10 easy and important wildlife photography tips for beginners!
One of the most amazing things about travel (at least in my opinion) is seeing animals in the wild. People spend thousands of dollars traveling to a specific destination in order to see their favorite animals. I spent a few pennies spending 10 days on safari in Kenya so I could see the Big 5 safari animals. I didn’t go all that way, spend all that money, to not get pictures. I put together wildlife photography tips for beginners!
These are in no particular order – and if you receive my monthly newsletter, some of these photography tips might look a little familiar!
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1. Rule of Thirds…
The rule of thirds is one of those rules that seems like it should be obvious but isn’t until someone explains it to you. It basically means dividing your frame into three equal parts horizontally or vertically. This will help keep your composition balanced and give your photos more impact. For example: If you have an image with too much space at the top and bottom, try putting something interesting there instead. You can also use this technique when cropping images later.
2. …is not ALWAYS necessary
Yes, the rule of thirds is great – it adds depth and texture to a photograph, but it doesn’t mean you have to use it every time. Framing a subject in the center can work really well especially with animals. There’s a reason why most humans like symmetry, it’s easy on the eyes. Don’t be afraid to frame the animal in the center of the photo.
3. Don’t lose the background.
Yes, the animal is the intent of the photo. No, you don’t have to photograph JUST the animal. Otherwise, you could just go to a zoo! This is a wildlife photography tip that goes overlooked – try not to skip this one! You traveled all this way to see the animal in their natural environment – don’t forget that. What else is in the scene? What is going on around the animal? Are there other animals of the same species or different species? Is the landscape also unique or beautiful? This can be especially useful if you don’t have a large lens or powerful zoom – you can still take incredible wildlife photos! If you’re on a safari, don’t be afraid to capture the other vehicles. This one shows how close the zodiacs got to the animals – pretty powerful!
4. In fact, use the environment to frame your subject!
Using the leaves of a tree or the texture of the grass can make for fantastic photographic opportunities!
5. Learn your camera
I have a firm belief that you can take a good photo with any camera. It might not be amazing, but it’ll be good. A key part of that is learning your camera. If you’re using your cell phone, learn how to use a wide-angle focus or get a small addition to your phone to have a little more flexibility with zoom. See if you have a continuous shot option If you have a DSLR, learn your shutter button and minimum shutter speed. I use a Canon Rebel T5i, and love it!
Don’t be afraid to use auto-focus! Camera technology is impressive and trying to get the perfect focus when your subject is continuously moving is a pain. Be aware of your shutter speed. You don’t want a slow shutter speed especially if the animal is moving. I typically use 1/400 or 1/800 depending on the animal. If you like a soft background, use a wide aperture. Learning what YOU like will help you figure out the camera settings you need. I also keep my camera on Auto ISO to match the shutter speed easily.
If you don’t have a DSLR and that last paragraph looked like it was in a foreign language, use your camera’s sports mode for moving animals and portrait mode if it is relatively still.
6. Take continuous shots
Honestly, my favorite thing about digital cameras is the incredible amount of storage! One 128GB memory card can store thousands of photos – so take the shot! Have one elephant in front of you? Take 100 photos. You never know which one is going to be the perfect shot! Animals move, they don’t pose – so knowing when to take the shot is also just as important! If you think something may happen, put your camera into Continuous Mode so you don’t miss it. Make sure you have the animal in focus and just click! This hippo photo is a series of 15 photos that I shot when I thought the hippo was about to yawn!
7. Use lighting to your advantage
Depending on the time of day, you can use natural light to help capture your subject. You can get the sunrise on an animals’ face or use the bright light to capture the detail in their coat. Professional wildlife photographers can spend all day with an animal to get it in the perfect light – time that the average traveler doesn’t have. Get creative with your angle – if you squat down you may be able to make it look like the sun is above shining down! Harsh light may make it difficult to
Also, don’t underestimate low-light conditions. It was pitch black when I captured the photo below, luckily our safari guide had a spotlight so we can keep an eye on the leopard!
8. Get Inspired!
One of my favorite things to do before a trip is looking at pictures of where I’m going. The same is true for the wildlife I’ll hopefully be seeing. Research wildlife photographers or nature photographers who have incredible images of wildlife for inspiration. They probably have unique angles or different ways of looking at the animals that can inspire you when you visit! National Geographic is one of my favorite places to visit for inspiration!
9. Remember that you’re photographing a wild animal!
Nature photography is difficult and requires patience. You’re doing more than just taking photos of animals. Trying to capture a fast-moving animal or a shy creature is going to be difficult. They won’t pose for you or do a re-do, so give yourself a break.
Also, if you’re approaching a wild animal – do your research. Learn about the behavior of the animal so you know if it is becoming defensive or aggressive. If you’re approaching an animal, take a photo then move closer, take a photo, then move closer – if it runs, you won’t have ANY photo.
While I’ve been lucky to see these animals in the wild in pretty amazing places around the world, you don’t have to travel the world to see wildlife. There may be some common animals right in your own backyard – from squirrels to spiders! Get out your camera and practice – you never know when you will get the perfect wildlife image!