Wildlife photography can be extremely rewarding, but also tricky and time-consuming. There’s an element of luck when shooting an object that you can’t control or anticipate, so most of the time it might be a matter of being in the right place at the right time – but that’s what makes it so. is exciting!
With wildlife photography, you’ll never get the same shot twice, so it’s even better when you finally get the shot you wanted. However, it’s not as simple as going out and having animals flocking to you, begging to be photographed (unless you’re in a Disney movie). So knowing where to find your subjects, as well as what camera equipment and settings to use, can make all the difference in getting great wildlife photos.
In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics of wildlife photography to get you started – including what features to look for when choosing the right camera for you, which lenses are best for wildlife photography, settings which ones to focus on for sharp images, knowing your subject’s habits and locations so you have the best chance of finding them, how to master difficult lighting conditions, and some must have accessories to make shooting easier .
For more in-depth information on cameras and wildlife photography, check out our guide to the best cameras for wildlife photography.
Alternatively, if you enjoy stargazing, then our Beginner’s guide to astrophotography will show you everything you need to know to capture the wonders of the night sky.
Choose the right camera
The right camera can make all the difference when it comes to wildlife photography, as not all cameras offer the same features and capabilities, so it’s important to know what to look for. An important factor when choosing your camera is its speed – basically, how many frames per second can it take?
What we’re about to tell you isn’t exactly groundbreaking news here, but – animals are on the move. And they move suddenly and often quite quickly, so having a fast camera that can shoot at a high frame rate is going to be very beneficial. This will allow you to capture more images of your subject before it disappears.
Another thing to consider is a camera’s autofocus (AF) capabilities. Many newer cameras now have animal eye detection and tracking, with some even having bird AF. This means that the camera will detect and track the animal’s face and eyes and maintain precise focus on them wherever they move in the frame. It’s an invaluable feature and something you definitely need to make sure a camera can do if you’re looking to start doing wildlife photography. We highly recommend the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV as it has fast AF, an impressive 25x zoom range and is also ideal for wildlife and general-purpose photography.
Another great feature to look out for is Silent Shooting. Indeed, the sound of the shutter could be enough to scare the animals.
The best lenses for wildlife photography are those with a longer focal length and a large aperture (so, naturally, the most expensive). Zoom lenses are generally preferable to prime lenses, so you can zoom in and out accordingly as the subject moves without having to move.
Anything over 200mm would be good for wildlife photography, but many professional photographers use lenses up to 600mm and beyond. Longer focal lengths are better for this type of photography because not only are the subjects usually far away, but you’ll actually want to keep your distance so you don’t startle the animals.
You also want a fast lens that has a lower aperture as this will allow you to shoot at a faster shutter speed to avoid blurry photos in low light conditions. Many telephoto lenses have an aperture of f/4, but we really recommend getting a lens that can go down to f/2.8 if you can.
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To capture wildlife successfully, you will need to use certain settings to your advantage in order to get the shots you want. The first thing to do will be to put your camera in drive/burst mode. Depending on your camera’s fps rate, it will take multiple shots upon pressing the shutter button, ensuring you get plenty of frames of your subject.
Then, if your camera has one, set your camera to continuous autofocus and switch to animal eye detection and tracking. You also need to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough or you’ll end up with hundreds of blurry images.
If you’re still not comfortable with the settings, especially if the lighting conditions are constantly changing, you can set your camera to shutter priority and it will automatically adjust the aperture and ISO.
Know your subject
It’s all well and good to know what subject you want to photograph, but if you don’t know where or when to find them, then you probably won’t get very far. This is where research pays off. It is important to know the behaviors and habitats of your chosen subject, so that you know what time of day they are and where they are likely to be. However, even then there is no guarantee that you will see them, so you need a lot of patience for this type of photography.
If you just want to get familiar with photographing animals before you go hunting for them in the wild, you can start by going to a zoo or animal sanctuary. Another great place would be any local wildlife sanctuaries near you, so be sure to check them out. You can even just set up a bird table in your garden and photograph them from a window.
Master the lighting conditions
Another aspect of wildlife photography to consider is lighting. Not only will you be outdoors where the lighting is unpredictable at the best of times, but many animals only come out at dawn or dusk. With that in mind, you’ll need to configure your camera for low-light scenes and be able to change your settings as everything gets brighter or darker.
Now that’s why having a fast lens will help you because you’ll be able to open your aperture to allow for faster shutter speeds in darker conditions. This is where you will really see the difference between an f/4 lens and an f/2.8 lens. If you’re not yet comfortable with changing your settings depending on the lighting, set your camera to shutter priority to get started.
Must have accessories
A tripod is not an absolute necessity, but there are situations where having one can be very handy. If there’s a particular composition you’re looking at and waiting for an animal to enter the frame then the first thing you’ll need is lots of patience, but a tripod might come in handy here so you can just configure the camera and wait.
If you’re going to be tracking animals as they move, then having to constantly adjust a tripod on the move would be more hassle than it’s worth. To take the weight off the camera, a monopod would be a good buy here, as you can still move the camera freely without having to support its weight.
You can also consider some kind of neutral clothing. You don’t have to be all camouflage, but we’re not sure animals would appreciate bright colors or flashy prints. So try to blend into the environment as much as possible so as not to scare them away.
Another potentially useful accessory would be to invest in a pair of best binoculars to help you find your subject. These will help you find smaller animals such as birds more easily and will also identify the location of the animal you wish to photograph.