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Top 5 Tips for Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography is continually growing in popularity, thanks to the accessibility of digital cameras nowadays. I’ve been a wildlife photographer for almost seven years now, and a professional for the last few of them. Over time I have picked up some really valuable techniques and tips, specific to wildlife photography, gained from either experience or learning from others in my field.

Here are some the top tips for wildlife photography.

Black Headed Gull Splash

#1 Get to Know Your Subject

I cannot stress this enough – wildlife photography is all about time and patience, much of which should be spent studying and paying attention to your subject. Instead of just showing up at a location once, return time and time again to photograph it. Watch an animal’s behavioural traits and try to pick up on clues it gives as to its next movement. With practise, you’ll often be able to predict where an animal will move to next, or what it will do.

Don’t believe me? I’ve photographed red squirrels for many years now, and I can now almost continually predict its pattern of movement, purely by watching for behavioural “ticks” it provides. For example, by watching where the squirrel is looking and the way it sniffs the air, I can often tell which direction it will head to next.

Jumping with nut

#2 Use Your Lens Hood

That bit of plastic that comes with your lens isn’t just for decoration. It prevent stray light from hitting the lens, helping you produce clearer pictures, but it also provides physical protection for your lens. Too many times I see photographers with it on, but the wrong way round. Make sure you take a few seconds to attach it properly before shooting.

Once, I was on an island photographing Atlantic seals. The rocks were slippery, and it wasn’t long before I fell over and landed with my whole body weight on the nose of my Nikon telephoto lens. Thankfully I had the lens hood on, and what was potentially an extremely expensive slip, was no more than two small screws broken in the hood.

#3 Don’t Shy Away From Aperture Priority Mode

Recently, I’ve found a lot of photographers are shooting in manual mode because they believe that anything else is “cheating” and makes a shot unworthy. I don’t know any professional wildlife photographers that don’t shoot in aperture priority mode – although don’t get me wrong, manual does have its uses in some situations. However, in general, aperture priority is great for wildlife photography.

Light is often never evenly distributed in a woodland or similar environment. A moving animal will cross different areas of different light intensities. If you take a burst of photos of it moving through the area, aperture priority mode will adjust the settings and ensure your images are correctly exposed. In manual mode, there is simply no time to continually adjust the settings when shooting a constantly changing scene.

By all means, you should understand how to use your camera in manual mode, but aperture priority is not the enemy. Adjust the ISO to increase or decrease your shutter speed, and use exposure compensation to fine-tune the exposure.


#4 Be Prepared for a Wait

I mentioned earlier that wildlife photography is all about patience. When starting out in this field, you need to remember that rarely do wildlife photographers get a great shot in just a few hours of waiting. You may need to return to a spot time and time again, waiting for hours on end, before you will capture a unique image.

This may sound daunting, but it makes any images you capture that extra bit more rewarding. If you’re waiting in a hide, take a book with you, or a film on your smartphone to pass the time. Just remember to keep looking up and checking the scene in front of you.

WTE Fight

#5 Think Outside of the Box

Finally, with so many people taking excellent wildlife images nowadays, it is important to think outside of the box. Look at images others have taken and think “how can I do it better”. If you want your images to be noticed and stand out, give them the wow-factor by taking a photograph that no one has ever seen before. I don’t mean a rare animal, but instead a rare style of shot.

Don’t give up at the first hurdle, and keep clicking your way closer to the elusive perfect shot!

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Will Nicholls
Will Nicholls

is a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from the UK. He has won multiple awards for his work, including the title of Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2009. Will runs a blog for nature photographers, Nature TTL, which provides tutorials and inspirational articles to readers. He also has a free eBook available called 10 Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Nature Photos.

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