20 Wildlife Photography TipsCats, Dogs and Birds
Wildlife photography tutorials and tips are essential to a beginner to understand not only how to choose the right camera settings but how to prepare, position and react when the moment comes.
We’ve got some incredible wildlife photography tips coming up to help you take better photos of birds, dogs, cats and more. If you’re looking to get started on a wildlife photography course then scroll to the bottom – we’ve got what you’re looking for.
How to Get Started in Wildlife Photography
What is wildlife photography defined as? Well, pretty much the art of photographing any living animal that isn’t a person! Everything constitutes wildlife pretty much. From photographing garden birds to snapping animals on safari, they all fall under the same umbrella.
You can start your wildlife adventure at home, you don’t need to go abroad to capture great shots. We’ve got animal photography tips piled as high as a Giraffe in this tutorial that you can act on today.
Read More: Garden Bird Photography
1. Wildlife Camera Settings
There’s no one single answer for the question of ‘what’s the best camera settings for wildlife?’. That’s simply because no two species are the same. Photographing a Cheetah at full pace is totally different from capturing ladybugs. But if you’re capturing animals in your garden we can give you some wildlife photography settings and preparation tips that’ll start you off on the right foot.
There’s no such thing as the best beginner wildlife camera – most digital cameras will have enough features to help you take good shots. But there are some other specific features to consider to elevate your shots.
If you’re wondering what the best wildlife photography equipment for beginners is, let us help you out. A lot depends on what type of animal you are photographing – is it always birds, zoo animals, pets or insects? All require a different approach. If we were to generalise and help you get a good all-around camera if you like photographing all wildlife then consider a DSLR or Mirrorless camera with full manual controls.
Read More: Zoo Photography Tips
2. Best Wildlife Lens & Accessories
A camera with IBIS (inbuilt image stabilization) and telephoto lenses with IS (image stabilisation) too are good ideas when using long and heavy lenses. If you are working to a budget then invest in a long optical zoom lens (70-300mm) to cover a lot of the focal lengths for different types of animals.
Tripods and monopods are helpful to stabilise the camera whilst you are waiting for the shot to happen. Rapid movement from the photographer to pick up the camera and start shooting can scare timid wildlife away. Therefore it’s best to have your composition ready locked and waiting for the animals to appear.
3. Wildlife Preparation Tips
In our experience, the best place to focus your camera’s attention is on the food source. No matter what time of year or what species, food is what will make any garden animal come out into the open where you can photograph it.
Try to strategically position the food in a place that will look photogenic. For instance, moving a bird feeder away from a brick wall so the background is nice and clear.
Moving the hedgehog food to an area that is surrounded by grass rather than flowerpots. Or it may even be a matter of temporarily moving a few items out of the way, like that rake and bright red plastic watering cans.
The next thing is to try and keep out of sight. A lot of garden animals are not too keen on humans being close by and will not come out for food if they sense anything unusual that could potentially be dangerous to them.
The more hidden you are, the higher chance you have of seeing different species as some are not as brave as others. You could try hiding in your shed or using a pop-up hide.
Depending on your garden layout, you may even be able to use your house and photograph out of an open window.
4. Camera Settings for Garden Animals
Camera settings will be different for everyone but it’s a good idea to set your camera to Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) / AI Servo (for Canon users) and use a high frame rate (sometimes called burst mode).
You will more than likely need quite a fast shutter speed for most of the animals, but this will vary massively depending on what the species is and what you would like your final image to look like.
For bird photography shutter speeds should go between 1/1000th – 1/4000th depending on your distance from the bird and if they are in flight or stationary. Keep the shutter speed high in case they move rapidly or another bird jumps into the frame unexpectedly.
It’s a good idea to really take your time and experiment with different angles, focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds and ISO. If you enjoy taking photos of things like butterflies and bees you may even want to try using a macro lens for some super close up detailed images.
How to Photograph Pets
Camera settings for pet photography should be based on the character of the pet you are shooting. Dogs and cats can be both excitable and timid so you’ll need to react appropriately. We’ve got 16 pet photography tips and ideas whether you are a bird, dog or cat lover to try out.
