5 Tricks from Professionals to Help You Do Better Wildlife Photography

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Whether professional or an amateur, most photographers who enjoy wildlife photography do it because we love being outside in nature, and we love to share our experiences of the world’s wild creatures. Carrying our cameras, and making images along the way, helps us to truly see and appreciate what nature has to offer.

Orca, also known as killer whales, hunting seals by Anne McKinnell

But there’s more to making a captivating wildlife photograph than simply having an animal in the frame. If you just snap a shot when an animal is in front of you, you may find that your photograph lacks the impact you were after.

Next time you are out in the wild, try out these five tricks that professional wildlife photographers use to capture the world’s wild creatures at their best.

1. Watch and Learn

Every one of the world’s many species of animals are different. You cannot photograph them all the same way. But, if you spend some time observing your creature’s behaviour, you’ll be better equipped to click the shutter at exactly the right moment.

Two bald eagles by Anne McKinnell

It’s all about that special moment when the animal is doing something – whether it’s flying, walking, making eye contact, or interacting with another animal. Like spending time with friends, you come to know when they are going to do a particular thing and what triggers a reaction. Once you observe and understand their behaviour, be patient, be quiet, and wait for the right moment.

We often think of wildlife photography as being exciting, but more often than not, better images are made when it is a quiet, contemplative experience.

2. Use Faster Shutter Speeds

Many a great wildlife photograph has been ruined when an animal moves faster than the photographer anticipated, resulting in a slightly blurry image. It has happened to us all. Try not to let that happen by increasing your camera’s ISO, which will allow you faster shutter speeds.

Pacific White Sided Dolphins by Anne McKinnell

Even when your subject is absolutely still, you never know when they’ll decide to move, and that could be the magic moment you’ve been waiting for. Be ready by using a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second.

3. Carry Two Camera Bodies

The most important thing is to capture that special moment, so don’t miss it by changing lenses. It’s better to pick two lenses to work with, and have each mounted on its own camera body. Then, when you need to switch, you simply put down one camera, pick up the other, and you’ll be ready to shoot in less than one second. I usually use one camera with a 70-300mm lens, and the other with a 400mm lens.

Two elephants playing in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania by Anne McKinnell

4. Don’t Get Rusty

You don’t have to wait until you have an exotic animal to work with! Keep your skills sharp by practicing with whatever animals are nearby. You might surprise yourself and come up with some of your favourite shots. Practicing with seagulls and geese, will ultimately improve your photos of cranes and spoonbills when you have the opportunity to shoot them.

Seagull looking at underwater sockeye salmon by Anne McKinnell

Try setting up a bird feeder outside your window and you can practice on the birds that come right to you.

5. Vary Your Compositions

Usually when we photograph wildlife, we want the animal to fill as much of the frame as possible. But once you get that shot, don’t keep making the same shot over and over. Try some different compositions, such as getting super close to just part of the animal. You can shoot just the eye, or zoom in on an interesting detail.

The tail feathers of a peacock by Anne McKinnell

Then try zooming out and photographing the animal and its environment. Also try to change your perspective. Get on eye level with your subject or try making an image from a lower angle.

By understanding your subject, having good techniques under your belt, and lots of practice, you’ll be well on your way to making more captivating wildlife photographs. If you have any other tips of tricks for wildlife photography please share them, and your images in the comments below.

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Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • gregory.kanyanta

    Thanks Anne for the tips; I like 4! Appreciated!

  • I set a bird feeder, a suet feeder and a bird bath in my back yard and a hummingbird feeder in the front so I can practice without loading up gear and going out. I actually have a lot of fun shooting sparrows, robins and finches. One day I got lucky and had 3 wood peckers.

  • Johann (SA)

    Anne
    You are absolutely right with using two bodies.
    For the past year or so I’ve used a 70-300 mm on the Canon 60D and a 100-400 mm L lens on a Canon 7Dii. What a pleasure compared to the “old” days when I had only one body.
    I also try to use 1/500 sec, or faster, whenever possible.
    Some good tips you have shared.

  • Christine Majul

    I live in Grapeview, WA which is right next to Allyn. It has a pier and a lot of seagulls and I go there and take photos of the gulls and I do get some really nice ones. I have learned to hone my skills quite a bit. This photo, I saw two seagulls interacting with each other and I have not seen this behavior before. I took quite a few photos of the interaction. I consider this a shot of a lifetime or serendipity.

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