Wildlife photography can result in some of the most stunning photographs in your portfolio, but they aren’t easy to capture.
Animals are notoriously flighty and will run off the moment they sense your presence – so, you can’t exactly walk straight up to a herd of deer and expect them to stay still while you take their picture.
On top of that, it can be pretty dangerous to get too close to an animal in case they turn and fight you instead. So, if you want to get close to a wild mammal for photos, (see also: The Best Settings For Mammal Photos) you need to move carefully.
Check out the guide below for more detail and advice on what to do to capture some truly amazing mammal photographs!
Step 1: Research The Mammals You Want To Photograph
The first step in wildlife photography is usually the longest and most complicated step – research the species you want to photograph.
Researching the mammals you hope to photograph will allow you to locate them and understand their behavioral patterns a lot better. For example:
- Are they more active during the day, night, or early morning?
- Where is their main source of food?
- Do they stick to the same territories or do they roam around?
This will make it much easier for you to find them and move in close for that perfect picture.
Step 2: Get The Right Gear
To get closer to your subjects, you will want to blend in as much as possible with the landscape. This means avoiding any bright or colorful clothing that can make you easy to pick out and instead wearing camouflage.
You don’t necessarily need to go all out with camouflage netting and such but wearing green, gray, or beige clothing and bringing something to help hide your photography gear and equipment will make a huge difference.
Another option open to you is blinds. These are kind of like pop-up tents covered with camouflage where you can sit hidden until your subjects come closer.
This will require you to head to your spot early and stay there pretty much all day – but it’s a great way to hide from skittish or shy wildlife to get those perfect shots.
Step 3: Stealth Mode
If you want to scootch a little closer to your subjects, then you will need to move very slowly and very carefully.
Stealth isn’t easy and it’s much harder to do successfully when the things you are trying to creep up on have much better sight, hearing, and sense of smell than you. However, it’s not impossible to creep up on some animals. Here are some great tips on how to do just that:
- Stick close to the ground. You are likely taller than most mammals and trying to approach at your normal height will make you much easier to spot (especially for small mammals like foxes, rabbits, etc). Move slowly and stay down low.
- Stay quiet. This tip may seem obvious but it’s the hardest one to achieve. It’s so easy to make sounds while you move so try and wear clothing that doesn’t create unwanted noises (like waterproof materials, denim, etc) and watch where you are walking. Avoid twigs, leaves, etc. You should also consider your camera. Modes like burst mode can create a lot of noise which some animals may pick up!
- Zig-zag. Approaching in a straight line may be the quickest way for you but that’s how all predators go for their prey. Approaching in a zig-zag pattern will help any mammals think you’re less of a threat.
- Approach from downwind. This way, the mammal is less likely to catch your scent. You should also avoid wearing any perfumes, deodorant, or anything that creates a strong smell.
- Try moving when an animal is feeding. This works great with grazing mammals like deer because they are often feeding. When a mammal is feeding, their guard is a little lower – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on the watch for predators.
- Freeze! Whenever a mammal raises their head and starts to look around, stay completely still. Don’t be tempted to dive or drop to the ground in an effort to hide – they will see the movement and flee!
Step 4: Keep Your Distance
This step may sound counterproductive but it’s also the most important – always stay a safe, reasonable distance away from the subject.
This is not only for your own safety but for the mammals’ too! Plus, if you risk getting too close, the risk of you being spotted and your subjects turning and fleeing increases. So, you need to be prepared to remain a good distance away from the subjects.
This doesn’t mean that all your photographs are stuck with being landscape or wide shots. You just need to bring the right lenses to get the perfect close up of your subject even from far away! As a result, your camera needs to be set to take long-distance photographs.
Step 5: Get Your Camera Wildlife Ready
Here are some great ways to prepare your camera so it’s ready to capture some amazing photographs despite the distance between you and the subjects:
Use Long Lenses
Long lenses are the key to getting photographs of mammals that look like they were taken in much closer proximity to the subject than they were. This way, you can keep a safe distance and still get amazing photographs for your portfolio.
Most wildlife photographs use lenses between 200mm and 400mm focal length. You can choose between fixed focal length lenses or zoom lenses.
Zoom lenses are more popular because they are more flexible and allow you to take photographs of subjects closer and farther away. This kind of range makes it much easier to capture photographs of mammals on the move.
Alternatively, you can use a teleconverter to increase the focal length of your camera’s existing lens. They are a much more affordable option.
Choose A Wide Aperture
A wide aperture with a low f-stop number is generally considered to be the best option for wildlife photography, including wild mammal photography. This is because it blurs the background and foreground so the mammal is clearly the main focus of the photograph.
When shooting wildlife, the mammals can sometimes bend into their surroundings and be difficult to pick out in highly detailed photography. Wide apertures solve this so you can clearly spot, for example, a deer among the trees or a lion lying in a field of grass.
Opt For A Faster Shutter Speed
The general rule of thumb for cameras and shutter speeds is to choose a shutter speed that is the same as your lens. For example, if you are using a 500mm lens, your shutter speed would be 1/500th of a second.
However, the faster the shutter speed, the sharper your pictures will be. This is important for avoiding motion blur in your photographs.
Mammals are hardly going to stay still and pose for you so you will need a fast shutter speed (around1/500th of a second for moving mammals, and 1/1000th of a second for running).
If you want to keep the motion blur for dynamic effect, then just lower your shutter speed.
So, it’s important to keep your distance from mammals while you capture their image with your camera.
You still need to find them first so use the information above (like how to locate mammals, what gear you will need, and how to approach quietly) so you can get into position to take some amazing mammal photographs!
We hope this guide was insightful and good luck with your future mammal photography endeavors!
Frequently Asked Questions
When taking wildlife photos, some animals (be they mammals or otherwise) may approach the photographer just because they are curious.
Some animals are not a threat but even when they approach a photographer, most photographers will just ignore them – why is that?
It‘s because photographers don’t want to change the animal’s behavior towards humans.
For most wild animals, humans are actually a threat. If photographers interact positively with an animal, the animal may become too comfortable with other humans – even the hunters.
This can have a huge impact on their survival and so, it’s important to not show affection or feed wild animals when they approach you.
Most animals can be dangerous to photographers as even herbivores like deer or moose can turn and attack a photographer if they sense they are a threat. Predators like big cats or dogs can also turn and attack photographs if they spot them.
This is why it’s important to keep a safe distance from the subject. On top of this, wildlife photographers can get lost, injure themselves from falling, or get caught in bad weather while out capturing photographs.
So, yes, wildlife photography can be dangerous but if you stay properly prepared and well away from the subjects of your photographs, you should be able to keep yourself safe!