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Top 10 Tips for Creating Great Wildlife Photos

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There's nothing that gets me as excited as wildlife photography, but for decades, I never even gave it a try.  I assumed that subjects were too far away and too hard to find.  Growing up in a big city, that's an easy assumption to make.

Are you in the same boat?   Well, if you are, my hope is that this article will encourage you to give it a shot.  I'm going to share my top 10 tips to make it as easy for you as possible.


Tip 1. Try birds.  Birds are great wildlife subjects because they're plentiful and for the most part, beautiful. 

Bald Eagle with Fish

Tip 2. Be where the wildlife is.  That seems obvious, right?  Here are some tools to help you to figure out where subjects can be found. 

Search the web for Audubon sanctuaries, US National Parks and for US National Wildlife Refuges.

These are some of the best sites anywhere for finding wildlife subjects.  Some, like Yellowstone National Park are simply spectacular.


Tip 3.  Gear up.  Wildlife photography does require good camera equipment.  By good, I mean something with interchangeable lenses, or at least a point & shoot with a very long focal length (600mm is a good starting point).

You don't have to spend a fortune on gear though.  There are camera and lens rental companies out there and these are great for getting equipment that you won't use all that often.  They'll even ship it ahead to your hotel if you're traveling. 

If you're shooting a Canon, Nikon or Sony DSLR, take a look at the Tamron 150-600mm lens.  This is a new lens that arrived in early 2014.  I've shot with it and compared it side by side with my Canon 600mm f/4 L IS and could not tell the difference between them.  At a list price of $1069, it is stunning to see how well it performs against a Canon lens that is over 10 times the cost.

For DSLR bodies, look for one with lots of focus points that are easily adjustable.  Preferably look for a model that lets you configure those focus points into small groups too.  That gives you much more flexibility. 

The other important feature for a wildlife camera is the fastest possible burst rate - that is how many "frames per second" (FPS) you can shoot.  Anything at 6 FPS and higher is going to be a big help when photographing fast moving wildlife.


Tip 4.  Isolate the Subject.  By isolating, I mean to photograph one animal or bird when possible, cropping out all other distracting elements.  This Alaskan Brown Bear is a good example.  Your eyes are drawn right to his because I didn't give you anything else to look at!


Alaska Brown Bear Hunting Salmon


Tip 5.   Action and Interaction Shots are Always More Compelling.

Any time you can capture an action shot, you'll have a more interesting image.

That can mean something like a bird taking off or landing, bears feeding or fighting or any animal on the run.

Immature White Ibis Landing


Tip 6. Be Unreasonably Persistent.  We may want to step out of the car, snap a few award-winning photos and get on our way.  Wildlife just doesn't care.

Learn as much as you can about the habits of your subject, get to where you think they are and wait.  And wait some more.

You'll often fail to find your subject.  Sometimes when you do find them, they're too deep in the bush, behind too many branches.  Or they're too far away for a good shot.

These are all too common - but if you keep at it, you will succeed!


Tip 7.  Preset Your Camera.  Often, wildlife opportunities come and go in seconds.  By presetting your camera before you leave for the shoot, you just might save an otherwise missed opportunity.  Preset everything for the conditions you anticipate when you arrive at the shooting location.

In addition to remembering to mount the lens you think you'll want, installing a fully charged battery and freshly formatted memory card, the items to preset are:

- White Balance
- Shooting Mode (I prefer aperture priority)
- Frames per second (maximum)
- Focus points
- Autofocus mode (I prefer continuous AF)
- Metering mode  (I use Evaluative / Matrix)


Tip 8. Watch Those Backgrounds!  The background of your image can make or break it. 


Arctic Tern - with a horrible background
This example says is all.  When could have been a nice shot is simply destroyed by a distracting background.  The examples above are show you how to do it right.


Tip 9. Shoot at Eye Level.   Whenever possible (it isn't always), try to get yourself to eye level with the subject.  That might mean getting down on the ground to shoot.  Or up in a tree.

Either way, you'll have a more compelling image.  And the same holds true for photos of kids and pets too!


Tip 10.  Eye Contact is King.  In addition to shooting at eye level, any time you can manage eye contact with your subject, you have a good change at creating a terrific shot. 

That takes a combination of practice, skill, patience and luck, but the results are worth the effort!

Alaskan Wolf

I hope you'll put those Top 10 Tips into practice. If you do, I think you'll find that your wildlife photography improves. 

Maybe you'll even join me on one of my photo tours!



Mar 29, 2014 11:20pm
Nice helpful information on shooting Birds and wildlife. I would love a dollar every time we miss a bird shot because camera not ready.
Mar 30, 2014 5:54am
Thanks, Shar-on

I hope you'll find more success in wildlife photography with a few of these tips!

Charlie MacPherson
The Amazing Image
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