animal photography tips. These basic do’s and don’ts will make you a much better sharpshooter.
DO keep your distance.
Anything can happen in the wild. Out of an abundance of caution, keep your distance. Maintaining a safe distance between you and your subject is paramount. You’re intruding on their home. Be respectful by minimizing your presence. Some photographers opt to wear camouflage. At the very least, cover your camera to help quiet clicking sounds.
DO wait patiently.
Wildlife photographers have a knack for sitting quietly for long periods of time. Harness that inner Zen and hold onto it. The perfect shot rarely happens within a few minutes of setting up.
DO shoot at eye level.
Some of the most impactful wildlife photos are the ones where the animal is looking directly into the camera. To achieve this, try shooting at eye level. Peer through your viewfinder and adjust the camera’s height and angle until you’re as close to eye level as possible.
DO play around with lenses and camera settings.
Using the camera’s settings and accessories increases the chances of getting the best wildlife photos. Zoom lenses are great when maintaining distance – as you would photographing bears. A macro lens is a better choice for capturing small creatures, like insects, reptiles, and butterflies. Other features to consider include your camera’s burst mode and shutter speed. These settings help guarantee sharp images and fewer blurry ones.
DO keep the background simple.
Busy backdrops are distracting. They can be difficult to avoid when you’re working with unpredictable Mother Nature. Minimize visual noise and enhance the contrast. Your subjects will stand out. How and where you set up determines what’s in the background. Be mindful of this. Check the scene through your camera often. Relocate or adjust as needed.
The DO NOTs:
DON’T shoot midday.
Avoid the harsh midday sun. Fierce, direct lighting can create unwanted harsh shadows. Also, many creatures rest during the day making action shots less likely. Plan to be up well before sunrise to catch the golden hour. Not an early bird? Heading out around dinner is an equally opportune time.
DON’T use flash.
The sudden burst of light that makes you hide your eyes and blink has the same effect on animals. There’s a strong probability they will scamper and you’ll miss the shot entirely. No eyes, just blurry feet and backsides. Using the flash also produces poor image quality. The lighting is too sudden and harsh. It interrupts the beauty of natural sunlight and diminishes the authenticity of your wildlife photos.
DON’T follow animals.
Fight the urge to walk behind or beside your subject. You’ll either scare it away or possibly make the animal feel threatened and have it attack. It’s best to get ahead of the animal and at a safe distance. Try to predict where the animal is going and smoothly walk in that direction. You’ll be able to snap photos of them looking your way.
DON’T stare at animals.
Play hard to get with the animals you want to photograph. Act like you aren’t at all interested in them. Look down at the ground or up at treetops. Meanwhile, keep the subject in your peripheral. You’ll know where it is without having to make direct eye contact.
4 Wildlife Photography Ideas to Inspire You
1. Take a portrait.
Portraits of children never go out of style – and for good reason. They’re playful and a great way to show off a child’s unique personality. The same is true for wildlife portraits. When captured well, this type of photo tells a short story about the animal in focus.
How to do it:
Wildlife portraits can be done one of two ways: with or without a background. With a background means including the animal and its surrounding environment. It gives a sense of scale, while also emphasizing how that animal interacts with its environment. For this option, select a mid-range aperture to increase the depth of field.
For portraits without a background, you need a slightly larger aperture to let in more light. A short lens is appropriate, if available. The idea is to tighten the composition, so you get more detail of the actual animal. Consider filling the entire frame with the animals’ faces. The close-up shot captures a lot of cute details, like cool blue eyes or an upturned mouth.
2. Shoot silhouettes.
The “Lion King” movie poster features a profile of Mufasa standing on the edge of a cliff with a big round sun blazing in the background. This is the truest example of how an animal’s silhouette creates a dramatic effect. The technique works with more than just lions. Try it with giraffes, pelicans, elephants, horses, and other distinctively shaped animals.
How to do it:
Golden hour photography is your best bet. The golden hour is 10 to 20 minutes after sunset. That soft reddish sky provides the perfect low lighting. Position your camera so the subject is between your lens and the sun. Set your exposure based on the brightest part of the photo (most likely the sun). Your subject becomes under-exposed, resulting in a sleek black silhouette.
3. Focus on behavior.
By researching and observing a specific animal over time, certain behavior patterns emerge. You learn things like when they hunt and feed, how they mate, where they sleep, and much more. Not only will you capture something unique to that species, but you get to time the shot perfectly.
How to do it:
Use a fast shutter speed or activate burst mode to keep your camera moving quickly. You don’t want to miss any shots. Play around with lenses, as well. A long lens can help you watch and capture all at once. That said, the most important factor with this one is time. The more time you can spend in their habitat, the more you’ll be familiar with how to take the best wildlife photos. Spend whatever time you can and pack a lot of patience.
4. Catch a cute gesture.
A “cute gesture” is defined by any activity that elicits emotion. This could be a mama bear protecting her cubs or a giraffe sticking its tongue toward the camera. In any case, these types of photos show depth and authenticity. Gestures help personify animals, which is always an eye-catching subject.
How to do it:
Oftentimes, capturing a cute gesture is pure luck. To increase your chances, it helps to have a fast shutter speed and an even faster trigger finger. When working with non-threatening animals, try to instigate a gesture. Whistle, wave, or mimic their calls. They might give you an inquisitive head tilt or goofy grin. Again, be patient for that extra-special moment.