Essential Tips On Wildlife Photography For Beginners

While any beginner photographer should start with some shots around the house and other familiar surroundings, branching out into wildlife photography should be a welcome challenge.

Essential Tips On Wildlife Photography For Beginners

Even then you may need some help along the way. Whether it is the environment you choose to begin in or which subjects you choose to photograph. Wildlife photography can be tricky so we have compiled a list of tips to help.

In this guide, we will detail some essential tips on wildlife photography for beginners. 

  • Have Some Patience
  • Take Plenty Of Photos
  • Deal With Low Light
  • Learn How To Take A Sharp Image
  • Make Sure You Research Your Desired Subject
  • Learn Some Fieldcraft
  • Commit To Good Ethics
  • Come Equipped With Local Knowledge
  • Appreciate The Rule Of Thirds
  • Shoot Your Shots At Eye Level
  • Plan Your Trip For Your Best Chances
  • Capture Your Surroundings
  • Take Interesting Shots
  • Feel Free To Use Automatic Mode

1. Have Some Patience

Both nature and the weather can be unpredictable so it may take some time before you get the shots that you want.

You may not even get them the first time you head out to a certain spot but do prepare yourself to come out again and do not get too disheartened if you did not see the wildlife you want to.

Be versatile with the subjects that you want to capture as it may be a while before you see one of them while they will be interesting sights to snap away at.

If you have spent enough time in one spot, feel free to take a short walk to somewhere else if you feel like time is getting away from you.

You could find yourself up early enough in the morning to be out there at the crack of dawn. As long as you are in position at first light, you should see wildlife going about their morning without them feeling like they are being watched, only they are, by you.

Should you be using a photography hide then make a full day of it, from dawn until dusk. If you cannot guarantee you can stay there all day, plan to arrive before sunset as it will be far easier to see certain wildlife.

2. Take Plenty Of Photos

Be aware that you may not get that ideal shot right away so take plenty of photos, all in quick succession. Wildlife will tend to be on the move so that should mean taking plenty of photos in succession and then singling out the best ones.

You could even do that while you wait for the next subject to arrive into view. Be aware that you may need hundreds of shots and only a handful will turn out just as you want them to.

3. Deal With Low Light

Dealing with low light is a key aspect of wildlife photography as it tends to be the best conditions for spotting wildlife. That means being in your desired spot at dawn and dusk, just when the sun is coming up and down.

It can be challenging as you will need to keep your shutter speed high to make sure that your shots do not suffer from motion blur or camera shake.

It may be obvious but wildlife tends not to stand still in the open and certainly not stand out. Most of the time, you will find yourself shooting into shaded areas, under trees, and into areas where you can barely see with your naked eye.

Make sure that your shutter speed is right as it can be incredibly frustrating to know that you have spent hours for a certain animal to make an appearance only to suffer from motion blur. 

Learning to deal with low light should mean getting familiar with your ISO speed. As the light becomes lower, you should find yourself adjusting it more often to increase your chances of a good shot.

With an increased ISO value, the sensor in your camera will become increasingly sensitive to light yet you may find more digital noise. It’s largely about finding a balance that works for you and the shots that you want to take. 

There is a huge range of cameras out there and if you choose to get involved in wildlife photography then the ISO speed becomes key. That speed needs to be as high as necessary yet as low as you can go.

The more pricey cameras will have reduced digital noise at those top ISO levels so learn to appreciate how far your camera can go. Remember, you can always turn down your shutter speed or make sure to use image stabilization. 

4. Learn How To Take A Sharp Image

Though you may be far away from your chosen subject that does not mean that you necessarily need to use your zoom. Stop the belief that you cannot get close enough as you could always use a wider shot and keep the wildlife in focus.

Try to make the most of the situation that you have in front of you and decide on a shot that takes in the whole surroundings rather than using the zoom. 

Instead of using the zoom, stick to the factors that will increase your photograph’s sharpness. That could be a stain on the lens’ glass, a very high f-number that can play havoc with your camera’s aperture, or a shutter speed that is way too slow.

You may even be using the incorrect focus mode though this is another aspect of wildlife photography that you can hone up over time. 

5. Make Sure You Research Your Desired Subject

If you are out to photograph a specific subject then do your research first. They may only come out to certain areas at certain times of day and at certain times of the year.

Get to know their lifestyle, their lifecycle, and habits so you have the best chance of seeing them in the wild.

You may even want to check the latest weather forecast to ensure that the conditions prove favorable and if you see a park warden, try asking them. 

Take the time to find out about your desired wildlife subjects as it will be time well spent. Simply going into their natural habitat blind without knowing where they will be and when will likely end in disappointment.

Failing to know enough about your subject will likely end badly as you will not know enough about their expected behavior.

For certain shots, you will have to appreciate how an animal moves. For instance, a bird will learn forward just a little bit just before it is about to take flight.

Common behaviors are worth researching as you will know when a certain action is about to occur. Train your eye to know when an animal is about to strike a pose and you could get an exceptionally rewarding shot. 

6. Learn Some Fieldcraft

Be wary that fieldcraft is another of those aspects of wildlife photography that you will gain over time. Just as learning the settings of your camera or researching the local area, it is all part of the process.

