I’ve been a wildlife photographer for years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen incredible sightings of wild animals driving through the national and private game reserves.
There’s so much beauty out there if you take the time to look for it.
Mother Nature is always working her magic in front of us.
That doesn’t mean that your photos will be perfect every time (they won’t), but practicing with these tips will help ensure that when you finally get that perfect shot.
It’ll be worth all the work.
Understand Your Animal
The first step to photographing wildlife is learning to understand the animal you’re trying to capture.
You can’t expect to capture a great shot of an animal if you don’t know its habits and behaviors, so you must do your research before getting out there.
The more time you spend learning about the animal, the better your chances of getting that perfect photo.
- Study their environment: If an area isn’t suitable for an animal’s habitat (e.g. too cold), they won’t be there!
- Learn to recognise the animals in the wild: Always make a conscious effort to visualise and memorise the animals you see in the wild so that you may become familiar with the animal. Initial recognition of the unique traits of an animal is the first step toward understanding the animal’s habits.
- Get to Know Their Habits: There are many details to consider when you want to photograph wildlife, but the most essential is knowing when and where you can find the animal you wish to photograph. Knowing the habits of the animals will help inform you when and where you should see them to get the kind of shot that suits your needs.
For your photographs to be successful, it helps to understand what the animals in your photos feed on, where they spend most of their time (hibernation spots, breeding grounds), and how they behave in different situations and times of the day.
Learning to identify individual species by sight or sound would be best.
Knowing the animal species will allow you to be aware of any potential risks before approaching them—some animals are more likely than others to attack humans, such as Lions, elephants, or Hippos.
It’s also helpful if the species shows distinct markings that help differentiate between individuals, like stripes on fur, animal tracks, and the differences in animal horns for example.
Location, Location, Location
Location is the first thing to consider when trying to get the best wildlife shots.
The best locations have a lot of wildlife but aren’t too crowded with other photographers or tourists.
You want an environment where you can take your time and set up your shot without feeling rushed or bothered by other people.
Another element to look for in a location is lighting—not just any kind of light, but good lighting.
A lot of photographers use flashlights when taking photos at night (or very early in the morning), but this isn’t always ideal for getting the most natural coloration out of your subject matter.
Ideally, it’s better to find a place with plenty of ambient light so it doesn’t look unnatural.
Good wildlife photography isn’t always about getting a perfect shot. Often it’s about finding the correct location.
A good location can be a spot where you know wildlife will pass through or where you can wait for an animal to come to you.
For example, most animals need water, especially during or after a hot day, so waiting in a hide near water is the perfect means to get the photo without being noticed.
Lakes, dams, or watering holes with established hides are often excellent spots for photographers looking for wildlife shots.
Another important factor when choosing where to go shooting is whether or not there are any distracting backgrounds behind what you’re photographing—something like waterfalls would be great if they weren’t so close that they made any movement behind them fuzzy.
Look for clean and simple backgrounds that don’t distract from the subject of your photo.
The natural greens and browns of the earth may both complement or potentially distract from the subject. Consider the background details when composing your shot or choosing a location.
Observation is Key to Learning Patterns and Understanding Behavior
The most effective way to learn the patterns and behaviors of wildlife is by observing them in their natural habitat.
The more you observe, the better you’ll be able to predict what an animal is doing at any given time.
With knowledge of an animal’s behavior, you can anticipate its next move, helping make your shot even more exciting and compelling.
To get as many great shots as possible during your photography session, you must know how to observe your subject from a distance without spooking or scaring it away.
It’s also vital that you don’t disrupt its natural habitat or disturb other animals nearby (if there are any).
Preparing Your Equipment for The Perfect Shot
As discussed, the first step to achieving the perfect wildlife photo is to know your subject.
Now let’s look at factors other than location and understanding your animal, such as basic technical gear requirements for wildlife photography.
What photo equipment do I need?
- The longer your focal length, the better. However, if you’re shooting from a distance that requires a telephoto lens or zoom range, make sure you can get close enough for a good shot without scaring off your subject. If not, bring along an extension tube so that you can increase magnification capabilities in addition to getting closer to your subject. Consider photos of birds that are often seen in the trees or are small in size. In both these cases, a longer-range lens will be more suitable.
- A 70-200mm lens usually fits the purpose of having close-range options. Wider or medium lenses are also necessary, especially when the animal is close to your position, such as passing alongside your vehicle. In this instance, a fixed zoom will not help. Always remember your and the animal’s safety when getting close.
- Wildlife photographers often use an extra camera body that you can use if your primary one fails—a lot of photographers prefer shooting with two bodies instead of just one so they can switch out cameras if needed—or keeping a few different lenses on hand at all times.
- A tripod or monopod will enable more stability when using large telephoto or zoom lenses, but it may be awkward to use inside a vehicle. Consider using a bean bag or other long lens support columns and apparatus that allow better control of your camera and lens.
You can’t always predict what will happen, so you should always have backup equipment and a plan B or C in case anything goes awry, like the weather.
Remember that unpleasant weather can often make for dramatic images but could just as well ruin your photography day out.
It also means planning and being ready when something goes wrong.
If your subject has trouble moving around because there are too many people nearby or it’s too windy, instead of trying to change the situation with sheer willpower (which never works), move on until conditions improve; then come back later when everything has calmed down and try again.
The most important thing is not giving up!
Wild animals are unpredictable, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be prepared for anything.
The most important thing is to get close and personal with your subject (without harming yourself or nature).
You can’t always expect the best shot in the world, but it will help you get better at spotting patterns and understanding behavior.
Approach every new encounter with an open mind and a willingness to learn, and slowly but surely, you will move closer to that perfect wildlife image.
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