11 Tips for Shooting Great Wildlife Photos

In this video tutorial, photographer Jay P. Morgan shows us how to shoot beautiful images of wild animals without getting killed! Armed with his Tamron 150-600mm lens and a liberal amount of advice from his father (who shot for National Geographic), Morgan arrived at Yellowstone National Park and shared 11 tips for wildlife photography:

1. Go to National Parks and State Parks

Get as much spotting advice as you can at the ranger’s station at each park and then make your plans accordingly. It is better to be informed rather than waste time driving around aimlessly for hundreds of miles.

2. Use a Tripod

A tripod is an absolute must if you want to capture decent shots, period.

Morgan shares his father’s experience,

“He said the very first time he shot images and sent them to National Geographic, they sent all his images back and said, send us more images as soon as you buy a tripod.”

3. Use Both a Telephoto and a Wide Angle Lens

how to photograph wildlife

As Morgan says,

“Telephoto lenses are a necessity.”

Morgan uses a Tamron 150-600mm lens, which he says is extremely versatile. When shooting wild animals, your compositions get much better when you fill the frame. Telephoto lenses make that much easier to achieve.

But don’t underestimate the wide angle lens. With a wide angle lens you have to get close up and that creates beautiful images where you capture not only the animal from a close distance, but also the sweeping landscapes in the background. However, it takes a lot of patience—and of course talent—to be accepted by an animal so that you can get that close.

4. Shoot During the Early Morning and Late Afternoon

The light is a lot better during these times, being directional and all that stuff. The last thing that you would want to do is shoot during the middle of the day. Make sure to get up early when the animals are most active.

“You are in Yellowstone, and you are on vacation, you want to take a picture of a deer or a buffalo, and what you do? You sleep till 10!”

5. Take Your Time

“Good wildlife photography requires a lot of time. a lot of time spent with the animals, because they learn to be comfortable around you and then you learn to be comfortable around them.”

6. Don’t Be Shied Away by the Weather

Some of the best shots imaginable are found when the weather is at its worst. Getting your gear weatherized is a primary requirement if you hope to shoot great wildlife images. You’ll need to brave the wildest of weather conditions to get out there and shoot.

7. Look for Social Interactions

wildlife photo guide

Photograph animals interacting.

There is so much more to wildlife photography than just getting headshots or silhouettes. Animals have a social life just like us humans, and those moments make for interesting photo opportunities.

8. Use the Lost Wallet Technique

The last thing that you want to do is attract unwanted attention from the animal you’re photographing. Instead, behave as if you are not interested. Pretend you are there looking around on the ground for your wallet. When they see that you are not looking at them, most animals will no longer pay attention to you.

9.  Set Your Motor Drive to Continuous

wildlife photography continuous shooting mode

Set your camera on continuous mode and take several shots of a moment. Most of your shots may come out okay, but one or two will probably be great.

10. Know Your Camera Settings

Morgan shot at 1/250 of a second most of the time during his shoot. He also used the variable aperture on his lens to change the depth of field (DoF). When changing the DoF, however, he had to tweak the ISO to ensure proper exposure. Make sure you’ve thought through your camera settings prior to the shoot so you don’t have to do a lot of fiddling once you’re out photographing.

11. Have a Backpack Ready

It is a must to have a backpack ready and packed with all the essential gear you need to take you through the day. If you have to leave the car and set out on foot, you can just sling the backpack on and be on your way.

What tips would you add to this list?

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  1. Loren Nelson says:

    All good tips but you left out the single most important tip – don’t disturb wildlife behavior and create stress in the animal. The national parks require MINIMUM distance of 25 yards from all animals and 100 yards from bears and wolves. The 150-600mm lens is perfect for that. If your presence causes the wildlife to change behavior, move back. Shoot from your vehicle when possible – cars make good blinds and the animals are used to them.

  2. Water… It is something that I often forget… ♫

  3. I am curious about apertures. That photo of the flying bird was probably captured in seconds and the bird is moving as well but it is nice and sharp. so I am curious what would be a go-to aperture for something like this.

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