Taking pictures of animals in the outdoors can be an exciting way to experience nature, but it can also be challenging to get really great shots. To capture beautiful images of animals, it first helps to have an understanding of fundamental photography concepts. Once you have the fundamentals down, there are several things you can do to improve your chances of getting that great wildlife shot.
1. Choose A Fast Shutter Speed
Generally speaking, you’ll want a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of moving animals. Try 1/250, 1/500 or even faster. Exactly how fast you need your shutter speed to be depends a lot on the type of animal you’re taking pictures of, the level of activity, and the length of your lens. For animals sitting still, you can shoot with relatively slow shutters speeds, perhaps even as low as 1/100th of a second, but for animals on the go, you’ll probably want to use 1/500th of a second or faster. For running animals, start with a shutter speed around 1/1000th of a second and for flying birds you will likely need to use 1/1250th of a second or faster.
2. Put Your Camera In Aperture Priority Mode
Though it may seem counter intuitive, many wildlife photographers choose to shoot in aperture priority mode (you manually select the aperture and let the camera determine the shutter speed) because it makes getting a properly exposed image of moving animals easier while still allowing for a lot of manual control. Aperture priority is often preferred over using shutter speed priority mode (you manually select the shutter speed and let the camera determine aperture), because sometimes shutter speed priority can result in an over- or underexposed image. For example, if you select a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of a moving animal, the camera may butt up against the lower limit of the aperture range and not be able to achieve a proper exposure.
3. Choose A Mid-Range ISO
A good rule of thumb for wildlife photography is to set the ISO in the mid-range, somewhere around 400 – 800. In many lighting situations, this will allow you to shoot with a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of moving animals. If you need an even faster shutter speed to get the shot, you can bump up the ISO even higher. If you don’t want to worry about setting ISO so you can focus on choosing the right shutter speed and aperture for your shot, you can use auto ISO.
4. Use A Long Lens
Using a large lens allows you to snap photos from far away but get results that look as if you were only a few feet from the animal. For most wildlife photographers, a lens with 200 – 400mm focal length will be sufficient. This can either be a lens with a fixed focal length or a zoom lens. Zoom lenses are popular because they give you the flexibility of changing the focal length; for example, you can take pictures of something only a few feet from you and then quickly zoom in on an animal that’s 50 feet away.
5. Be Patient And Prepared
You might get lucky once in a while and have your camera ready when you happen upon a beautiful animal striking a pose. But, more often, you’re going to need to wait for something special to happen. Having patience is essential to taking great photos of wildlife. It’s also important to be prepared to capture the shot when something special does happen.
6. Compose A Good Photo
Using the rule of thirds, eliminating distractions and zooming in and out are three ways to compose good wildlife photos. The rule of thirds is a basic compositional technique and an easy way to improve your photos. To use it, break up your image into thirds vertically and horizontally with imaginary grid lines and position the subject(s) of your photo either along the lines or at the intersection of two lines. This will create a more balanced and visually interesting picture. To make this really easy, many cameras allow you to display a grid in the viewfinder and/or on the LCD screen so you can quickly compose images with the rule of thirds in mind.