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Getting Successful Wildlife Photos

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)

Keywords: connie_cassinetto, wildlife, via_the_lens, birds

I started taking photography seriously in 2008 and enrolled in a black & white film class at my local junior college, which I found fun but challenging.  One month into the class there was a family emergency and I was unable to start my photography journey again until 2010, when I enrolled in the beginning black and white film course at my local college once more.  Since then, I have moved forward with enthusiasm and a thirst for all types of photography knowledge and experience and have developed a real love of the challenge of photography.  

The majority of the photos I took for the first four years were landscapes, buildings, objects, etc., things that did not move.  It was challenge enough just to get the correct exposure, focus, and composition (which is still challenging at times).  I became interested in 2012 in photographing wildlife and set up a trip to South Africa in 2013, my first experience in photographing animals in the wild.  My goal for that trip was to obtain good portrait shots for the most part: I did experience taking a few shots of an animal in motion but, in general, they were not very good. 

I realized awhile later on that I liked the challenge of taking photos of wildlife and I started to put more effort into learning this type of photography.   I am no expert and still often resort to a “pray and spray” approach at times, but I do know a lot more today than I did upon starting out.  Learning to photograph animals in action takes effort, time and patience and, at some point, will result in successful action shots. 

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec at f/3.5, ISO 400. Nikon 70-200. 0EV, matrix metering.
This lion looked so majestic with his great mane of hair. The very wide open aperture allowed for a nice blurred background, something I was learning how to do at the time. At this point, I had no real idea of how to take a motion shot of an animal and was happy just to get a good shot of a wild animal at all.
Click for an enlargement


I began my journey in wildlife action-oriented photography by going to a Wildlife Refuge about 60 miles from my home to take photos of birds in flight.  I soon realized that my Nikon 70-200 simply did not have enough distance reach as the images were too small and the photos simply were not turning out as I envisioned (I also needed more experience in the field so it wasn’t just the lens!).  My search for a wildlife lens began and after a period of time I had collected three such lenses, two of them Nikon lenses and one a Tamron lens.   

The Tamron lens is a 150-600mm; the two Nikon lenses are an 80-400mm and a 200-500mm.  I also quickly realized that my Really Right Stuff B-55 tripod Ballhead was not designed for following moving wildlife around meadows!  So, more gear to buy: I picked up an Induro sidekick for the ballhead and that increased the stability of my lens greatly.  While I have used the Tamron lens hand-held, I could only do that for a very short period of time and actually have only used it hand-held once, when hiking through the woods to follow a moving moose and calf.


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Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on February 2, 2021

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hi to everyone who has answered since the last time I looked at the comments! Mike: the 200-500 lens is very nice if a bit heavy at times, but aren't they all for the most part! I'll look up the book you mention. Mel, I just pulled out the 80-400 this past weekend for some long-distance snow shots, it's a nice all-around long lens. Hope your safari is wonderful. Hi Stephen, Bo has already helped you with your request but don't be afraid to post something and ask a question, you can learn a lot that way. Let me know, too, what tips you might be interested in. Take care all, Connie.

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on January 28, 2021

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

@stephen27 - Welcome to Nikonians, Stephen! We are discussing anything and all for beginners in the "New To Photography" forum. If you have any questions there, we are answering them. We have a summary article for beginners ||||||| and this is the forum ||||||||

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on January 28, 2021

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

@mel klim - I am happy to hear that you have acquired that combo. If you have any work to share on from your Safari, please do so. We are discussing wildlife in the wildlife forum :-)

User on January 28, 2021

Hi, Warm greetings from Singapore. Can somebody point me to the correct place where the discussions are more on photography tips for Beginners like me please? Thank you.

Mel Lim (mel_klim) on January 28, 2021

I'm encouraged to see the use of the Nikon 80-400mm lens. I bought the D7200 and 80-400mm combo for our first African Safari. I like the 80-400mm for its wide range as I read that many of the wildlife are not far from the safari vehicle. Thanks for the excellent article.

Mike Friel (thaigah) on December 8, 2018

Connie, Just got a 200-500mm zoom, and enjoyed reading your article very much. Like you, I learned a lot from Steve Perry's e-book. For me his best tip was on the advantages of back-button focusing (he also has a very clear YouTube video on thi. I always use it now, including for shots on Shutter Priority. But the best of all I found was in Bill Majoros' huge (and free!) online book "Secrets of Digital Bird Photography", especially the section on Postprocessing. It took my knowledge up to a new level.

John Dale (dalej1) on December 8, 2018

Connie, a very well thought out article. It hits home for me!

Chuck Vincent (Chuckv) on March 29, 2018

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

I think you covered all the points you presented very well. Some Landscape shots, fireworks shots (which I love) I can get done well. Birds in Flight I don't believe I have one shot "YET" that I really like. Job well done! Chuck

John A. Meiers (Dakotaboy) on March 18, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his efforts to make easier to reach landscape information at Nikonians

Very informative article Connie. Just got a Nikon 200-500mm. My older Sigma 150-500mm got handed down to my daughter. Looking forward to using the Nikon in the Badlands of ND. Second trip as I went there last year with the same guide. Wild horses, Buffalo's, various small birds and other critters. I will have to reread your article when I go back in June. Many Thanks

RICHARD MESSNER (5683RAM) on March 15, 2018

Fantastic summary of how it is done ! I shoot with basically the same equipment here in central PA. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Reading has the snow geese migration. Conowingo Dam in Maryland has eagles. I moved from a D200 to a D500 a year ago and still have not seen its upper limits in ISO. 400 was high with the D200 but I am very satisfied with 1000 with the D500. Aperture 5.6 works great for our deer, turkeys, etc. when focusing on the eyes. GREAT JOB !!!

User on March 14, 2018

Great article Connie. Thanks for sharing. I'm thinking of picking up a D500 and this helps my decision. I'm curious, in general, what mode do you typically set your camera in these types of wildlife shots? I could see your settings working in aperture priority, where you can set the aperture to your recommended 5.6, with auto ISO with the desired minimum shutter speed (1,000, 1,250, 2,000, etc.). I could also see using shutter priority, or even manual. I realize your approach probably varies but I am wondering if you have a "typical" mode you use. Thanks again. Matt

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on February 10, 2018

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Thank you both for your comments. I love photographing wild animals and I hope to continue the quest for these types of images this year, so far in Yellowstone (June) and Costa Rica (July).

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 10, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Very good article. Thank you for sharing your experience!

bleu Hébergement Web Maroc (Bleux) on February 9, 2018

(Edited by jrp Friday, 09 February 2018 ) Message deleted. Advertisements are not allowed at Nikonians. Message supprimé. Les publicités ne sont pas autorisées chez Nikonians.

Marsha Edmunds (meadowlark2) on February 6, 2018

Donor Ribbon awarded for her support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Fellow Ribbon awarded for her continuous encouragement and meaningful comments in the spirit of Nikonians. Donor Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for her in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Connie, I really enjoyed reading your comments and of your photography journey. Love how you keep your wits about you for observation of the animals and the constant need to be ready to change your settings.