Wildlife Photography Primer

A few years ago we did a wildlife photography course to help us capture Attenborough-worthy shots. Not sure we’ve achieved that zenith yet (and we may never get there), but a few tips definitely made our photos better than they were. Some results from that day’s training – which took place at the Highland Wildlife Park – are below.

Top Tips

Note: These tips assume some knowledge of camera settings/photography.

  • A fast telephoto lens helps : we use a 70-200mm F2.8 Sigma lens. The only thing missing on ours is image stabilisation
  • Stick to aperture priority (AV) mode  and use a low F-number to obtain a high shutter speed. Use the aperture setting to balance depth of field (DOF) vs. shutter speed, depending how fast-moving the animal is.
  • Use the correct ISO, as low as possible to avoid grainy images, but high enough to get you a decent shutter speed.
  • Target exposure below midpoint, I always keep the EV target at -1.5 or -2. Underexposure is better than overexposure. You need to see every hair on the animal (assuming it’s hairy). Use the histogram and overexposure blinking to help you here.
  • To avoid blur/camera shake a useful rule of thumb is to try to get the exposure value to be ~1.6x the focal length. i.e. if using 200mm, target a shutter speed of at least 1/320 of a second.
  • Use AF servo mode, unless it’s a slow animal where you can use single shot. Center the focus, you can crop it later.
  • Focus on the animals eye or if both eyes are visible focus at a center point between them. The eye needs to be crystal clear for a great shot.
  • Try to keep the background dark.

Why AV mode? Well there are more shutter speeds than aperture (F-number) values. By fixing the aperture rather than shutter speed, you give the camera a larger choice of shutter speed settings (and therefore more degrees of freedom) to get the correct exposure. If you fix the shutter speed (exposure priority), there will probably only be one correct aperture (and therefore less degrees of freedom) to use and that may not give you the best result.

OK, so the above photos were taken at a wildlife park, where the animals cannot escape and are meant to be seen. In practice, of course, it is much more difficult: jungles are dark, other environments are too light and animals tend to move and hide. But when that shot does come out, it will absolutely make your day!

 

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