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How-to's

10 Essential Tips & Tricks for Wildlife Photography

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: wildlife, photography, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips

(Updated 21-JAN-2021) As a former Nikonians Moderator of the Wildlife Forum, Philippe Clément, "Photophil", contributed over a long time interesting, valuable and entertaining advice. With his help we created this article back in 2003 for the attendees of the 3rd Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip, focusing on the animals we would meet at the locations we visited in the US at the time.

We have some good Wildlife Field Reports to share, written by advanced amateur photographers and professionals in our Wildlife articles.


Enjoy!
 

Got a wildlife photography question?

If you have a question on getting great images of wildlife, please post that in the  Wildlife forum.

 

Post a Wildlife Photography Question

 

Mamma Bear

Mamma Bear - 3rd ANPAT - By Tom Trujillo (tjtrujillo)

 

1. Know the fear circle of the animal. Take time and be patient.  Most animals have a "fear circle" around them. If you enter that circle, they are inclined to take flight (or fight). Unfortunately, you need to be within that fear circle in order to take frame-filling photos. So, take plenty of time, avoid eye-contact and don't approach the animal directly, Act as not being interested in them. Once you get close enough, talk to them in a calm voice. Always wait till you get "connection" with the animal, rather than shouting, as soon as it is in focus. If you want it to look into the camera lens or sit perfectly still for a moment, make a funny noise to attract its attention. With high resolution DSLR cameras, this advice is a bit moot and you can crop the heck out of your shot to get frame filling results without risking your life, or that of other people (and animals). Safety must always come first. A lot of the most interesting wildlife photographs are though taking very close to the animal. See e.g. award winning nature photographer Marsel van Oosten's (marsel) webinar where he is dug into a hole to take close ups of a Rhino.

2. Take great care about your backgrounds. Move around and shoot from various locations. Especially when working with big lenses, only stepping aside a few meters/feet can provide you with a totally different and perhaps more pleasing background.

Standing bear

3. Work on the composition if you have a short lens. Use cropping. For those with shorter focal length lenses: Making strong pictures of animals in their environment is often more challenging than shooting a frame-filler. If your subject looks small in the frame, make sure it fits in a composition of interesting shapes. Use your DSLR to the max and think how you can crop a section that makes sense.

4. Bears and many other animals can be dangerous. Especially, take great care when you approach black bears. Personally, I am more scared of the relatively smaller black bears than of the big grizzlies. They look cute, but can be very aggressive, especially when defending their young. Keep your backpack on at all times to protect your back in case of an attack. Not that I want to scare you guys but you never know. Don't drop and play dead when a black bear attacks, but fight back.

Annoyed Grizzly

5. Shoot many frames. Capturing a lot of images is cheap. Even more so now than in the old days of slide film. When you expect great action and you notice you're left with only a couple of frames on the card, don't be stingy and change card while you can. Nothing worse than having to  card in the midst of heavy action. Or carry two bodies. Get into the habit of having lots of space available on the cards prior of starting to shoot.

Pack of wolves

Taking pictures of gregarious animals, like chamois, ibex and Dall sheep is quite easy when you play it following the rules. Never approach the animals directly. Instead, let them come to you. Look from a distance which way they are going whilst grazing. Skirt around them and wait for them to approach you.

© Philippe Clement

Don't hide, it only makes them suspicious. Don't look at them, act uninterested and patiently wait while staying in full view. Slowly mount your lens on the tripod, but don't aim at them. With some luck, they come very, very close.

 

6. Prepare your exposure. If you know the photo opportunity will be brief when the lighting is tricky, work out the exposure before the animal steps into your frame.

 

© Philippe Clement

7. Moose pointing antlers at you = Back off. Back off immediately when a moose turns and points its antlers towards you. It's very important that you learn the subtle sign language of potentially dangerous animals. And never cut off an animal's escape route - for their safety and your own.
 

© Philippe Clement

8. Focus on the eyes, at least. If the light is poor and you need to shoot with your lens wide open, make sure at least the animal's eyes are in focus.  

© Philippe Clement

9. Avoid double catch lights in the subject's eyes when you use fill flash, one of the sun and one from the flash. And, an even better tip: Do not use fill flash on animals to start with. You probably mess up more with them than you think.  

© Philippe Clement

10. Shoot bracketing series. Beware of that black or white animals are difficult to expose correctly. Meter on a neutral tone like grass or rocks and if they allow you plenty of time, bracket by 1/3 stops.  

© Philippe Clement

 

 

(6 Votes )

Originally written on March 11, 2011

Last updated on January 27, 2021

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 46000 posts

1 comment

Donn Griffith (DrDonn) on August 19, 2013

Where do choose to photograph wildlife? I like Yellowstone Park, USA.

G