Techniques For Photographing Wildlife At Different Times Of Day

If you are a budding photographer, or looking to try your hand at wildlife photography, then you may be unsure what time of day and which techniques to use. We can help you. 

Techniques for Photographing Wildlife at Different Times of Day

As experienced photographers, we have tried a range of different types of photography. Wildlife photography is one of the more difficult aspects of the profession.

This is because you have to be quick on your feet, know your camera settings inside and out, and be careful not to startle the wildlife and scare away your subject! 

Wildlife photography, of course, is also outdoors. This means that you have to work with the natural lighting and weather conditions, no matter what time of day it is.

You could have a wild animal stumble into your midst, and you need to be ready to take a shot that is clear, well composed and attractive to the eye. 

In this guide, we will go over the best times of the day for photographing wildlife, and some of the most useful techniques that you can incorporate into your images.

Read on to find out everything that you need to know!

What Is The Best Time Of Day To Photograph Wildlife?

It is hard to definitively say which time of day is best for photographing wildlife, as it depends on the animals you want to take pictures of.

For instance, some may be nocturnal, and some may be harder to come across than others- in which case you will just have to take the photo as soon as you spot them!

That being said, most photographers prefer to work very early in the morning, before the sun has completely risen, and just before the sun sets or just after it does. 

The perfect time for photographing wildlife is at sunset, or during golden hour, as there will be beautiful hues of gold, yellow or orange.

At sunset, you can also cast shadows and photograph silhouettes of the animals and wildlife, or capture the natural beauty of the scene around you.  

Choosing to shoot just before sunset or just as the sun is rising ensures that you have great light, but not too much lighting that would cause harsh lines and shadows.

The light is far enough from your subject, and most animals are the most active during this time.

What Is The Worst Time Of Day To Photograph Wildlife?

The midday sun is widely regarded as the worst time of day to photograph wildlife, as it is the brightest part of the day, and you will be shooting outdoors (see also “What’s The Best Time To Take Photos Outside?“).

This means that you will be largely using natural lighting, and this kind of sun can cast harsh shadows, and make it hard to manipulate light.

It can overexpose your subject, cause glare on your lens, and all sorts of problems. If you’re unsure when this time of day is, it is when the sun is directly overhead.

This can cast light downwards onto your subject, and make it harder to illuminate detail. You will be left with lots of shadows instead. 

It is far better and easier to shoot when there is less light, such as earlier in the morning, or around sunset, and after the sun has set. The wildlife will still be illuminated, but you can manipulate this light, and have softer shadows instead. 

Techniques For Photographing Wildlife 

There are many tricks and techniques you can incorporate into your wildlife photography, to make the most of the moment. Here are some of our best. 

Pay Attention To Lighting

Lighting is your best friend as a photographer. We prefer to use golden hour for wildlife photography- this is the first hour of light and the last hour of light in the days.

This type of lighting is soft in tone, diffused, and the height of the sun does not negatively impact your images. 

The wildlife will be beautifully lit, and there is no overexposure or underexposure- so you can capture all of the details.

The sun will also be relatively low in the sky, meaning that the wildlife will be more evenly illuminated. 

To achieve this in your images, you will need to get up very early to shoot in morning light.

You also have to give yourself time to get to your shooting location and find the subjects, before the sun is too high in the sky, or before it has already set too long ago and it has gotten too dark.

Consider The Weather Conditions

Another important factor is the weather. You have to check your local weather stations or phone apps before planning a shoot.

For most photographers, an overcast day is better for shooting animals that live on the ground, whereas if you want to capture birds, then a gray or white sky can make it hard to capture the details of the birds. 

You should also be prepared to venture out in the rain or snow and wind, as animals do not stay undercover in these conditions like we do.

Rainy days can bring out details on the animals- their fur is furrowed and textured, and you can capture the rain running off them. 

You can get some great images of animals in their natural habitats, living as normal in all weather conditions, so don’t just stick to bright, clear days.

Be Prepared For Low Light Conditions

In many cases, you could be shooting from an animal’s habitat. This could be under the cover of trees, or late at night.

Be prepared for low light conditions, so try using faster shutter speeds to capture the movement and detail in these cases. You will also need to adjust your ISO settings as light dims.

With a higher ISO, your camera can sense more light, but you will have more noise in your images. 

If you don’t want a high ISO for noise, then you can lower your shutter speed, but it depends on how much motion blur you want.

A tripod can also help limit camera shake when shooting in these conditions.

Use Fast Shutter Speeds

To capture animals on the move, you have to use faster shutter speeds. Try using speeds of 1/250 or 1/500 and faster for the best results. 

Incorporate The Surroundings

Many wildlife photographers think that they need to zoom in on the animals to capture the details and have a great shot, but you can incorporate their surroundings to show the animal in its natural environment.

This can add more of a story and background to your image.

Practice Your Stealth Skills

One thing we cannot forget about is your stealth skills. Shooting images of wildlife takes practice, as you may create noise or disturb the animals, and they could scatter.

You have to try a few times to learn how to avoid spooking the animals or disturbing them. 

Use The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most used compositional techniques. This involves placing your subject a third of the way into your images.

You have the subject on one of the intersecting lines to add a focal point and interest to your images.

Shoot At Eye Level To Your Subject

You can also try shooting at eye level to your subject. This can really place the audience in the scene, and make them feel part of the image.

The perspective is different, and the person looking at the photograph is on the same level as the subject. This can create a more captivating image. 

Top Tips For Wildlife Photography

We also have some tips for you to get the most out of your images! 

Use A Longer Lens

Longer lenses can help you take photos from further away so that you are not too close to the animals. This should ensure that you are not disturbing them.

Many wildlife photographers prefer to use lenses that have a 200-400mm focal length. You can also use zoom lenses as you can alter the focal length yourself. 

Shoot With A Mid-Range ISO

A mid-range ISO can be helpful in most lighting situations. This can give you the opportunity to use fast shutter speeds, and prevent motion blur. 

Try Autofocus

Autofocus can be really helpful, as animals move quickly. When one does come into view, you will have to be quick to capture them. So, autofocus can help you take photographs in just a few seconds. 

You can either select a focal point to decide what the camera will focus on when you press the shutter halfway, or use a continuous focus mode. In this mode, the camera can help you capture images of fast moving animals. 

Be Patient!

Finally, you have to be patient. Animals may not always be active or come out ready for your photographs, so you have to bide your time and be quick when they do come into your midst.

Most of the time, you may be waiting for hours before wildlife comes out into the open. So, always be ready- but be patient! 


To summarize, wildlife photography can be really rewarding. You can capture animals in their natural habitats and freeze their motion in time. However, you have to be aware of the right times to photograph them.

Be sure to check when the particular animals are most active, and try to shoot when the sunlight and natural lighting is not too strong or harsh.

Laura McNeill
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