10 Fundamental Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography
The key to improving your wildlife photography is learning the fundamentals and studying the professionals. Here are 10 actionable steps:
Are you interested in wildlife photography but you're not sure where to begin? The key to improving your wildlife photography is learning the fundamentals and studying the professionals. This article discusses ten fundamental tips for improving your wildlife photography, from buying a wildlife photography camera to learning about the animals you're photographing, as well as looking at examples from the photographers at Untamed Photographer. We will look at both equipment and technique:
We will include extra wildlife photography tips at the end:
Unfortunately, you can only marginally improve your wildlife photography without the right equipment. Therefore, it is wise to get the best camera for wildlife photography and the best monopod, tripod, and other equipment.
1. Buy a Good Wildlife Photography Camera:
To take good photos, you need a good camera. The best wildlife photography cameras are DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, with the best camera for wildlife photography probably being the Nikon D5. If you can't afford to buy a top-range camera, then something like the Nikon D500 is a great choice as an affordable camera for wildlife photography on a budget.
Whatever you get, you need something that's weather-sealed so that it can stand the harsh environmental conditions often experienced in nature wildlife photography. If you are planning to do marine wildlife photography, you'll also need a waterproof camera or housing.
It's essential you know how to use your camera if you want to get the most out of it, so make sure you read the manual or watch some tutorials on youtube, for example.
2. Buy The Best Lens For Wildlife Photography:
The most versatile lens for wildlife photography is a telephoto zoom lens because it gives you the flexibility to photograph animals far away or close up.
A telephoto lens is critical for wildlife photography because it allows you to photograph animals from far away, meaning you can shoot without disturbing them, away from the range of dangerous predators. (If you can't afford long lenses, you can always buy a teleconverter to give yourself more reach.)
Another lens recommended is a macro lens that allows you to take closeups of small animals and insects.
3. Buy a Monopod or Tripod for Wildlife Photography:
Long telephoto lenses can be pretty heavy, so it's crucial to have a monopod or a tripod to steady your camera. A quality tripod is especially important when shooting at low shutter speeds so you can hold your camera still for the whole exposure time.
Consider whether you want a monopod or tripod. While they are both helpful, they are different. A tripod provides more stability, whereas a monopod is a lighter and more portable option. Which one you want to use depends on your circumstances.
Whether you're buying a monopod or a tripod for wildlife photography, you want the best tripod or best monopod for wildlife photography that you can purchase. Go for something made of quality material such as aluminum or carbon. Carbon in particular is costly but it’s typically the most lightweight.
You also need to make sure you have a good tripod head. The best tripod head for wildlife photography is a gimbal head because it allows you to easily position a camera with a large telephoto lens.
4. Collect Other Equipment You Need for Wildlife Photography:
To keep your camera safe and dry, you need a camera bag or backpack. The best camera bag for wildlife photography is one that is waterproof and has plenty of space for your lenses and other equipment. You will also need some additional accessories to have the best wildlife photography experience you can have:
- A remote shutter release device: This is useful if you're going to shoot dangerous animals or to eliminate camera shake when you press the shutter.
- A sunhat, sunblock, and plenty of water: You don't want to get sunburnt, dehydrated, or suffer from heat exhaustion while photographing
- A raincoat: Choose a raincoat or poncho big enough to cover both you and your camera
- A First Aid Kit and a charged cell phone: Being prepared for emergencies in the wild is vital
If in doubt about what to bring on a nature wildlife photography trip, bring your hiking essentials.
Your technique is even more important than your equipment because it doesn't matter how fancy your gear is; if you don't know how to use it, you won't improve your wildlife photography. Here are some wildlife photography tips on technique:
5. Use The Right Camera Settings:
To improve your wildlife photography, you need to make sure you are using the proper camera settings. Here are some settings you should use:
- A fast shutter speed: Many of the animals you will shoot are moving, and you don't want to miss them because of a slow shutter speed. For a moving animal, aim for at least 1/250, though you may have to go as high as 1/1250. For flying birds, try to shoot at at least 1/1600th shutter speed.
- Aperture priority mode: Putting your camera in aperture priority mode helps ensure the correct exposure. Focusing on aperture also allows you to focus on foreground objects, like the lynxes in Colleen Gara's Ghost Cats; or, conversely, to focus on a broader landscape, like in Tony Rath's Chiquibul Macaws at Dawn, which renders the background in loving detail
- Autofocus: It's hard to focus on an animal manually, so turn on your auto-focus so that you can get a sharp shot
- If your lens has an image stabilizing switch, make sure it’s turned on
To avoid missing that perfect moment, always prepare your camera settings for shooting the subject (e.g., flying birds versus stationary mammals).
6. Learn The Rules of Composition:
Wildlife photography is an art, and so has artistic rules like any other art form. Following rules like the "rule of thirds" (i.e., splitting the photo into thirds vertically and horizontally, and positioning your subject at one of the intersections) can help you take more professional-looking photos and improve your wildlife photography.
They say practice makes perfect, and that certainly applies to wildlife photography. Practice your wildlife photography skills in locations near home (or at the zoo, which is a great place to take photos of wildlife in a controlled and safe environment) before taking yourself and your camera somewhere more challenging (and expensive).
8. Learn About The Animals You Want To Photograph:
To take good wildlife photos, you need to know where animals live, what time of the day they are out, and as much as you can about how they behave. This research is how professional photographers find animals to photograph and capture photos that show so much of those animals' personalities. For example, Filipe DeAndrade spent weeks following and getting to know the dolphins in Wild and Free before he photographed them.
9. Think About Backgrounds:
The background and scenery are almost as much a part of wildlife photography as the animals. Chiquibul Macaws at Dawn by Tony Rath shows just how much of a difference scenery can make to an image, as the stunning Chiquibul forest is as essential to the photo as the birds flying above it.
Keeping the background uncluttered is also important. When taking Silent Extinction, Arati Kumar-Rao waited until the giraffe was next to the tree before taking the photo. Chris Fallows couldn't take Grace on Granite, a striking picture of a leopard standing on a rock, until the leopard came out of the bush.
10. Have Patience:
As you might have guessed, patience is a crowning virtue in wildlife photographers who often have to wait for days to take the perfect shot. Chris Fallows nearly missed his plane trying to take Grace on Granite, and Colleen Gara took Coastal Wolf only after days of searching a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. Still, all their waiting paid off with these gorgeous photographs.
We haven't mentioned one more fundamental wildlife photography tip: respect animals and keep them safe. Animal safety is paramount to the practice of ethical wildlife photography championed by the photographers at Untamed Photographer. You should never startle, chase or bait animals or go too close to them (as that can put you or them in danger). Melissa Groo was cautious not to startle the bobcats seen in Bobcat Love, photographing them from a car, at a distance, with a long lens, and her approach is exemplary of how you should treat the animals you photograph. (Melissa Groo is also the author of a course called Bird Photography with Melissa Groo, which covers, among other things, ethics in bird photography).
With the right gear and the correct technique, you can improve your photography skills and take pride in your wildlife photography. If you need more inspiration, check out the limited-edition prints at Untamed Photographer, all of which come with a description of how professional wildlife photographers shot the photo.
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