Ultimate Photo Guide for Wildlife Photography

As a landscape photographer, the challenge is usually in the journey to the location and hoping for 10/10 conditions. The physical act of shooting isn’t too hard as the subject doesn’t move. However, for wildlife photography, the challenges go through the roof. You not only have to have the animal appear, but you need the climate to be workable, and you have to be quick on your feet to nail the shot. The first one is the hardest part, but the latter isn’t easy either, as anyone knows who shoots subjects that move. While this article is geared for all, it’s also a perfect ‘wildlife photography for beginners’ guide.

Below I lay out what I’ve learned while doing wildlife photography, give some tips, and recommend the best wildlife photography best camera for you that will propel you toward landing some incredible photos.

wildlife photography for beginners

Photo Guide – Wildlife photography for beginners

Safety First

First things first. Your goal is to come home after every shoot. A stupid wildlife photographer could be a dead wildlife photographer in the right circumstance. No one wants a dead photographer. So be safe. Stay a safe distance from your subject, and if you can bring friends, do that! Additionally, always give an animal an escape route. If they don’t feel cornered, there’s a lower risk of a charge or attack. Be smart and be careful, and you should be fine.

Wildlife photography best camera

Anyone with any camera can do wildlife photography. I want everyone to seek nature’s beauty and capture animals in their natural habitat. However, the ability to get high-level wildlife photography comes with the caveat that you’ll want a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera with high megapixels to allow you to crop in on the subject.

So now, if you can go out and buy a Sony A1 or Canon R5 for 4,000 to 6,000, do it. You’ll be putting yourself in a great position to capture beautiful photos. These are the best wildlife photography best cameras on the market.

But for those with a more modest budget, you can still land phenomenal shots without the National Geographic gear level. Every photo in this article was shot with a Canon 5D Mark3, which has 22 MP, and the photos have been brilliant. A Sony A7r 2 with 42 MP would also be excellent at a lower price point.

The wildlife photography best camera I recommend:

Canons: Canon r5 / Canon r6 / Canon 5D Mark 4

Sony: Sony A1 / Sony A7r4

Wildlife Photography Lens

This is where the difference is seen between professionals and hobbyists. As I mentioned above, photographing an animal far away and not having to crop it will keep it looking less pixelated and allow you to print it at a larger size.

Best Case Scenario: Aim to get a lens that reaches 500 (Canon 100-500 RF, for instance) or 600mm. This is the longest most manufacturers make without getting into crazy territory. I have a Tamron 150-600 G2 and love it. You will have to boost the ISO in low light because it has an f-stop of 5.6. However, putting it up to 2,000 ISO hasn’t made much difference. This will be the case for nearly all long lenses unless you can spend 10k on a 400mm 2.8. 

Second Best: Get a 100-400mm lens or a lens that hits 300mm. These both will make an excellent lens for wildlife photography.

Another good option: If you’re not planning to shoot animals that require distance (Grizzly bears, Moose, Lions), a 70-200 f/2.8 is a superb telephoto lens for objects a medium distance away but maybe doesn’t require you to crop in. I use this when I go whale watching, especially if the whales are curious and will come close to the boat.

Lake Clark National Park Alaska bear watching lens for wildlife photography
wildlife photography for beginners

Shooting Tips

Research where the animals will be

To photograph wildlife, you have to have wildlife to shoot. My best wildlife photography for beginners tip is to take time before your trip or outing and read up on the best places to find wildlife. Most tourism boards or blogs will have this information, but stopping by a local photography store is excellent. Once you have this knowledge, you can then plan out your shots.

Understand the animal’s tendencies

Most animals are out around dawn and dusk when you want to be out. Furthermore, all animals have to drink water. So if you find a somewhat secluded watering hole, you might be lucky!

Just go

Another of my favorite wildlife photography for beginners tips is to get outside now! Giving yourself the opportunity is the first step in landing a great wildlife photography photo. If you don’t go, you can’t take a picture. So, even if you’re unsure where to go, drive around and see what you find. (This works exceptionally well in Grand Tetons/Yellowstone/Glacier.) And if you do encounter wildlife, try your best at the photo side. Remember, NatGeo photographers were once rookies. They practiced and got better. That applies to you too.

Be okay waiting

If the animals just showed up, it’d be called a zoo. So be patient and keep your eyes and ears ready for any sound or movement. Many animals blend into their surroundings, which will make your job even harder. But some would say that’s the fun part.

wildlife photography for beginners

Create unique angles

When you have an animal in your sights, find a way to make the photo more dramatic and unique. Everyone shoots standing up with a downward angle towards the subject. Here are a few wildlife photography for beginners tips:

  • Try kneeling or lying down, so your perspective is now looking up at the wildlife.
  • Add some brush in the foreground to create more depth.
  • Find a way to use your natural surroundings to frame the subject.
  • If the animal is walking, aim to take a photo when it has opened up to you.

Your Settings

Let’s use a 500mm or 600mm lens for wildlife photography as an example here. If you’re hand-holding, start with your shutter speed between 1000 and 1500. Most rules of thumb say to double your shutter speed as it will help eliminate the natural shake from such a long lens. However, when you do this, it will dramatically decrease the amount of light your camera lets in, making you either drop your aperture or increase your ISO. If you have a steady hand, I recommend testing your shutter speed at 1.5x and seeing how things work out. Also, as I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to push your ISO if you have a newer camera.

For those using a tripod, you should be able to get your shutter speed much lower, but if you’re photographing a moving target (say a bear or moose), you still want the shutter speed to be fast enough to nail the photo crisply.

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Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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