If you’re an animal lover, you’ll probably already know that many mammals are active between dusk and dawn. As a result, most wildlife photographers have to accept the fact that they will have to take photographs in low-light conditions at some point.
This can make it incredibly difficult to capture the best photographs, particularly if you’ve never shot at night before. Let’s be honest, taking photos of mammals during the day is hard enough, never mind at night.
The fact you’ve stumbled across this post tells us that you’re struggling to take photos of mammals at night. If you are, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we’re going to share our best tips for photographing mammals at night.
We’ll tell you the most important things you need to know to capture the best photos. If that sounds good to you, stick around!
Why Is It So Hard To Take Photos Of Mammals At Night?
So, why is it so hard to take photos of mammals at night? The answer to that question is quite simple, there’s simply not enough light.
At night, there is such minimal light, that even the lowest aperture and highest ISO still isn’t usually enough. More often than not, you still require more light to take the best photographs.
In low-light conditions, common problems people face include underexposed images, blurry images, and noisy photographs.
Moving away from the gear we use to take photos with, it is also hard to take photos of mammals (see also: How To Get Close To Wild Mammals For Photos?)at night because they can be hard to find.
It can already be hard to find certain mammals during the day when the landscape is visible so low-light conditions are going to be even tougher.
Top Tips For Photographing Mammals At Night
The tips we’re going to be talking to you about are designed to help you take better photos of mammals at night. We’ll look at some of the best settings you can choose and some ideas that might help you take more creative photographs.
Let’s start with choosing the right aperture.
1. Choose The Right Aperture
When taking photos of mammals at night (see also “The Best Settings For Night Photography“), it is crucial that you use a wide aperture . In fact, it is important to use the widest aperture you possibly can. Choosing a wider aperture will let in more light which is super important for night-time photography.
The best lenses will go to an F-stop of 2.8 or even lower. This will let in a lot more light, which will in turn make it easier for you to capture a better photo.
Unfortunately, some lenses only go down to f-stop 5.6. In these instances, you will need to do something else to brighten your photos.
2. Choose The Right ISO Speed
It is also important to choose the right ISO speed when taking photos at night. ISO is arguably your camera’s most important feature for mammal photography at night as it is responsible for creating more light in your photographs.
By upping the ISO speed, we are essentially letting our camera brighten our photos with more fake light. This is a great way to lighten your image so you can see the subject better.
It is important to understand your camera’s ISO capabilities before you start shooting. Some cameras perform well with a higher ISO, while others don’t. For night photography, you need a camera that performs well with a higher ISO.
3. Choose The Right Shutter Speed
ISO and aperture work hand in hand with shutter speed to create the best photographs. Taking photos of mammals at night somewhat limits what you can do with the shutter speed as the settings you choose can impact how bright a photo is.
More often than not, you will have to use a slower shutter speed to capture photos of mammals at night as a faster shutter speed will make your image darker. Therefore, you will have to hold your camera very steady to reduce vibrations which cause blur.
If your subject isn’t moving, you can use a slower shutter speed. While it may not be ideal, people have been known to use a shutter speed of just 1/60th at night.
4. Zoom Out
Most wildlife photographers use zoom lenses to capture close-ups of mammals. While it can be tempting to use them at night too, we don’t recommend it. We’d actually recommend the opposite.
Instead of zooming in on your subject, at night, zoom out instead. If you use a zoom lens with a variable aperture range, your maximum aperture is when your lens is fully zoomed out.
Therefore, zooming out will let more light in. As we mentioned earlier, by letting in more light, you brighten up your photos.
5. Take Silhouette Shots Instead
Taking photos of mammals at night that have lots of detail can be challenging if you don’t have much experience. While we’d always recommend giving it a good go, sometimes it’s better to capture something different.
A great way to capture an epic photograph of a mammal at night is to take photos of its silhouette instead.
Silhouette photographs might not have all the intricate details a close-up portrait has, but they can still create a powerful image. It’s possible to tell a story through a silhouette.
6. Take Loads Of Photos
One of the best things you can do when taking photographs of mammals at night is to take loads of photographs. Once you have all your settings optimized, make the most of your camera’s burst mode and take lots of photos.
By taking more photos, you increase the chance of taking that dreamy photograph. You also increase the number of sharp images you take.
7. Try Not To Underexpose Your Photos
It may at times feel impossible but try your best to never underexpose your photos. This will leave your photographs looking far too dark. At night, underexposed photographs might even make it impossible for you to see the mammal.
To compensate, you might have to increase your ISO to its highest setting and even use an external light source. In some instances, you might have to carry a light with you so that you don’t have to shoot in complete darkness.
8. Research Your Subject
Shooting wildlife photography, whether it be during the day or at night isn’t all about knowing how to take photographs. All the best wildlife photographers understand their subjects too.
If you go into your photography session with knowledge in regards to animal behavior, you stand a much better chance of taking awesome photographs.
Useful things to know include when your subject sleeps, where they usually hang out, how active they are at night, and how they behave at night.
A great way to learn more about different mammals is to spend time with an experienced wildlife photographer.
9. Don’t Use Light For Too Long
You must always stay respectful to the animals when taking photos at night. This includes not using light for too long.
Shooting photographs of mammals at night can be uncomfortable for nocturnal species because they aren’t used to bright light. Using an external light source is fine but keep your usage down to a minimum.
Using too much light and for too long will frighten some mammals. For others, it might even affect their night vision, making it harder for them to see where they’re going.
To avoid bothering the animals, use a quick flash and move on. You should also turn off other lights whenever you can.
10. Stay Safe
Your main priority as a wildlife photographer shouldn’t be to take the best photos. It should be to stay safe. Securing your safety is far more important than taking the best photographs.
At the end of the day, the mammals you take photos of might be fierce predators. With that in mind, make sure you have everything you need to stay safe and never travel without an experienced guide.
This is even more important at night because it can be hard to see where you’re going and what’s around you.
Other things you can do to ensure your safety include securing a permit, taking security with you, and traveling in a group.
That concludes this guide looking at our top tips for photographing mammals at night. Taking good photographs of mammals during the day is hard enough, so taking them at night is even more difficult.
However, there are certain things we can do to make it easier. We’ve shown you some of the best things you can do, for example choosing the right ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
We’ve even given you some neat ideas you can try to capture more unique photographs. Now you have these tips at your fingertips, why don’t you put them into practice and take lots of photographs?
Frequently Asked Questions
Good places to take photos of mammals at night include game reserves in Africa and national parks in America. In all honesty, there isn’t just one place that makes a good setting for mammal photography at night.
Generally speaking, a good ISO setting for animal photography is 400 to 800. However, you will probably have to up your ISO settings at night.