How to Take Stunning Wildlife Photography Like a Pro
If you are interested in wildlife photography—then you will quickly find out how complex taking these photos can be. One glance at a great wildlife picture and it may seem as though these photos are relatively simple to take.
However, when a wildlife photo looks natural and un-staged—there is often a lot more work that goes into taking that photo than meets the eye. This is why I created this guide on the best way to take stunning wildlife photography like a pro and crate these effortless-looking yet stunning photos of wild animals in their natural habitat.
What is Wildlife Photography?
So, what exactly is wildlife photography?
Wildlife photography is a genre of photography that involves documenting different forms of wildlife in their natural habitat. This is one of the most unique types of photos out there, because you not only have landscapes to worry about, but unpredictable animals as well.
The goal of wildlife photography is to keep everything looking as natural as possible, so you can capture wildlife the way it actually looks in the wild.
The Best Wildlife Photography Cameras
The first step in making sure that you capture the best wildlife photography possible, is to make sure that you have the best wildlife photography cameras. There are so many great DSLR and mirrorless cameras out there that can work for wildlife photography.
Some of the key features to look for include high megapixels, magnification and autofocus performance and speed. Another thing to look for is fast continuous capture rates—while this isn’t always critical, it can be very beneficial for wildlife photos and capturing movement of animals in the wild.
The Best Wildlife Photography Lenses
The right lens can have a major impact on the quality and final look of your photo. A telephoto lens is one of the must-have accessories for any wildlife photographer. This allows you to get up-close views of your subject while you can stay at a safe distance from the subject.
Must-Have Wildlife Photography Gear
While the right camera and lens are two must-haves for great wildlife photos—there are other pieces of photography gear you will want as well. Here are some of the accessories that you will need when going out for a shoot:
- Binoculars or monocular
- Long lens rain cover
- Waterproof camera bag
- Polarizing and UV Filters
When you pack up your bag and head out for a wildlife shoot, you also need to make sure that you bring some spare batteries with you. This is especially true if you are shooting in cold weather conditions.
7 Wildlife Photography Tips
So, now that you have all of the gear you need to start taking wildlife photos—there are several other tips you can implement into your photography efforts. After all, there is more to great photos than the right gear.
Here are a few tips that can help take your wildlife photos to the next level.
1. Research Your Subject
Before you get out there and start shooting, you need to research your subject. The more you know about the subject you are shooting, the better your photos are going to turn out.
So, if you are going out and shooting lions, you need to know how they move, when they most commonly lounge in packs, when they are hunting, how fast their maximum speeds go and what types of behaviors you can expect these animals to do when out in the wild.
This will help you be better prepared when you actually get out in the field. After all, you are not going to be able to tell a wild animal what to do or how to act—so you are going to have to do your best in order to predict their behavior so you can be ready to capture these animals in the wild.
2. Visit Your Subject at Dusk or Dawn
There are two times of day that you should consider taking wildlife photos—dusk and dawn. There are a few reasons why. First, and most importantly is the lighting.
Most photographers know that dusk and dawn are the best times to shoot outdoor photos—and while wildlife photography has a few other elements to consider, it is still, above all things, a type of outdoor photography, so taking photos during these ideal lighting situations is always important.
Make sure that you set your camera to higher ISOs when shooting in these light conditions as they are lower light.
Dusk and dawn also tend to be the times when wildlife is most active. This is common hunting time for many wild animals and times when you will find many types of wildlife out and active.
3. Capture Your Subject at Eye Level
When you see wildlife out in nature, it can be a really breathtaking experience. However, it can be slightly more challenging to portray that breathtaking experience in a photo. One of the best ways to do this is to capture your subject at eye level.
This is a great way to really highlight the beauty of the animal you are photographing and make it feel as though you are really up close and personal with this animal in the wild, so the viewer can have the same breathtaking experience you had when you encountered this animal in the wild.
The goal of wildlife photography is to help the viewer feel as though they are actually in the wild with the subject—and this is one of the easiest ways to do this.
4. Depth of Field
When shooting wildlife photography, you will also need to pay close attention to depth of field. Typically, the goal is to manipulate the depth of field so it is small enough to throw the background out of focus and to give emphasis to the subject.
This is especially beneficial if you are looking to hone in on a single animal and want to get a close-up, eye-level look at this creature in its natural habitat.
5. Contrast Matters
Many animals actually are naturally meant to blend into their surroundings. It is typically a type of defense mechanism that can help any animal stay safe out in the wild. However, while this is great for animals, it is not so great for photographers.
Do your research and find times when these animals tend to get out of their natural surroundings so you can shoot them in high-contrast situations. For example, birds that leave the closure of the trees to hunt over a body of water.
You can also manipulate contrast with your exposure, to help bring out this contrast. You can manipulate the shutter speed and aperture to get that high-contrast look, or you can correct the background in post-production. However, this is one of the few situations where I recommend using a great deal of post-photography in wildlife photography.
6. Find a Stunning Background
The right background can really help a wildlife photo pop. However, you aren’t exactly going to be able to manipulate animals in the wild or move them to a position where they are in the perfect background. The goal should be to keep the background looking natural and beautiful, but not distracting—you are taking a wildlife photo not a landscape photo.
Here are a few ways to do this:
- Scout the area ahead of time to find an area that naturally has a beautiful backdrop
- Play with angles and position yourself in the best place to take the image
- Reduce the amount of background you can see in your photo, zooming in on the subject and eliminating background distractions can be just as stunning as a big background
- Make sure to open the aperture as wide as possible to produce a narrow depth of field
These tips will all help you come up with the right background to make your wildlife subject really stand out.
7. Keep Editing to a Minimum
There are certain types of photography that require a great deal of editing and a lot of post-photo work. Wildlife photography should not be one of these types of photos.
You want to do your best to keep these photos as natural as possible, so you can let the animal and the landscape speak for itself. With this in mind, keep your editing to a minimum. While there are certain levels you will want to adjust to make the image look its best—do not over edit these photos. You will like them in a more natural form in the end.
Try to stay away from filters or manipulating colors too much. You want the image to look as real as possible so your viewer can feel like they are there.
Wildlife photography is one of the most exciting types of photography there is. There are a lot of different factors to pay attention to when it comes to shooting this type of photography. There is a lot that can go wrong—but if you keep these tips in mind, everything can go right and you can end up with stunning wildlife photos that will inspire anyone who looks at them.