10 Wildlife Photography Tips for Beginners

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The opportunity to see wildlife in its natural environment has become a key feature of my travel adventures in recent years. Not only has it taken me to some of the most beautiful locations in the world, it has provided me with some spectacular photographic opportunities.

Along the way I’ve learned that whilst ultimately rewarding, wildlife photography can be incredibly challenging and frustrating. It requires a great deal of patience, practice and perseverance.

Simply having the opportunity to take a great wildlife photograph doesn’t guarantee results. And neither does holding the most expensive camera in the range. Of course a high end kit has the ability to enhance your results, but there are ways to improve your wildlife images regardless of the equipment you are holding.

Do you return from wildlife locations feeling a little disappointed in your photos? Are you looking for ways to improve your wildlife photos without upgrading your equipment? Are you using high end gear and still not getting the results you are after?

Try these tips for immediate results.

1. Know Your Subject

The best wildlife moments tend to be sudden and short-lived – but they aren’t always unexpected. Making the time and effort to understand the subject you are photographing can help predict their behaviour and help you feel better prepared for capturing those magical moments. Research your location and subject before you go, consider the use of local guides and experts when you get there and most importantly – be patient, put the camera down and spend time observing (and enjoying) the wildlife in its natural habitat.

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2. Know Your Equipment

Understanding the capabilities and limitations of your equipment will help you set realistic expectations and avoid disappointment. And being familiar with the dials and settings on your camera will help you react in time to sudden changes in wildlife behaviour. The best camera to have in your hands is the one you know how to use.

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3. Shoot at Eye Level

The most effective wildlife photos are those that create an intimate connection with the subject, rather than a feeling of being on the outside looking in. A great way to achieve this is to shoot at the subject’s eye level. Of course this isn’t always possible, depending from where you are shooting, but make the effort to get as close to eye level as you can and you’ll notice a dramatic transformation in your images.

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4. Create a Sense of Place

A great wildlife travel photograph is one that captures the essence of a location, conveying a mood and atmosphere that has the viewer feeling like they were there. Transport your audience to a specific location by shooting wide to incorporate elements of the landscape; depict the existence of wildlife in its natural habitat by capturing moments of natural behaviour; keep an eye out for birds and animals interacting with each other and with elements of their environment.

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5. Create a Sense of Scale

One of the most interesting features of a wildlife subject is often its size: from the giants of the natural world like whales and elephants, to the smaller creatures at the other end of the scale. Similarly, a striking attribute of a wildlife location may be the sheer volume of its inhabitants or a single creature in a vast and desolate landscape. But it’s difficult to convey just how impressive these features are without a point of reference in your frame. Try other birds or animals, elements of the landscape or man-made objects like a ship or vehicle.

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6. Get Creative with Composition.

A visually pleasing composition is a fundamental ingredient to any great shot. Learn the ‘rule of thirds’ and know when to break it, look for lead-in lines, keep your background free from distractions, fill the frame and look for texture, try different aspect ratios and keep it simple. Get creative and try different things – one of the most interesting aspects of the natural world is its diversity and the most effective way to portray that in your photograph is by shooting different compositions.

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 7. Optimise the Light

Effective use of light is usually the difference between a good photograph and a great one. Avoid shadows, especially ones falling across the face of animals; look for light hitting the subject or surrounding landscape; experiment with backlighting and silhouettes; shoot wide to include a dramatic sky or zoom into to exclude a dull one.

Unfortunately the best light for photography is not always during sociable hours, which is why photographers often head out as others head (or stay) in. The good news is that in the wildlife photography world, these hours often coincide with the wildlife being most active.

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8. Use a shallow depth of field to create a blurry background for portraits

Use a wide aperture (ie small f-stop number) and zoom in on your subject to create a blurry background. This helps eliminate a distracting background and draw attention to the subject of the photograph.

BONUS TIP: Focus on the eyes when taking a close up portrait.

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9. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze movement

To capture a sharp image of wildlife in motion, you need a fast shutter speed. How fast? This depends on a number of factors including the speed or the subject, where you are shooting from, the weight of the equipment and whether you are shooting handheld or on a tripod or monopod. Most wildlife photographers shoot in Aperture Priority to control the depth of field, so the general rule is to shoot moving wildlife with the fastest shutter speed possible without introducing too much noise. If shooting in Aperture Priority, experiment with your settings by decreasing the f-stop and/or raising the ISO to increase shutter speed to achieve the desired result. And remember…

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10. Don’t be Afraid to Increase ISO

Ideally, you want ISO as low as possible to reduce noise in your image. But with a fixed aperture, a correctly exposed photo requires a trade-off between desired shutter speed and acceptable ISO. Many beginners are reluctant to increase ISO, but given the choice between increased noise and a blurry image, an increased ISO becomes more acceptable. Post-processing can help reduce noise in an image, but it can’t put a blurry shot in focus. Increasing ISO is generally the only option when shooting hand-held during low light hours when wildlife often comes alive.  This shot was taken from a safari vehicle, with a shooting handheld before sunrise, with ISO 3200.

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And most of all, remember that the welfare of the animal is always more important than taking a photograph. Respect your subject. Leave the area if it’s showing signs of distress; don’t interfere with its environment; don’t manipulate its behaviour for the benefit of a photo.

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Are you a wildlife traveller or photographer?   What additional tips would you give?

_Kellie_Netherwood-5Do you want to receive my latest posts and photographs straight to your email inbox? Sign up here and receive a FREE Wildlife Photography (Antarctica) eBook

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Nice photos! it looks like a shoot of aprofesional photographer. I want to learn how to shoot a proper angle too.

  2. Wow, this is absolutely awesome. Thanks so much for sharing all of the great tips and tricks. I definitely can see these working, especially for those who, like me, are first timers or beginners! This is awesome to try and get the proper footing on. I cannot wait to begin to use this in order to further advance my photography techniques!

  3. really great advice! Thank you for sharing! So many important factors that are overlooked. These techniques seem really important in getting a really nice image straight out of camera

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