5 Dog Photography Tips
Each dog has its own personality, character and charm and as Forest Gump said “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
1. Spend Time with the Dog
Before you even get your camera out of your bag and start taking your dog photos, let the pooch sniff you and lick your hands. This will help the dog to feel comfortable around you and trust you.
If it is safe, play with the dog for a few minutes and stroke it to calm it back down.
Talk to the dog in a soft tone so it gets used to your voice. Then watch the dog for a while and to see how it moves and interacts with its owner
2. Have Fun!
Most pets have short attention spans so turn the dog photos into a fun session. Bring dog treats and squeaky toys.
Always check with the owner first regarding health and behavioural problems. Use the treats as rewards, so only give them when the dog has done something great, otherwise, you’ll have a dog in your pocket for the rest of the session.
Use toys to get the dog moving and engaged. Use a high pitched voice when praising the pet and make lots of fuss when you nail an amazing dog photo!
3. Get the ‘Classic Shots’ first
If the dog is very active and likely to get really muddy, it’s a good idea to try and do the ‘pretty’ dog photos first, when the dog is still looking its best.
If the dog is super high energy you may need to ask the owner to take the dog for a walk before the photo session.
Try to do a few “sitting” “standing” and “laying down” images as soon as the dog is calm enough, then move on to the “running”, “jumping” and “playing” shots.
4. Watch Out Behind!
Always consider your background. This may mean you need to quickly scout out the area for 5 mins before asking the dog to sit somewhere. Look out for litter, protruding branches, and tall grass.
Anything that can distract from the beautiful dog should be moved if possible, to save you time when editing.
It’s also a good idea to think about the horizon line, if it can’t be blurred out then it may look like it is cutting across the dog’s head, so you may need to get lower or higher.
5. Think About Lighting
Use natural light and framing. Personally, we don’t like to fire flashes off in animals’ faces as this is not natural for them so I will always opt for natural light as my first choice. But keep an eye out for dark, shadowy areas like when in dense woods, this can really make your life hard.
To start with try locations with more open areas where the light floods in and then try darker areas when you feel more confident. If you see a nice bit of framing with some trees or branches position the dog to face the sun so it is lit up evenly.
5 Cat Photography Tips
Cats have many interesting and intricate behaviours and amazing reflexes. So how do you go about capturing domestic cats in a photograph? Here are our top 5 tips for amazing cat photos.
1. Let Them Judge You
Yes, as soon as you walk into their house they will make their mind up about you. The first few moments are key. Try to keep calm and be quiet, don’t move suddenly or erratically.
Take a seat on a sofa or even the floor and wait for the cat to approach you. It may be friendly and sniff you and rub up against you or it may be wary and stay some distance away.
Don’t let this put you off just stay calm and relaxed. Ask the owner to shut all the doors and any other escape routes from the room you are in and then slowly get your camera out.
You may need to ask the owner to keep getting the cat out from behind the sofa but hopefully, it will stop hiding soon enough if you keep calm and talk to it in a very soft and low voice.
Start off your cat photos wherever the animal is. At this stage don’t worry too much about the background or angle, just let the cat get used to you, your camera and your movements. This is the time to get your settings right so you are ready for when the cat is in the right position.
Use those wide apertures to blur the background and make the cat really stand out and don’t forget to use a slightly faster shutter speed just in case the cat moves as you press the shutter.
If you are photographing a black cat you may also like to try spot metering so the camera takes its exposure reading from the black fur rather than the whole scene.
2. Move the Cat into Good Light
You may have to ask the owner to put the cat near a big window, patio doors or even a conservatory, wherever there is the most amount of light.
Try not to use flash as this can freak some cats out and it very rarely looks natural unless it is done really, really well. If the room is on the dark side, turn all the lights and lamps on and then use your white balance to control the colour cast.
Aim to position the cat or indeed yourself so the light is falling on the cat’s chest and at least half of its face.
You may need to become an amateur contortionist to get on the floor in the right position and keep enough distance so as not to scare the cat! Your efforts will pay off though.
