Capturing images of mammals in their natural habitat is a very challenging type of photography – but also one of the most rewarding.
Some of the most beautiful (and most amusing) photographs come from wildlife photography but it’s one of the hardest types of photography to get right.
If you want to try your hand at wildlife photography but you are not sure where to start, then here is a great guide to help you out. Here, we will cover various aspects you need to consider in wildlife photography.
This way, you can begin capturing amazing shots of mammals in their natural habitats – so check out the guide below, and good luck!
Photographing Mammals: The Basics
Before we get into the technical and creative side of mammal photography, it’s important to cover the generic basics guidelines and rules first. Carefully consider the information below.
Do Your Research
To capture your mammal photographs, you will first need to find your mammals and this can require a lot of research. It’s not as easy as just heading outdoors and hoping the mammals you want to photograph cross your path.
You will need to do your research to learn more about how you can find them. This part of the process is typically the longest and most difficult of wildlife photography as you really need to know the animals you hope to photograph.
For example, trying to take a picture of a bear during hibernation season is going to be almost impossible (see also “How To Photograph Bears“). You are hardly going to see them roaming around the forest when they should be deep in sleep.
The same goes for nocturnal mammals – good luck trying to find them during the day! So, before you grab your camera and head outdoors, sit down and do your research first!
This way, you will have a much better chance of finding the mammals to capture their image! Here are some things for you to consider and research:
- Behavioral Patterns – Knowing when your mammals are up and about will increase your chance of finding them!
- Mammal Diet – Most mammals leave their homes in search of food so knowing where their food source is will help you find them.
- Mammal Locations – Lots of mammals roam around so there could be miles and miles of land for you to cover.
- Tidal Times – This is specifically for aquatic mammals like seals or walruses.
Wild animals are unpredictable and going in search of them can put you in the path of danger. So, it’s important to be sensible and keep your distance. You should also learn what to do if a mammal approaches you so you can keep yourself completely safe.
No photograph, no matter how good it is, is worth your life. As a result, you need to do your research (again) and learn some basic survival tips, dress appropriately, always check the weather, and keep your distance from any wild animals.
Camera Technicalities For Photographing Mammals
Once you are ready to head out into the wild to find your mammals, your next step is to get your camera ready. Here are some adjustments you should make to your camera to help you get the best possible shots.
Use A Long Lens
Wild mammals are pretty unpredictable but most of the time, they are shy – and they’ll flee from you rather than attack. This means that if you want to get the perfect shot while staying safe, you will need to keep your distance from most mammals.
As a result, the best lenses to use for photographing mammals are long lenses and zoom lenses. Long lenses allow you to take photographs of a subject that is far away. The subject will take up a larger part of the photograph so it appears closer.
It also can cut out a lot of elements – so you end up with a wildlife photograph instead of a generic nature scenery photography (see also “Best Lenses For Nature Photography“). They can also help you capture great features of the mammal in better detail – like their teeth, their eyes, or the pattern on their fur.
They’re also more practical as they allow you to keep a good distance from the mammal so both remain safe and destressed. Because of this, a lot of mammal photographs are done with long lenses.
Shorter Lenses Can Work Too
In certain situations, a shot lens or wide-angle lens can bring some variety to your portfolio while keeping the subject matter in focus. They tend to work best for confident mammals that are more at ease with humans at a closer distance.
For example, on some safaris, you can get within 25 feet of predators like lions and cheetahs – and this is a great opportunity to take some short lens shots!
This allows you include a wider background while keeping focus on your subject. This additional scenery can enhance the beauty of your photographs but using them is limited due to circumstances.
Narrow Vs Wide Aperture
The main subject of your photograph is the mammal and to help emphasize this, using a wide aperture is a great option. Both the background and foreground flora will be washed out and diffused, allowing the mammal to stand out as the main subject.
However, a wide aperture is not always the best option for your subject. Sometimes, a wide aperture can miss out on key features of the mammal itself.
For example, if you capture an image of a mammal face on, the tips of its nose and muzzle may be out of focus due to the wide aperture.
The rule of thumb with shutter speed is that you should be as fast as the length of your lens. For moving mammals, a fast shutter speed will help you get a sharper image.
However, using a slower shutter speed can create motion blur but sometimes, this can work in your favor. Blur can breathe life and movement into your images, making them more dynamic and real.
It can capture the speed of mammals like deer or cheetahs, or the movement of water as a bear wades through a river.
Composition Tips For Photographing Mammals
Now, let’s talk composition. You can’t rely on your camera to do all of the work. You need to use your photography skills to expertly use your camera to get some amazing photographs. Here are some tips to help you out.
The best wildlife photographs are the ones that make a connection between the mammal and the viewer (that’s us). A great way to do this is by getting down low so we are at eye level with the subject mammal.
This builds a stronger connection between us and the animal and puts us in a perspective much closer to their own.
Focus On The Eyes
One of the best things about photographing mammals is that it’s easier to build a connection between us humans and the subject mammal in the photograph.
This is because of the eyes – mammals have eyes that are a lot more similar to our own, especially when compared to fish and reptiles. This makes them more expressive and relatable. As the photographer, you will want to make these eyes as sharp as possible.
Ensure they are in focus. This can be difficult (especially as wild mammals will be on the move) but aiming the camera for the eyes or on the area of the face around the eyes is a good way to ensure you capture them.
We hope this guide has helped you learn how to take better photographs of mammals in their natural habitat.
From finding your mammals to using the right lens, there are lots of factors to consider when trying out wildlife photography. So, follow the advice and guidance in the article above – and good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you don’t want to risk taking photographs of wild mammals, then most zoos are happy for you to take photographs of their mammal inhabitants as long as you keep your distance and respect the rules.
You will also likely need to make changes to your camera’s settings to get better pictures. Photographing animals in zoos has its benefits.
For example, it’s much safer and easier to do, you are guaranteed some beautiful mammal photographs, and you can get a little bit closer than you could in the wild.
However, some photographers prefer capturing mammals in their natural habitat, exhibiting their daily behaviors, as it feels more authentic. Photographs of animals in controlled areas also mean that the photograph does not count as nature or wildlife photography.
A lot of people mix up wildlife and nature photography but the difference between them is pretty easy to understand.
Wildlife photography specifically focuses on capturing photographs of wild animals, botany, or marine life in their natural environments exhibiting their usual behaviors.
It falls under the nature photography umbrella which also includes landscape photography (photographs of natural sceneries and objects like beaches, mountains, waterfalls, trees, etc.), macro photography (photographs of flowers, insects, and other small types of flora and fauna), and more.
However, wildlife photography specifically focuses on the animals as the subject of the shot. Nature photography is specifically defined as photography that captures natural landscapes, phenomena, formations, and subjects. They do not include any human or human elements like buildings or roads.