Wildlife Photography

Photographing Wildlife!

Hello Photo Enthusiast and welcome to another edition of Tuesday Tips!

As we travel the world we get the opportunity to photograph many types of wildlife. It has personally become my favorite aspect of photography. Although I love all types of photography, something about photographing a lion in his majesty or the thrill of a hunt has enamored me. Every time we are out photographing animals I am just in another world.

Photographing wildlife takes a lot of patience, skill, and memory cards! In this Tuesday Tip, I want to share a few photographic techniques to help you get the best images in the wild..or even of your pet!

I’m not sure why, but in the professional photography world there seems to be a little bit of ego among some wildlife photographers. I have heard and met a few that will state they have the best gear, and most importantly the best lens. Now, I am all for having great gear! I will be the first to admit that the knowledge you have as a photographer, paired with the best gear is the way to go. However, I can also prove to you that a $700 Tamron lens can capture beautiful wildlife images!

I have also read and met photographers that have told me quite frankly, that going and photographing at an animal menagerie is not “true” wildlife photography and should be avoided. This again has always struck me as full of ego. As if trouncing through the wilderness to get a great image makes you a better photographer. The truth is, you become a better and excellent photographer with practice and perseverance.

"Anu" A Siberian Tiger. 1/4000th f5.6 ISO 800 at Animals of Montana

I truly respect and even own some images from some of the top wildlife photographers in the world that I am blown away by AND appreciate what they have gone through to get these images. But does that make them a better photographer? In my opinion, it makes them photographers that truly love to capture in the wild and are willing to go to the extremes to do so. I appreciate that and LOVE the images they may come up with for the world to see, but that in my opinion, isn’t what makes them great. What makes them great is their ability to capture moments that no none else has or that are just spectacular not only with technique, but that evoke emotion from the viewer. That is what makes a photographer great.

So how does that apply to you? Well my hope is that you continue your journey to be the best you can. Of course, I’d love for you to travel to Tanzania or Antarctica with us to photograph in the wild. But if that is not possible, it doesn’t mean you cannot create great wildlife images.
Steps To Great Wildlife Photographs!

This is the first key! If you cannot capture an image of a dog running at home, do not expect to capture a lion running in the field!

The first thing I suggest is to go through the tips below and try each one of them by photographing your pets. From there, for a real challenge, try photographing birds! If you can photograph birds in flight and get them sharp, you can photograph most wildlife because it is VERY difficult to do so!


• Use a long lens that is sharp.

This does not mean that you need the most expensive lens there is. However, a “kit” lens is not going to allow you to get the sharp images you want. As a Canon shooter I LOVE the 100mm-400mm Version 2 lens. Yet, I have photographed some of my best wildlife images with the original Tamron 150mm-600mm that you can now get for about $700! The new version 2 is excellent and Sigma has a fantastic 150mm-600mm lens as well!

• Use as fast of a shutter as you can for the speed of the animal.

Unless I am purposely trying to show an element of blur such as panning, I will work very hard to get my Shutter Speed as high as possible without over extending my quality ISO limits for my camera.

The good news, in today’s newer camera technology, you can shoot at ISO in the 4000 range with totally acceptable noise levels! Now if I can keep it lower, I will, BUT I’m not afraid to get the ISO higher to get the sharpness of capturing the image I need.

My general rule? Never sacrifice a sharp image for ISO.

This image was shot at 1/8000th of a second. In order to do that, I had to use an ISO of 3200 even in bright light. I would rather do that and get everything “tack” sharp then lose the detail and sharpness I wanted because of a lower ISO.

This was also shot with the Tamron 150mm- 600mm proving that it doesn’t take the most expensive lens to give you the results you want.
• Do NOT use to shallow a depth of field aperture setting for large animals.

I see many photographers photographing wildlife at aperture settings of f2.8 as an example. The idea is that it allows more light through the lens, which allows for a faster shutter speed, without the ISO being so high.

It is excellent for smaller wildlife and birds where you want the background out of focus and also allow for a faster shutter speed to use f2.8 as an example.

However, in many instances, you will find that for larger animals the nose may be sharp, but by the time you get to the eyes, they are soft. Why? It is because the Depth of Field is too shallow as you are zoomed in tight on the animal and simply the depth ends up being too shallow on an animal that is longer and not parallel to the camera.

