Quick mental checklist - 6 tips for shooting great wildlife images

Wildlife photography is a hugely popular discipline. However, unpredictable animals that move fast, infrequently and erratically can be one of the most challenging shooting subjects.

With the right knowledge, equipment and plenty of patience some stunning images can be achieved. Just as with sports photography preparation, position, equipment and expecting the unexpected can be applied to shooting wildlife. With these in mind here are 6 tips for shooting great wildlife images:

1. Get to know your subject. Having knowledge of the habitat and behaviour of the animal you are photographing is vitally important and will save hours in the field. Knowing the time of year and day a species is active will help with your shoot planning. Great wildlife images are rarely taken without knowledge and planning.

2. Practice makes perfect. There is little point being in the perfect place at the right time and not being able to capture what is in front of you. Shooting split-second moments takes practice. Consider setting up feeders for birds in your garden and shooting them through the window or setting up a makeshift hide. Alternatively spend time at the zoo with your camera to understand animal behaviour. The more you train your eye and your reaction times to wildlife behaviour the better you will do when shooting in the wild.

3. Get in close. Most great wildlife images show the action close-in. Physically getting close to wildlife usually results in behavioural changes or worse, scaring them off completely. Using a long lens is essential to produce images that show the action in detail, then cropping your final image to get even closer.

4. Keeping focus – ensuring that your subject is sharp in the right area is important in wildlife pictures. Selecting your AF point is the first step to controlling your focus; the centre point is often the most sensitive and is likely to give you the best results. Try to keep focus on the most important part of the subject, usually the eyes. Consider AI-Servo mode to keep your camera constantly tracking the subject and use the back button to focus, freeing up the shutter button for shutter operation.

5. Consider the light – You can elevate your pictures by choosing the right lighting conditions to photograph your subjects. Taking into account their behavioural patterns try and use early morning or late evening sun for warm low light which produces rich colour and deep shadows.

6. Speed matters – Getting your shutter speed right is a key part of capturing wildlife at their best. The logical step when shooting fast moving action is to raise the shutter speed and in many instances this is the right thing to do. However you may want to introduce a little blur with a slower shutter speed, on the tips of a bird’s wing for example, to add a sense of movement. As you become more proficient with your equipment you may want to lower the shutter speed to further increase this effect and even introduce a panning technique (see panning)

Action-Stork-Bird-Inflight Décollage, Michel Vandevelde

This dramatic picture by Michael Vandevelde works really well due to its great framing and focus. The storks’s eye is in focus and nicely framed by the wings. There is just the hint of motion in the wing tips indicating movement. Context is added by having the bird's previous perch in shot.

Action-Baby-Elephant-With-Mother La carica, Simona Rigoldi

We love this shot of wild elephants by Simona Rigoldi. The unusual close-cropped framing gives the impression of being close to the herd. In this shot, the dust kicked up by the animals is what creates the sense of movement. Simona has also shot with the sun behind the elephants and carefully exposure controlled for detail in the shadows.

Action-Bird-Inflight In volo, Antonio Aguti

This shot by Antonio Aguti shows great technique. The first thing you notice is the sense of movement created by using a slower shutter speed in the bird’s wings and tail. Composing this shot with room to “fly into” was a good choice coupled with a super smooth and distraction free background. This image also utilise lovely soft, possibly diffused 'golden hour' light.

Action-Lioness-Attacking-Wildebeest Gemiste kans, Arlette Deckers

This intriguing safari image shot by Arlette Deckers is a great example of a captured moment. Usually in this situation you would want to see the predator’s face, however the tables appear to have turned with the young wildebeest standing firm and posing the challenge back to the lioness.

Explore Canon’s range of wildlife lenses in the Canon Store.

Stay Informed

Coming next: Seeing the world without a viewfinder.

Subscribe to Newsletter