Images of wildlife make up a significant portion of award-winning photography. This is not surprising, as there is something fascinating about the way that animals interact with both the natural world and the human world.
If you want to take amazing wildlife photographs, however, there are some things you should know. Photographing animals in their natural habitats or interacting with the human world takes patience and preparation.
Here are the 10 best wildlife photography tips and ideas to help you capture some incredible shots of wildlife today!
1. Prepare For Low Light
This depends on what kind of wildlife you’re planning to photograph, but it’s important to remember that many animal species are nocturnal, or will wait until dark to come out into the open.
Even non-animal forms of wildlife, like fungi, are often found in darker areas of nature.
Because of this, you will need to prepare yourself and your camera for low light conditions. That might mean bringing a flashlight with you, but most importantly, it involves adjusting your camera settings.
Lowering your shutter speed will allow more light into the camera, but this can be tricky if you’re trying to photograph a moving subject. Instead, we recommend widening your aperture and increasing your ISO.
2. Don’t Pass Up Small Opportunities
We get it: everyone wants to get that incredible picture of a gorilla or a pack of wolves when they start taking wildlife photos. However, these opportunities are few and far between, and they’re not necessary if your goal is to capture wonderful images of wildlife.
Don’t pass up on the small or ‘average’ photo opportunities that present themselves. The tiniest forms of wildlife, like insects (see also “How To Photograph Fireflies“), can make for fascinating photographs.
Get down low to the ground and look closer, and you’ll find that the natural world is full of perfect moments for wildlife photography.
3. You Don’t Always Have To Zoom Or Approach
While we’re on the subject of getting up close, it’s important to note that zooming all the way in on a subject or approaching it directly isn’t always necessary. In fact, trying to do so could ruin your chances of an amazing picture.
Wildlife can move quickly, so you may not have time to zoom in or get closer if you want to get that shot. Similarly, if you try to get too close, you could scare the animal away.
Sometimes, it’s better to work with the frame you already have and embrace the surroundings.
4. Incorporate The Rule Of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a good rule to follow for many kinds of photography, and it applies when photographing wildlife.
In case you’re not familiar, this is a type of composition that means you place your subject inside one third of the frame (usually the third on either side, rather than in the middle), leaving the rest of the frame to either negative space or other background elements.
With that being said, you don’t need to stick to the rule of thirds, or any rule at all, for every image. Don’t be afraid to experiment – just keep the fundamentals of composition in mind. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
5. Aim For Eye Level
Wherever possible, try to take pictures of wildlife at eye level. This will probably involve getting close to the ground.
The reason we recommend aiming for eye-level photographs of wildlife is that the sense of eye contact helps to convey more of a connection between the animal in the photograph and the person viewing it.
Another reason is that by getting to eye level, you’re ensuring a clear and proportional shot of the animal you’re photographing, as opposed to a shot from above or below, which may sacrifice the animal’s features and expression.
6. Make Use Of Foliage
It’s easy to get so focused on capturing the animal in your frame that you forget to use the elements surrounding it. One of the most common background elements in wildlife photography is foliage, but this can apply to any habitat.
This point somewhat links back to our suggestion that zooming in or approaching your subject isn’t always needed.
The environment surrounding your subject can add a lot to your image. For instance, it portrays that animal’s natural habitat, and provides opportunities for interaction between your subject and the natural world.
Foliage and other aspects of the natural world, such as trees, flowers, and water, also provide an opportunity for more depth in your photograph.
7. Try Some Backlit Shots
Some of the most striking wildlife photographs are backlit. Backlighting in photography means that the primary source of light is coming from behind the subject.
This type of lighting serves many purposes, including making the image appear more three-dimensional and creating more atmosphere.
Backlighting can be difficult to set up or plan for, but if you find yourself shooting into the light, don’t be afraid of the glare.
Just widen your aperture, set your ISO to roughly 100, and experiment with shutter speed. The lower your shutter speed, the more light will come in through your lens.
8. Choose Personality Over Aesthetic
The best pictures of wildlife showcase an animal’s authentic personality. It can be tempting as a photographer to take yourself very seriously and try to only get shots of wildlife looking majestic and aesthetically pleasing.
However, while there is certainly value to images like this, they often aren’t as interesting to look at.
If you’re trying to get a picture of a fox, for example, but it keeps rolling around on the ground rather than sitting tall and proud like you hoped, don’t be discouraged.
Instead, work with it! Your image will be more authentic, even if it doesn’t line up with the aesthetic or symbolism you had in mind.
9. Work With The Weather
Weather is another factor of wildlife photography that photographers often try to resist, but again, you should try to work with it when you can.
Downpours of rain might mean that you need to bring waterproof coverage for your equipment, and it might also mean that your photographs look different from what you planned.
However, this can be a blessing in disguise. For example, rain brings many species of insects, amphibians, and reptiles out of their hiding places (see also “Reptile Photography Techniques For Beginners“).
Additionally, gloomy or rainy weather can actually make your wildlife photography more unique and atmospheric.
10. Seek Out Patterns
One of the most beautiful things about wildlife and nature is the patterns you can find in it. For example, if you look at a flock of birds flying overhead, you’ll notice that they move in a formation, creating interesting shapes and visuals.
This applies not only to animals, but also to other aspects of wildlife. Leaves on a tree might look randomly spaced out at first, but when you look closer, you might notice a pattern.
This is yet another lesson in looking closer when photographing wildlife. You might be surprised by what you find when you take the time to stop and look.
Wildlife photography can be one of the most fun and rewarding areas of photography. The tips and ideas in this guide should help you to seize opportunities as they present themselves and take some unique and visually pleasing pictures of wildlife.