This image was shot at f5.6 and notice that from the nose to just past the eyes it is sharp and then starts to fall out of focus. Yet the background is where I wanted it to be still with a nice shallow depth of field. Also, by using a 600mm lens, that was extremely close to my subject which also helps in the depth of field at a higher f stop.

Because of this, I will usually try to shoot an aperture of around f5.6. This may mean a little higher ISO, BUT it will allow for sharpness throughout an animal’s face. This is all relative though to how close you are to the animal AND if the animal is facing you or completely side ways to you.

Another perk of this, you do not need a $12,000, fixed f2.8, 35 lb., prime 400mm lens! It’s a good thing to, because on most African safaris, you are severely limited on the weight you can bring unless you pay A LOT extra! That 4lb Tamron or 100-400 f 5.6- 6.3 will now work for you just fine. .
• Use Auto ISO and Shutter Priority mode (S or Tv)

Ok I said it. Now if you have been on one of our tours, you know I very RARELY would say use Auto anything! BUT, in a case like wildlife photography where moments are fleeting, and you do not get a second chance to capture, this can be great! Today’s camera systems are also MUCH better than the systems even a few years back regarding Auto ISO.

I do not recommend you do this all the time because people forget to change their other settings according to their subject and end up photographing a still rock at 1/2000th of a second and an ISO of 4000 when they could have photographed it at 1/125th of a second with a much lower ISO.

However, in wildlife photography, moments are so quick, light changes just as quick, and wildlife can move in and out of various light situations. You choose the Shutter Speed you feel you need and Auto ISO will keep up with it even as light changes from moment to moment which can be a life saver!

In a situation such as this cheetah, you cannot know if the animal will suddenly spring into action at 80 miles per hour. By being on Shutter Priority and Auto ISO, I had my Shutter Speed set at 1/8000th of a second and would have let the camera do the rest had he done so.
• Use high speed shutter shooting modes.

This will allow you to take several images with the press of the shutter button. I find that many times in a burst of 4 -5 images in a second, a few will be soft, and a couple will be sharp.

• Be sure to use fast memory cards.

A faster writing memory card such as the SanDisk Extreme will write faster. This means that as you shoot in burst, the camera will not take as long to write the images to the card which allows you to shoot more and faster.

• Try different focusing modes.

90% of the time, even photographing wildlife, I will use single shot focusing. However, if I am photographing wildlife that is running such as this Tiger, I will use the AI Servo (Canon) or CF Continuous Focus (Nikon, Sony). I find that this really helps if an animal is moving towards me or directly away from me and fast. However, if the animal is moving slower to where I can keep refocusing, I always use single shot focus. (One Shot/Canon)

These modes allow you to focus, depress the shutter and then the camera will keep refocusing on the subject as it moves without you are lifting your finger off the shutter button. Problems can occur when other points of contrast end up in your frame and the camera picks up on that instead of your main subject. Due to this, I HIGHLY recommend shooting in burst. Depress the shutter, focus, fire, repeat!

• Use a Mono Pod

A mono pod allows you to still have support but without being burdened by a three-legged tripod. This will also allow you much more mobility and less camera shake. Not to mention, if you are photographing all day how much it will save your arms!

• The Over- all Breakdown Summary

Ok, here it is all summed up on how I photograph wildlife when it’s happening fast.

1. Make sure to have batteries that are charged and ready.

2. Make sure to have a fast memory card, formatted and clean, with enough memory such as 128 gigs. (There is nothing worse than your card being full in the middle of an incredible moment!) Have other cards close and ready to go.

3. Choose a shutter speed that will be best for the action on hand. In other words, an 800lb tiger running requires a much faster shutter speed than a porcupine. If you are photographing a fast speed animal, 1/1000 of a second is a good starting reference point.

4. Choose an f stop of 5.6 if you are working with a larger animal or longer snout on the face.

5. Choose Auto ISO

6. When in doubt, use Shutter Priority mode (S) or (Tv) on your mode dial and Auto ISO. You choose the Shutter Speed and let the camera do the rest including the aperture setting for you.

7. Remember to slow your shutter speed down if your ISO is getting high and you do not need as fast of a shutter as you started with. How do you know? Simply zoom in on the images on playback on the back of your camera, and make sure they are sharp!

8. Use continuous high-speed shutter modes to get as much burst of images as you can in one press of the shutter.

There you have it. I hope this Tuesday Tip serves you well! Please do not hesitate to post in the community pages or on FB your images and any questions! In doing so, you will allow us and others to see your work and help you grow as a photographer. That is what we are here for!


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