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General Tips on Photographing Wildlife

On this page, rather then presenting a large article I want to just provide a range of bullet points to perhaps give you things to think about.

Photo techniques and skills
  • Go for sharp images
  • Remember that depth of field is very small on long telephotos.
  • Reducing depth of field can improve shots making the bird or animal stand out and the background less important.
  • Try to photograph creatures doing something.
  • When animals are walking compose the shot with an area for them to look into or walk in.
  • Don't crop the image too tight, allow a little room for the environment they are in, you can always trim it off later if you want.
  • Make sure you get the colour right, set white balance when you are able.
  • Set up your camera before approaching a place where wildlife may be so you are ready in advance.
  • Leave you camera in P (programme/vari programme mode) when you are not dong anything with it, in this mode there is a far greater chance that a quickly grabbed shot will work out.
  • When you first see an opportunity get the first shot off quickly, before the opportunity is lost, then as long as you have time you can perfect and improve settings as you take more shots. Getting the first shot also reduces the pressure on you, and you will find you perform better, and think more about the settings.
  • Don't forget about camera shake, keep the shutter speed equivalent or higher than the focal length unless you have a VR or similar lens. Resting against a hide, tree or other item can stabilise the camera.
  • Take every shot you can even if you don't think it will come out.

Improving opportunities

  • You don't necessarily need to hide from wildlife, often as long as creatures can see you they are unconcerned about you.
  • Generally its not a good idea to walk directly towards them, as they are likely to then run or fly away. You can get closer by walking at an angle, even taking a zig zag path in their direction, often this way you can get quite close.
  • If you have animals or birds visiting your garden then don't be tempted to track them, don't make sudden moves and stay quiet and still. This way they become used to you, get to realise that you are no danger to them and will come back.
  • There are lots of ways to attract wildlife, including putting out food, adding a small pond, growing plants that attract butterflies and adding bird and other boxes.
  • On most visits to the countryside you will see wildlife, but a walk along a canal or river, is likely to be particularly productive.
  • Bird reserves have birds as you may expect but often in far smaller concentration and far further from you than in many other locations. If you persist however you may see some of the birds that don't come around people as much.
  • You get different creatures in different locations, so varying the location types that you visit is likely to widen the range of wildlife that you see.
  • You can also combine wildlife photography with other areas like photographing gardens, and often when visiting a stately pile you will come across a particularly large array of wildlife.
  • A trip out early on a summer morning is particularly productive, you are likely to come across deer in the open, large birds flying down roads looking for road kill and a variety of other animals about.
  • Butterflies cannot fly until they have warmed up, so on a summer morning they sit and vibrate until warmed up sufficiently by the sun. Photographing them at this time is particularly easy, and with butterfly reserves, or nature reserves/places known for butterflies, there are a lot of opportunities.
  • Don't just look for the large or colourful, there is a far larger array of creatures to discover. There is a lot to discover and miracles of nature that few have yet seen that you could photograph. Photographing a portrait of a bee, and seeing its eight eyes is not difficult but discovering the beautiful eyelashes of a butterfly is a little more of a challenge.
Avoiding trouble
  • Don't take risks like hanging out over rivers or climbing cliffs.
  • Be aware of tides if visiting coastlines or estuaries, our reference section gives you links to a lot of information on these.
  • None of our wildlife is out looking to harm you, however quite a large number are able to defend themselves and their young if threatened.
  • Don't pick up small cute things unless you know what you are doing, you may have handled pet mice, but a field mouse can bite quite hard when it thinks its being attacked.
  • Don't rescue young creatures, often their parents know where they are and can sort them, with a far higher success rate than you can. Many animals hide their young, so what you think is a small abandoned baby deer is perfectly normal and in no danger, as long as you leave it alone. Even many small birds are perfectly alright living on the ground, and many start out this way.
  • Try and avoid moving creatures from one place to another, the food and other needs they have may not be present in another location.
  • Don't release any non native animals ever, its not only unkind to them, but can also put others at risk. For example the imported grey squirrels carry a virus that kills off  our native red squirrels, and American crayfish have replaced our native variety, over many of our waterways. In a similar way many of the native animals and birds are under threat from mink, and these were released by animal rights people who thought they were rescuing them but ended up doing enormous harm, by releasing a predator that should not be in our countryside.

The law and wildlife

  • Be aware of wildlife laws, both in relation to wildlife and plants.
  • There is a lot of misinformation around, for example recently we had a blitz of TV coverage on organised crime being involved in poaching deer, it was said they could catch a couple of deer in an evening and sell them for 40 each. Not only is 80 not enough to interest serious criminals, you also have to remember that no one owns the deer and those promoting this are into shooting them. The same people managed to persuade the government that deer was a pest and culling them was necessary to stop crop damage.
  • You can photograph what you like from a public right of way, this includes footpaths and tracks with a right of way. Most country people will show you things and hardly ever will you have objections to photographing wildlife. If they seem concerned it may be that they think you may be casing their home with a view to breaking in, so speak to them and put their mind at rest.
  • People in the countryside are naturally more friendly and helpful than most in towns, and even town people who don't speak to others in the town tend to get to talk to others they meet in the countryside. So although when you walk through the town you don't speak to people who you pass, this is quite normal in the countryside.

See Also

Wildlife photography

Animal Behaviour

Equipment suitable for wildlife photography

Hides and camouflage


By: Keith Park Section: Key:

Page Ref: general_tips_on_wildlife

Topic: Wildlife Last Updated: 03/2010

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