Best Wildlife Photography Tips Summary

May 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I have been taking photos of wildlife with moderate success.  I have watched others, studied, and learned.  This blog is about my journey so far and sharing some tips that I have learned.

  • Finding the wildlife
  • Which lens to use
  • Settings to use
  • Getting sharp photos
  • Getting action shots

Finding Wildlife

Finding wildlife can be as simple as looking in your backyard or it could be hours going to a spot to catch wildlife in remote locations.  Whichever it is there are things you can do to help to find the wildlife you are seeking.  In my backyard, several different birds and animals are frequently visiting or passing through. 

You can increase your chances to see certain species, create an environment that will attract them.  For example, make sure you put out birdhouses and bird feed for the birds you want to attract.  Don't just put out the cheapest seed you can find.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like flowers.  Make sure you are planting flowers that appeal to them to attract them.

I am lucky enough to attract several types of hawks, fox, and deer.  While I really don't want the deer they seem to like to eat the bird food on the ground, but there are other food items to attract them.  As for the fox and hawks, they need nesting and food sources as well.  If you have a wooded area around your property, do not disturb their environment.  Hawks will feed on rodents, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, and snakes, while Fox will eat rabbits, rodents, and birds.  (that was not all-inclusive, so do a little more research).  However, the point is to maintain that environment to attract those animals.

I cannot, nor would I want to, attract all the animals to my backyard.   When I want to get photos of eagles, I know some locations to find them.  To find eagles (or any bird) look to the Cornell Birding site.  From this site, you can find where the birds are in the world at any given time of the year and if they migrate.  The site also shows maps of sitings for each species.  So my tip here is to leverage a resource such as the Internet to find locations.  In addition to the Internet, rely on local birding clubs, nature preserves, ranges, or other local communities that specialize in that species.

I live near the Oxbow in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and have found a common location for eagles.  So, I frequently go there to get photos and here is a sample.

Eagle landingEagle landingEagle landing

Which Lens To Use

You may be limited to a single lens because lenses aren't cheap.  However, a single non-telephoto lens or shorter focal lengths will present some serious limitations.  My photo of the eagle above was taken with a 150-600mm zoom lens and was cropped in post.  A short lens would not have been adequate for the shot of that eagle.  However, many of my backyard photos are taken with a kit lens that is 18-35mm.  This small chickadee was stuck under a canopy on my back porch.  It was a baby bird and after a few photos, I was able to free the small bird to its mother that was waiting for her baby to be freed.  So, a long lens is not always required and sometimes would not work at all.  Use the lens(es) you have today and as you learn and save for a different lens (if needed).

WildLIfe-6815-20090524_800pxWildLIfe-6815-20090524_800px

Settings To Use

Settings are hard to give as a perfect setup for every photo for wildlife or any other photoshoot for that matter.  Instead, I will give you some starting points and recommend you play with those settings and adjust to your style.  I did the same by following the advice from other photographers.  I learned from others and came up with this way of taking photos.  For wildlife photography, I found three ways that can work for me.

  1. Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon and S for Sony and Nikon)
    Everything else is on auto including ISO
  2. All Manual with auto ISO
    This method is a good learning step to number three below
  3. Shutter Priority with manual ISO
    This one is my favorite

This photo was on ISO 800 (fixed ISO) due to it being a bright day and using shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/1000 to capture the movements of the birds.  With shutter priority and a high ISO, it forces the aperture to a chosen by the camera.  In this shot the camera chose F6.3.  Some animals move faster and a faster shutter speed may be needed or if the subject is a bit darker then don't be afraid to bump the ISO up to 1600, 3200, or even 6400 to capture the movement.  A grainy sharp photo is better than a blurry unusable photo.

Birds-6016-20210501Birds-6016-20210501

Getting sharp photos

This advice is a sister to the settings to use sections.  Getting sharp photos takes practice and learning how your camera focus system can work for you.  So let's start with the focusing system.  Most DLSR cameras have options to spot focus, area focus, or large area focus.  I would recommend learning how this works and I may cover it in a future blog.  Suffice it to say, I use the area focus setting where there is a 3x3 or 2x2 grid of small squares to focus on the moving subject.  I also use back-button focus, again a topic for another blog for another day.

The techniques in my previous paragraph are important and helpful, but for producing sharp photos of wildlife.  I am sticking to the settings as the method for helping you learn about getting the wildlife photo you are trying to get.  So, keeping this on a more basic level, in addition to the settings above recommending higher ISOs and fast shutter speeds a tripod is extremely helpful.  If not a tripod, then a monopod is needed.  If you don't have a tripod, then the settings above are even more important.  The shot above was taken without a tripod or mono-pod.  But notice the fast shutter speed I used and medium to high ISO I had set.  Even though the Heron was flying they are a slow graceful flyer.  If it was a faster bird I would likely dial in a faster shutter speed and maybe a higher ISO.

Getting action shots

A short section for you.  Actions shots simply take patience and learning the behavior of the animal you are trying to capture.  Some animals move a lot some sit for a long time.  However, learn where, how, and when your animal moves and use that information to put yourself in the right place at the right time.  The right place is also important once you learn the where, how, and when.  Try to place yourself in a location that has the sun at your back and where the animal will move toward you.  This helps light your subject and once again aid in a sharper photo.

What are you waiting for?  Grab your camera and get out there to get that next great shot.


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I am glad you found my blog.  I am a photographer with a passion for awesome shots.  I go to great lengths to capture many of my photos.  I will re-visit a location over and over knowing there is a spectacular photo just waiting to be had if I am there at the right time.   I also enjoy finding how to do some abstract projects (check out my time-lapse post) and will be writing about them.

Send me a note via my contact page for some projects you would like to see me try and write about.  I am not afraid to try almost any project.  Doing the obscure forces me to do things that I don't do with the typical photo shoot and helps me learn even more.


 
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