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Wildlife Photography: How to Find Animals for Photography

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Wildlife Photography sounds interesting to many but, if you are a beginner it will not be easy for you. The most challenging task would be to spot an animal for a close click. This is perhaps the toughest jobs as animals are naturally fearful that make them stay either far off or hidden due to man’s destructive nature. The short-lived moments like a glimpse may not be enough for a beginner to get the best shot. Although there can be no better shot than getting a closeup in the forest area or at a wildlife reserve, capturing the birds or pets at your backyard can also be a great stepping stone for the beginners in animal photography. While you are not too far from your home to get the suitable shot, you can also learn how to use that DSLR camera in the right manner.

Animals have that natural instinct that alerts them whenever something alien is around them. Whether that something is flying, gliding, or stalking they can sense that predator from far off. As photographers even we look no different to them. Moreover, that long sized object (camera) mostly appears as an attacking object to them. So, how to get closer to the animals whether they are aware of our presence or not?

While we should learn how to click the best moments without the animals knowing that we are there, we should also be able to click the best wildlife moments with them knowing that we are there and should be comfortable enough to allow us and this post offers just the right photography guide that you have been looking for.

After a few discussions and suggestions, we came up with the best strategies that can help the wildlife photography beginners start off with confidence. So, let’s see how to capture those perfect close-ups with every detail in the frame.

Wildlife Photography: Nature Photography Tips for Beginners

While you need to spot the right animals to photograph, you also need to take care of a few technical aspects like the choosing the right lens, camera settings, importance of a trail camera, and more. So, get ready for the wildlife with the below tips:

How to Photograph Animals

What is the Best Lens for Animal Photography?

A telephoto zoom lens is something that you would need to start with, for animal photography. The camera should be such that it should allow you to zoom in and out to match the animal’s movement. While a prime lens is good to shoot pets as it helps set the focal length, moving in and out of the focal area can also get you the best shot. However, you need to be skilled in this so that the pet doesn’t get excited which in turn will only make it tough to shoot them.

If you are shooting pets and birds in your garden or at a zoo that are closer to you, using a camera with the lens with a focal length that ranges from 70mm to 300mm should be good. If you are wondering what’s the best camera for wildlife photography Then using a camera that’s amazingly sharp like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM recommended. It’s perfect for traveling as it’s the right size, that is, neither too heavy nor large. Alternatively, you can also give Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens a try.

best camera for wildlife photography
Choosing the right lens is important!

Beginners must know that the animal photos they see on the internet are captured at 300mm focal length and are mostly edited for a clear view online. Therefore, beginners should not feel disappointed when they do not get the desired outcome with their telephoto zoom lens. But, if you are more into bird photography you can upgrade to a 400mm focal length lens. This is especially helpful when you want to capture birds in a zoo where they are usually far away from you.

Are Extenders good for Animal Photography?

Extenders are especially preferred if you are using a short lens with 200mm focal length. However, the flip side is that photos shot without extenders are much crisp and clear than with an extender. Hence, it’s advisable that if you have decided to go for extenders then you should invest in professional lenses that offer extenders of the same brand and hence are automatically compatible.

Moreover, you must also check if the extender matches with your lens autofocus mechanism. What’s important here is to do some research on your own and not just blindly go for a specific lens with an extender. It’s not really necessary that an extender would be compatible with the lens from the same brand.

Camera Settings for Animal Photography

Working with two different settings will help you capture the animals while stationary or while moving. For a moving animal you can choose Shutter Priority, and for an animal standing still, you can choose Aperture Priority. For an animal like for example, a bird nested on a tree or a pet dog sleeping, using Aperture Priority settings is the best option. This setting is also perfect when you are shooting animals in a zoo. This is because animals in a zoo are hardly moving at a fast pace and so, selecting this setting lets you choose to what extent of the animal and its surroundings you want to capture in sharp focus.

Read: Tips for capturing Fast-moving animals!

If you want to capture the entire face of the animal including its nose/beak and eyes, using Aperture to f/8 with a focal length of 400mm is preferred. However, using a small f-number will cover either of the features like either the nose/the beak or the eyes. We mostly prefer both the features in focus while doing wildlife photography. Using an Aperture f/5.6 with 300 mm focal length gives the same effect as the previous setting.

