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!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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.

  • Keith Starkey

    What a fantastic shot of that squirrel. But you know, I’m thinking, that though the bokeh is beautiful, it would have been nice to see something of the “jungle” behind the animal to give it a bit more context. but that’s just me.

  • Simon

    “wildlife photography is all about time and patience”… that, and a fair chunk of luck, when you’ve been waiting for hours, and the subject suddenly decides to cooperate…

  • Thanks! I know what you mean, and I do photography like that as well using a wide-angle lens. There’s more on my website. 🙂

  • Yep! I like to say “you make your own luck”, and that tends to go hand-in-hand with time spent!

  • keepntch

    We had a Robin’s nest again in our yard this year only this time it was in a position that was easily photographed. I did “cheat” a couple of times and switch to video thinking I could get more. I have some really great shots or the Mom feeding the babies and was amazed at how far down their throats she stuck her head and that the entire worm wasn’t left. I also go a good shot of both adults feeding one of the little ones that just left the nest that day. Last week I got a great picture of a dragon fly, who I thought was just posing because he would fly away and come right back. Turns out he had a bug and was eating it. Got a picture of the bug and one of the dragon fly standing over it and eating, It gets more and more exciting and easier to wait when you start getting the good shots.

  • Nice Photos… and wild Photography is not a easy thing because there’s many difficulties to find your subject and then focus on subject and shoot it from the place which can be uncomfortable and after all that sometimes it difficult to get a good shot. But wildlife photography is a lovely thing.

    Regards Patrick

  • Bristen Bourque

    Great Article! Thanks for sharing! And… wow, is that jumping squirrel shot not incredible!

  • Rags

    Good photography i believe is also about how much one can let go of his/her thought process n just be an observer of the reality he projects and sees through his/her eyes n the lenses act as our print screens of our projections…in wildlife photography also if u enjoy what u do then luck n time will always be on your side…and if you truly enjoy every moment of what you do then patience is really out of the question!

  • Awesome! Although remember that while video records more frames per second, they are much smaller files.

  • Thanks Bristen!

  • That is true !

  • Thank you! 🙂

    Sure, enjoying it is all part of the game.

  • keepntch

    Oh they are big enough for me to enjoy, which is usually the goal anyway. We have some grebes at the park where I go most mornings and they do something like a little “dance” that, although I have it in stills it is hard to demonstrate exactly the movement or the sound. It’s a good thing I have more time than sense and can wait for them to “perform” again.

  • Roseli Johnson


  • govind

    Agree totally. Aperture priority in my view is almost always the best choice for the wildlife photographer, except in tricky situations where one will have to go manual. I started with program mode and then moved to aperture priority. I’ve been shooting this for years and use ISO and Exposure compensation. has a made a lot of difference to my image making skills.
    I would also add it pays to learn basics of composition and applying some of those rules in Nature / Wildlife photography.

  • Bazzwell

    Hi Ive been doing wildlife photography for a year now and yesterday while I was out photographing Eagles I notices that just before they take off they have little traits and when in flight by watching curly you can predict when they are going to turn in flight, even though I’ve been at this for 12 months you article very very helpful, Thank you for the tips
    check out my Flickr account my user name is Bazzwell

  • valentina spinedi

    beautiful selection of photos! here some more wildlife pictures

  • Higbe33

    I disagree with #4. I need to stay alert and still miss some shots. Hate to think what I’d miss if I was reading a book. On the other hand, 3 hours is about my limit because I start to see things moving that are not. 🙂

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