Becoming a wildlife photographer is no easy job. There’s a lot that goes into it. You need to have a serious level of dedication and patience to be a good wildlife photographer.
To be a master at it, you need to have years of experience and know inside out on how wildlife works.
If you are just starting out or you have some level of experience, then we have some useful tips that will really help you with your wildlife photography journey.
There might be some tips that will look obvious to you but, there is nothing wrong with going through them again. But first, let’s learn what actually is wildlife photography.
So, what is Wildlife Photography?
1. Get a Good Camera
Normally, we say people that you don’t need an excellent camera, having a decent one will work just fine, but wildlife photography is different.
There are many factors that needs to be considered. You may not always know in what environment you will be in. It maybe raining, windy, sunny or you may even get hit by a sand storm.
You need weather-sealed cameras to shoot in harsh environments. Generally mid-range to high-ranges provide weather-sealed features. But not all will have good build quality. We would highly recommend that you invest in an expensive camera. These will have the best build quality as well as additional features and you will also get better image quality.
For something like wildlife photography, it will definitely be a good investment.
2. Choose Proper Lenses
The most obvious choice for wildlife photography is to use telephoto lenses, as these can shoot from a very long distance.
What focal length of your lens need to be, depends on how close you want to get to the subject. You can shoot an elephant from a distance by using a 300mm but if you want to shoot birds or anything that’s more faraway, you may need something like 400-500mm or higher.
Get the lens that offers the lowest numbered aperture, like f-1.4-2.8. The lower the f-stop number will be, the more light will get in the camera lens.
Try to get a lens that offers optical stabilization. If you zoom too much, you may see motion blur due to shaking, so having an optical stabilization will save a lot of great shots.
Keep in mind that the higher focal length you want, the bigger your lens will get. It will be more difficult to carry them. So, buy a tripod to support the lens.
Consider having a wide-angle lens. While telephoto lenses are great in capturing close shots of the subject, you may want to take a wider view of what’s going on around.
Wide-angle lenses are great for that. It can capture more elements in the frame than a telephoto lens. It also tends to make things appear larger than it actually, which gives more drama to the photo.
For shooting something small, like an insect, you need a macro lens. Try to get at least a 100mm lens with the aperture of f-2.8, or lower will work fine.
3. Plan According to the Weather Condition
Just because the weather is bad, don’t let it stop you from going out and shoot. You can get great shots in any kind of weather and some shots maybe only possible in bad weather conditions.
You need to be ready for any kind of environment and situation you face. Before you go on with your journey, check what the weather will be like and plan accordingly.
If it rains, take a raincoat along with you. Also take Muck boots or hip waders, as it may be muddy. Use a good water proof camera bag to keep your equipment safe.
For sunny days, use a boonie hat and wear white cloths. Black absorbs more heat, so it’s best to avoid during harsh sunlight.
For cold weather, wear jackets and layered cloths. Cold weather also drains battery life faster, so try to keep your camera in a warm place and take more extra batteries than usual.
Definitely take lens filters with you. Even if the weather is good use it, lens filter will keep away dust particles from clogging up inside the lens. Also, it will stop any debris that might hit the glasses.
There are various types of filters for different purposes.
UV Filters: It stops ultraviolet rays from the lens which protects it from damage. It also reduces haziness from the photos.
Polarizer Filter: It reduces glare from the photo. Also, it can be used to make the sky darker by adjusting the dial.
There are many other types of filters that do different things. Do more research and see what suits your purpose.
4. Learn Adjust your Setting Quickly
A good photographer will always be familiar with how their camera works. If you don’t know, then you might miss some great shots.
You need to know things like:
- how much ISO you can increase before your camera starts to introduce digital noise
- you need to be able to toggle through your settings very quickly
- Know how much distortion your lens will add to the image
- And much more
You need to be very quick; some moments may last just a few seconds. For example, a group of cheetahs approaching a crocodile.
Let me give you some general ideas regarding camera settings.
Aperture: When you buy lenses, try to get one with the least number of f-stop, for example, f-1.4-2.8. Lower f-stop will let in more light.
Shutter Speed: If you are shooting fast moving object then increase your shutter speed. Otherwise, you may get motion blur. The faster your object is, the higher your shutter speed needs to be.