3. Use Furniture to Your Advantage
Cats often have a favourite spot on the sofa so why not catch some cat photos there too? If the sofa needs moving, move it closer to the light source (window) and then let the cat get comfy.
Some cats love jumping on TV stands and sideboards. If you can get the cat in front of the TV this can provide you with an instant black background, providing the TV is turned off of course.
Cats’ eyes can often look amazing against black backgrounds so hone in on those and use some editing software to really make them pop.
4. Cat Treats for the Win!
It’s not only dogs that will do things for treats. If you are struggling to get the cat photo you want, get some treats out and use them in your cat photographs to add interest to your shot.
Close, wide-angle shots can often look very interesting and show the cat from a lower angle. Just a word of caution though, cats love catnip but it can send some cats really scatty and hyper which may or may not help your cat photography process.
5. Go Outdoors
If the owner has a nice garden and the cat usually sticks around then why not try a few shots outside. Look for some nice plants and position the cat amongst the greenery and other colours.
You could also try more urban looking shots if the garden is more like a yard. Look for interesting things, colours and textures that you could include in your cat portraits. Don’t forget to still consider your background and camera angle. Domestic cat photos are not the easiest area of photography but when you nail it you will feel so proud.
7 Tips for Photographing Birds
If you’re not a cat or dog kind of person then how about 7 bird photography tips for beginners instead? We’ve got some brilliant advice and camera settings for bird photography for you to put into action in your back garden.
1. Observe the Bird
Before whipping off your lens cap and instantly starting to snap – take a moment. Just stay still and observe the bird from the hide. Watch its movements and patterns. If you can roughly predict where the bird will land, if it’s grazing for food, then you’ll have a better success rate.
2. Pick a Position
Try not to move around too much. Pick a position and stick to it for a while – why? Well 2 reasons;
It requires patience to get the right shot. You maybe have the best angle and lighting, but don’t sacrifice that for your inability to wait. Secondly, Birds will be very sensitive to movement nearby. A creaky floorboard, a rustling of kit can spook them enough to retreat.
3. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Combine a fast shutter speed with a decent size aperture (around F/8) to give you a crisp finish within a comfortable depth of field. Your shutter speed may need to be above 1/1000th depending upon the distance and movement of the bird.
4. Orientate your Shot
To give your bird photographs the framing they deserve, remember to mix up the orientation of the camera. Shoot in portrait as well as landscape. Adding in reflections of birds drinking water and sitting on vertical branches may require a break from the classic landscape orientations.
5. Check your Exposure Regularly
The problem of photographing birds outside is the light. The ever-changing natural conditions, if you’re hidden behind trees, will require you to check (and double-check) your exposure. Use your histogram to make sure the highlights aren’t clipping and those wonderful feathers are still in an acceptable range.
6. Use Natural Elements
It’s great to capture a bird standing still for a moment but making that moment look natural in context, is even better. Look for birds landing on fences, branches, tree trunks and on the water.
Look for elements birds have in the wild, rather than bird feeders, fountains, barbed wire and cars. Cutting out the man-made elements complements the wild subject.
7. Be Patient!
We’re leaving the most important one till last. Patience is the key to success with bird hide photography. It’s unlikely (but hopeful) you’ll get your best shot in the first 5 minutes of entering the bird hide. Be prepared to wait a few hours at least for the birds to settle, feel safe and act naturally.
5 Wildlife Photography Tips for Beginners
To wrap up all of our incredible wildlife photography tips for beginners we’ve got 5 of the best bits of advice to takeaway.
1. Vary your aperture, depending upon how many animals you want sharp in your shot. Shoot at F/4 or wider for individual animals and F/8 or smaller for groups.
2. Zoom in and compress the background with a longer focal length to cut out distracting backgrounds.
3. Set up your camera for stationary animals, pre-focus on them and wait for the right moment to shoot.
4. Move to the right position to get the cleanest possible shot. Consider how the background looks and what it says about the environment of the shot – do you want it to look natural and wild or like it was taken in a zoo enclosure?
5. Wildlife photography is unique. It’s not a simple case that even though you’re a good landscape photographer you’ll be a good wildlife photographer. Extra learning and understanding of your subject are vital.
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