Intro to Wildlife Photography

Printable version of tutorial is available to download here.

Rachel Oates Photography: Bear in Barcelona Zoo

For zoos and taking photos of local wildlife you can use anything from a camera phone, compact or bridge, to a DSLR and you should be able to get some decent photos. If you’re using a compact or bridge with a good zoom you might also be able to use them for safari parks and other wild animals.

However, if you do have a DSLR you might want to invest in a decent telephoto lens, particularly if you want to photograph animals in the wild. Something with a focal length of 300mm and above is a good idea because you want to be far enough away for you to be safe and also so you won’t disturb the animals—not only do you need to ensure you don’t scare the animals away, but you want your photos to be as natural as possible.

If you’re more interested in macro photography and you want to shoot insects and butterflies and other similar, small animals, it’s a good idea to invest in a nice macro lens (PhotoSoc has a great 90mm f/2.8 you could try!). Or if you can’t afford one you should be able to buy macro filters which attach to the front of your lens, or extension tubes which go between the camera body and lens to make it suitable for taking macro photos.

For zoos and aquariums where a lot of the animals are behind glass you should try and use a polarising filter. It will reduce the amount of reflections you see when shooting through glass, as well as just generally reducing the amount of bounced like so the textures and tones of fur look nicer and stand out more.

And don’t forget, if you’re moving between different environment, particularly in zoos, give your camera a chance to acclimatise so you avoid condensation on the lens ruining your photos.

Rachel Oates Photography: Lion at the zoo

Camera Settings
Aperture Size
Wide apertures are great for isolating your subject by blurring the background; this particularly useful when shooting animals in captivity because it hides their surroundings and makes the photo look a little more natural. Plus, the blurred background makes the image less cluttered and places the focus on the animal, not what’s going on behind it.

Shutter Speed
Faster shutter speeds are a great way to freeze movement and capture those really special movements. Alternatively, you can use a longer shutter speed and pan—following the movement of the animal—to blur the background, while keeping the animal sharp, for something a lit different. Generally, you’ll want a shutter speed of somewhere between 1/8 and 1/30 for this.

Eliminating Camera Shake
Using lenses with a long focal length can lead to exaggerated camera shake, which can be problematic if your shutter speed isn’t fast enough. In order to reduce the risk of camera shake, the general rule is that you should use a shutter speed at or above the focal length of your lens.

Example: If you’re using a 70mm—300mm lens, you should never use a shutter speed longer than 1/300.

Continuous Shooting / Burst Mode
Helps ensure you don’t miss the crucial moment and you can pick your best shot.

Autofocus Mode
When selecting this you want the continuous focus mode which will either be AI Servo (Canon), AF-C (Nikon) or something similar. This locks onto a subject and if it moves it will still keep the object sharp and in focus.

Rachel Oates Photography: Clown Fish

When To Shoot: Weather and Lighting Conditions
Harsh Sunlight
Shooting right in the middle of the day and in really harsh sunlight is never going to produce the best photos. Usually your images will either come out looking really flat or shadows in certain places will be too harsh and you’ll loose details.

Slight Cloud Cover
This is really great! One of the best conditions you can work in! The clouds act like a giant softbox and diffuse the sunlight which makes the light softer (less harsh) and evens out tones, particularly on the animals fur and skin.

Sunrise and Sunset
Because most animals are most active at dawn and dusk this is a great time to shoot. While it often takes a lot of patience and the lighting isn’t the easiest to shoot in, it does give you a chance to capture some really unique moments with incredible lighting.

Captivity vs. The Wild
In The Wild
If you’re photographing animals in the wild you’re going to need to be patient. You could be waiting a long time to get the shot you want, you might not even be able to get it at all.

It’s really important that before you go anywhere and try to photograph anything you do your research; get to understand your animals’ behaviour and when you’re there spend time with them. This gives them time to get used to you and for you to get used to them and begin to learn how to predict their behaviour.

In Captivity
If you’re shooting in a zoo it might seem easier but you still need to take your time; don’t rush it and get other people in your shot, either directly or in a reflection.

If you have to shoot through a wire fence use a wide aperture and wait for the animal to move away, this will reduce the amount of the fence you see in your photo.

Rachel Oates Photography: Squirrel in Leamington Spa

1) Focus on the eyes and face of the animal—keep them in focus, draw attention to them. Eye contact is good but try not to make it too intense.

2) High and low angles can distort animal features so it’s a good idea to get down to their eye level.

3) Decide whether you want to fill the frame with the subject, which can have more impact and be good for disguising locations like zoos, or if you want to user a wider angle lens and give the image some context.

4) Don’t cut off limbs and body parts

5) Don’t forget the usual composition rules e.g. The Rule of Thirds

6)Look out for repeating patterns, interesting textures, reflections or just funny shots

Printable version of tutorial is available to download here.