ISO: It is generally a good idea to keep your ISO low. You would need to increase ISO if you are shooting in a darker environment. ISO of 800 may work just fine in low light environments and anything higher may show digital noise in your photos.
Turn on continuous focus mode from your camera setting, it will actively focus on your subject and will result in better image. But if you are further away form the subject then, something like a leaf or any small debris can distract the cameras focus. In such circumstances switch to manual focus.
5. Buy a Good Tripod
Lenses for wildlife photography tends to be heavy, cheap plastic tripods won’t be able to hold its weight. You need to have one made out of aluminum or carbon fiber or any other strong material. It will definitely be expensive, but it will be worth it.
Some photographers prefer not to carry too much stuff with them, they feel having things like tripods will add more weight. It is true but, you may need to stay in the wild at a fixed position for a long time, in such scenarios having a tripod will be ideal, as you don’t have to keep it in your hands all the time.
6. Learn to Work with any Light
You will find people who will tell to shoot during the golden hours, which is the period of time just after the sun rises and before sunset. Completely ignore this statement.
While it is true, you can get amazing shots during golden hours but remember, it is a wildlife photography not a lifestyle photography. A lot of actions happen throughout the whole day. If you stick with the golden hour rule, you will definitely miss the chance of shooting something great.
You might also need to shoot during the sunset as a lot of animals stay active during the evening period. As light will be low, you need to adjust your camera settings for that environment.
You will need to increase your ISO and decrease your shutter speed to let in more light. But keep in mind that with low shutter speed there is a high chance that you might get blurry image if your hand shakes or if the subject tends to move too much.
Definitely don’t use flash on any point of time you will be shooting. Animals will either run away or if it’s a carnivorous, you might get attacked if they sense your presence. Be very careful.
7. Learn the Lifestyle of Animals
You can predict what your siblings might do in the next few hours. Because you know who they are and what their lifestyle is. You should be able to tell what the animal you are shooting may do next. You don’t necessarily need to live with them, there are a lot of online resources through which you can learn about the behaviors of animals.
There is a pattern to how each animal behaves. Try to learn it. But only reading won’t make you a good photographer. You need to spend a lot of time and do research on field, to properly understand the animal behaviors.
8. Practice with what you have
You don’t need to go to any exotic locations to practice shooting. If you are just getting started then go to the zoo you have in your city. There are a lot of animals that you can take photos of. Zoo authorities even have people that can help with educating you about the animals. You can spend as much time you want and take as many photos you prefer.
After you have gained some knowledge, then try to visit the safari parks. You will get a feel of what is it actually like, to be a wildlife photographer.
9. Try the Rule of Thirds
There are some general photography rules for making better compositions. Using them can make your image more appealing to look at. One of the popular rules that you will hear often is The Rule of Thirds.
It is essentially, dividing the image into 9 blocks and then placing the subject in the intersection points of those blocks.
This gives a unique perspective to your image. It is very useful when you want to show some of the background of the subject.
If you are starting out then following these rules can increase your photography skills. But these rules will tend to limit your creativity. So, we would recommend that, once you have learned these rules, try something unique from your own and see what you can come up with. Don’t be afraid to break the rules.
10. Maintain your Distance
Animals can get scared easily. Any unusual movement or noise might make them run away. So, you will always want to keep a low profile. And if you are shooting any dangerous animal then for your own safety, definitely maintain a lot of distance.
You wouldn’t want yourself to get noticed by a bunch of hyenas.
11. Respect the Wildlife
Your presence should not cause any harm to the animals. Leave the forest as if you have never been there before.
Many people tend to throw trash in the forests. This causes harm to those animals living there. Some even do unusual behaviors just to capture something that will give them few days’ worth of public attention.
Remember if you can’t respect wildlife then don’t go there at all and definitely don’t create any sort of pollution. It will harm us as well as the animals.
Wildlife can be very daunting for many people. You will only enjoy wildlife photography if you love animals or if you are an enthusiast. If you are none of those then wildlife photography is probably not for you.
Will need to spend majority of your time trying to capture those amazing moments. If you manage to capture something astonishing, it will be very rewarding. Just remember to keep yourself safe, don’t try to hustle if you can’t.