Tips for photographing difficult animals


If you want to be a really great wildlife photographer you've got to have bags of patience. Animals aren't models and they won't tilt their head to the side or look cute the way you want them to unless you're prepared to wait around for hours, or even days. But the good photographer will be part anthropologist, part snapper. All of this waiting around will allow you to observe your animal's habits, finding out which ones are the most interesting and what time of the day they get up to find food.

Wait for animals to approach you instead of approaching them. If you get too close you can artificially affect their behaviour, or even worse challenge them and appear as a threat. Remember to avoid staring directly into their eyes which can be seen as aggressive.

Dangerous animals

All wild animals are unpredictable and if you treat them in the wrong way, you can expect to get reminded of that, whether it's a scratch, kick or a bite.

There are ways to protect yourself though, whether you're just photographing squirrels in the local park or big cats in Africa. With really dangerous animals like lions, simply hiring the right type of car can help keep you safe. We would always recommend using a guide though and never travelling to an area alone – even a car will not protect you from the most determined lion or the even more dangerous human!

The other tool in your arsenal is the telephoto lens. For animals that are nervous, like herbivore deer or antelope, you're pretty unlikely to be able to get up really close to them, so you will most likely need a lens that can zoom in 400 – 600mm. The downside of this though is that you have to carry around some pretty heavy equipment.

A way of getting around this is to use a teleconverter which is a magnifying lens that gives you the appearance of a telephoto lens, without all of the weight (though be warned these do affect the resolution of the image). The teleconverter also has the nice added benefit of being substantially cheaper than buying a telephoto lens, so is a great choice for consumers.

Keep your distance

You should aim to keep as much as 1,000 feet (300 metres) away from wild animals, as recommended by most park rangers. Remember to stay in your vehicle, even if you don't have much time and the animal is that bit too far away. Even what is assumed to be the most harmless of animals – the giraffe, has been known to cause a casualty to an overzealous filmmaker. It's a reminder that all wildlife must be respected. Although the perfect shot is tempting, it's not worth risking your life or an injury for.

Photographing nocturnal animals

Some animals like bats or badgers only come out at night time and photography in low light conditions with moving subjects is notoriously difficult. There are a few options you can try though. Using a flash is the most obvious and this can work quite well with some experimentation and a little bit of kit. To avoid an obvious flash look, a flash bracket can allow you to angle the light and a flash grid can narrow the beam to allow you to focus on just the animal instead of the entire frame. You can also work with the natural light available by timing your shoot to be at day break or sunset when animals are just waking up or before they go to sleep. But this still means that you need to think about using a fast lens with a wide aperture such as f2.8 as well as a tripod to avoid camera shake and blur. Even then though, it might not be enough. Consider slowing your shutter speed as a last option to let in that extra last bit of light.

Which animals are the most difficult to photograph?

Endangered animals are obviously very hard to find and photograph like the mountain gorilla or the Magellanic penguin, but some animals are just very good at camouflaging themselves, like leopards. Unfortunately, there is no kit we can recommend to help with this, just a lot of time and patience but the results will be more than worth it!

Be a good visitor

Remember that animals spend most of their time finding food to eat, while we can comfortably pick up dinner on the way home. If you disturb their behaviour you are having an impact on their survival. So, have some respect, stay safe and have fun.