For a moving animal, for instance, a bird flying or a fox running, using Shutter Priority settings is preferred. If you have a camera suitable for beginners, you can use the Sports mode which works same as Shutter Priority. This setting allows you to select the speed using which your device will click each shot. For pet animals, you can use a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second, click a few shots.

get ready for the wildlife
Bird captured at 1/2000th shutter speed (Source)

However, if your subject looks blurred you can use a faster speed that is, till you reach the right settings. Using a shutter speed of 1/1000th second is recommended for capturing flying animals like birds.

For the camera models for the beginners its recommended to keep the camera ISO settings to not more than 400, or not more than 800 for others. This helps in capturing the animal eyes crisp and sharp. On the contrary, if the camera ISO settings are higher, the eyes of the animals would appear lazy. However, if you are photographing during low light situations that’s when you may need increased camera ISO settings that is, more than 800. You can even stick to grainy shots at times than not getting anything at all.

General Tips for Animal Photography

Today we are sharing some general tips for animal photography apart from the above recommendations already shared.

One of the foremost things to do would be to focus on the background while photographing an animal. Look through the main subject as soon you place your eyes on the rear-view finder and focus at the background. As you must have noticed that a proper background makes a big difference to an image. The photo is bound to be great if as a photographer you capture all the background elements.

The issues that you should look out for in the background are any object that’s cutting through the animal’s face or body. For example, wires, trees, branches, etc. you can either choose to shift your position or take a shot from the side rather than shooting head on.

photography guide
Motion -Blur using Manual Mode (Source)

Try different styles of pictures, for example, the manual mode. There is something called the Neutral Picture Style which you can select to capture animals that are brown in color. If you are shooting in RAW format, you can always modify this setting during the post-processing. This will help you identify the Picture Style that you actually prefer.

Trying different metering modes can you help capture a more detailed image. The animal furs and feathers are clearly seen in such images.

How to Photograph Animals at the Zoo

Look for a brochure that would tell you exactly when the animal is fed. Now reach their 15 minutes prior to the feeding time as this is the time when the zoo animals are more active. These are captive animals and so, are properly trained. They are aware of the time when they would be fed.

It is best to shoot the animals in the morning. It’s is not recommended to photograph animals when their stomach is full because that’s when they prefer to sleep just like humans.

You would find those zoo photos perfect when there is a perfect eye to eye contact between you and the animal, that is when the zoo animal is looking directly towards the camera.

While photographing animals at the zoo, capturing the baby elephants tightly surrounded by its family is the best close-up shot you can get.

Approaching Wildlife

Given that an animal’s sense is much stronger than ours, it’s extremely challenging to photograph animals in the wild. So, how to earn the trust of the animals to get the best shot? Let’s take a look.

  • Seeking Out Wildlife

While you are hunting for an animal as a perfect subject for wildlife photography, you need to keep a few things in mind. Clothing and the sound it creates is a major thing to notice since some fabrics create more noise than others. Woollen clothing is a better option when it’s cold as it creates almost no noise. What color you wear is equally important as bright colors alert animals.

Hence, wearing soft and muted shades are the best choice. While it’s recommended to use camo gloves that are lightweight even during summers, not using perfume or clothes washed in strong smelling detergent or shining jewelry is best avoided.

The next best thing to do while you are in the wild is to maintain pin drop silence since this helps you to be invisible in the wild. Moreover, using covers while photographing is highly recommended such as taking shelter behind a rock. Ground, or foliage. Also, avoiding sun is better so, find a shade. Move slowly and do not make any sudden movements as animals have a strong sense of smell.

As you see the animal stop right there, especially if it has spotted you. Avoid disturbing the animal or scaring it off by getting too close. Simply allow the animal to get used to you and now get as many shots from that distance.

Read: Perfect Gear while going for Wildlife Photography!

  • Waiting for Wildlife

You can even choose to simply sit and wait for animals to show up. The longer you sit maintaining your silence, the higher the chances of spotting the animals, preferably in about 20 to 30 minutes. This process is called as “Sit Spot”.

Find a favorite place of the animals, somewhere they find food, water or passage. Animals are most active during dawn and dusk, so make sure that you wear a camouflage clothing or something similar.

Summing Up

Wildlife Photography is exciting but requires a lot of learning and focus. And, if you are beginner it’s good to be well prepared before you hit the wild. So, whichever animal you shoot, just keep the above pointers in mind and get some great shots.