The art of fieldcraft is to work effectively with and in nature so that you fail to disturb the natural habitat. 

On a general level, it means being as discreet and quiet as possible yet maintaining a high situational awareness. Once your fieldcraft skills begin to improve then you should find that more wildlife stays in the shot and fewer animals run away. 

7. Commit To Good Ethics

A large part of wildlife photography is simply paying homage to the local wildlife and their environment. Essentially, you are imposing yourself on their local habitat so pay your respects and commit to good ethics.

Any wildlife photographer should have an ethical approach to their craft as disturbing the wildlife and the environment for a shot is not acceptable and may prevent you from returning.

Learn to respect the land and the space that wildlife inhabits.

Try to imagine that you are working with the animals to showcase their lives, not simply achieving some wildlife shots. Should you accidentally disturb the wildlife while you are gaining your shot then try to excuse yourself.

That could mean stepping on a branch and scaring them away which is perfectly fine, it happens. Just make sure that you back away and ensure that it does not happen again, that shows your commitment to good ethics. 

8. Come Equipped With Local Knowledge

Knowledge is key to wildlife photography (see also: The Best Gear For Wildlife Photography)so ask the locals what you should expect to photograph and when the best time to arrive is.

These individuals will know the local area and can appreciate it when someone asks for advice and be happy to share their wisdom with you.

You may also find out that you need certain permission to get yourself into different parts of the local area. It may also be the case that the locals will tell you what they have seen recently and, more importantly, where and when. 

9. Appreciate The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds relates to all different types of photography, certainly wildlife photography. This is one of the key rules to learn so get practising as it can prove to be crucial.

Split each scene into grids, three by three, and place your wildlife subject at one intersection.

It helps to have your wildlife subject looking into space so that your final shot does not look too cramped but do remember that rules are there to be broken too so take plenty of shots. 

10. Shoot Your Shots At Eye Level

Once you get accustomed to your surroundings and the camera you are using, you should feel more comfortable shooting at eye level. That may still mean crouching down depending on the wildlife that you want to capture.

There sure is a difference between capturing a squirrel and a moose so try to wear some waterproof clothing. Once you can gain the same level as your subject, your photographs should dramatically change.

11. Plan Your Trip For Your Best Chances

There is always an aspect of planning behind getting the best chances of capturing wildlife. That could mean for the season, the weather, or the area but also your own equipment.

For instance, there is nothing more embarrassing than arriving at your desired spot, seeing the wildlife you want to capture, and not having any battery left.

You could even be low on available shots to take so make sure you recharge your batteries and have enough memory for a worthwhile trip. 

12. Capture Your Surroundings

It could take hours before you see some interesting wildlife so take the time to capture your surroundings. This could be some wildflowers that come into view or some creepy crawlies that lie under stones or logs.

Even a close shot of the underside of a leaf could prove interesting to a wide range of people. Keep looking for shots in your immediate surroundings that look tantalizing yet try not to disturb the wildlife itself when doing so.

13. Take Interesting Shots

Some photographs have a different appeal to different people. While you may imagine that an action shot of a rare species has the most appeal, a sharp shot of a rare plant has its own audience.

If you believe that the shot in your viewfinder has some appeal then take the shot, you may regret it when you tell others of what you saw and you do not have the evidence of it.

Certainly, make sure that you take photographs of things that interest you, even if it means venturing out of your comfort zone from time to time. 

14. Feel Free To Use Automatic Mode

The last tip is quite a simple one and may go against some advice that you have been given. A lot of wildlife enthusiasts find it too easy to click onto automatic mode as it goes against their beliefs.

However, automatic mode is there to help beginners to get the best shots while they learn the ropes of wildlife photography.

With time, you will learn how to use the settings to get the perfect shot yet that takes practice so capture those quick shots in automatic mode for now.

You may even be tempted to use your smartphone while you learn how to make the most out of wildlife photography, and that’s also fine.

Above all, you may feel more confident and comfortable with the phone that you use every day and already know the settings. A clip-on lens can help you experiment with certain shots and you can always use the editing software in post-production.

Plus, using your smartphone should mean that those captured shots are so much easier to share too. 

Final Thoughts

Though it may take all day, and maybe even several days, to get the shots that you want, wildlife photography can be incredibly fulfilling.

It can be daunting at first so be patient and learn to understand the capabilities of your camera to make the most out of it. Ensure that you always learn to research your subjects and the local areas that you decide to put yourself in.

Finally, make sure you carry out all the necessary preparation as you can soon have a wasted trip if you fail to charge up your equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Best Time Of Day For Wildlife Photography?

You should find yourself getting up early and coming back late to get the best shots. That is because low light is ideal for wildlife photography so first light at dawn and the last light at dusk is ideal.

The most magical light occurs just prior to sunrise and then returns just prior to sunset. This is when you can see the best color from animals, their shadows are further away, and birds are at their most active.

How Do Beginners Practise Their Wildlife Photography?

Learning from every shoot is essential to improve when it comes to wildlife photography. That should mean getting in close and improving your fieldcraft so you are not relying on a zoom.

Getting in lots of practice is important as is looking out for composition and working out the depth of your field. Take the time to capture the golden hour yet also practise the rule of thirds. 

Laura McNeill
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