6 tips for improving your wildlife photography

There are plenty of things that I wish I knew when I first started as a wildlife photographer. If I could go back in time, I would definitely pass on some key tips to fast-track my photography, but unfortunately that's not possible! Even so, learning from my mistakes and from other photographers over the years means that I am now able to share with you a number of tips that will help you to take your photos to the next level.

Take photos at eye-level

Squirrel eye-level

One of the best ways to take an impactful photo and to set your images apart from a "typical" amateur image, is to get down low and take photos on eye-level with your subject. It completely changes the perspective of the scene, although it often means getting dirty if you're out in the wild!

Use light to your advantage

I can't stress enough how important lighting is in photography. It's not just something for portrait photographers to worry about. Taking advantage of ideal lighting conditions is paramount for creating a strong image

Deer in sunlight

My favourite type of lighting has got to be backlighting. Rim-lighting an animal can make for some really magical images, but the conditions needed to achieve that are rare.

Bear in sunlight

When thinking about light, make sure to maximise your chances of shooting in the best of conditions by monitoring the weather, clouds, and choosing the best time of day to shoot; mornings and evenings are ideal!

Try different shutter speeds

Puffin soaring

Getting "stuck in a rut" with regards to your photographic style is definitely one way to keep your photography skills from developing. Thinking outside the box and trying something new is key to making creative leaps behind the camera. I recommend trying different shutter speeds, even when it might not be "correct," to force yourself into experimenting. One popular technique is to use a slow shutter speed whilst panning and following a moving subject. It introduces motion blur and can look great, but it means you'll have a lot of "misses"!

Don't be scared of your ISO speed

It's no secret that some cameras are better at dealing with higher ISO speeds, but even if you're shooting with an entry-level camera you can still be flexible with your ISO to help you shoot in lower light conditions. In fact, nowadays the most basic DSLRs are fairly reasonable at handling higher ISOs!

Increasing your ISO speed will allow you to either shoot in low light conditions, or to increase your shutter speed enough to capture action photos. Keep in mind that your image will contain more noise when shot at night.

Squirrel Leaping

Your ISO speed should be as low as possible, but as high as necessary. Make sure to learn the limits of your camera before you head off to an important shoot. Try a variety of different ISO speeds, in both daylight and darker evening conditions, to see what kind of performance you can expect. It's better to have a noisy image than a blurred one!

Include the environment in your images

It's easy to get hung-up on the idea of whacking on a telephoto lens and filling the frame with your subject. However, using a shorter telephoto (or even a wide-angle lens) forces you to include the habitat of your animal in the shot. This helps to create more of a story around your subject, as the image incorporates an important aspect of its life.

Bear hunting near lake

This type of image is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason. There's a lot more to look at in the image, for starters and it helps you to create something more unique than a simple portrait of a species.

Keep your photos sharp

Shooting a sharp image may seem simple eventually, but at first it can be incredibly frustrating when trying to achieve the "perfectly sharp" image that you may see online from professionals. I believe that it is important to learn what factors actually contribute to a sharp photo, helping you to ensure you aren't cutting any corners. If you're finding that your photos are softer than expected, it's likely that one of the following things are causing issues:

  • Quality of the glass in your lens
  • Diffraction (using too small an aperture – a.k.a high f-number)
  • Shutter speed is too slow
  • Wrong focus mode

Pay attention to your settings and check your images for proper sharpness by using the LCD on your camera. Some mirrorless cameras now have focus peaking available in the viewfinder, which is greater for maintaining proper focus. However, keep on top of things in the field and you'll be a lot happier with the images you bring back to the editing room later on!

This article was written for photoGuard by Will Nichols, a wildlife photography expert who is the editor of NatureTTL.com.