A red fox is captured mid-stride using the principles of wildlife photography and processed with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

PHOTOGRAPHY

Get into the weeds with wildlife photography.

Wildlife photographers create breathtaking tributes to the beauty of our natural world. Discover tips for how you can take wildlife photos that capture nature at its finest.

Learn how to be a wildlife photographer.

  • Read up on the habits, migration patterns, and environments of the animals you want to photograph.
  • Find a durable mirrorless or DSLR camera body and weatherize your gear to protect it from the elements.       
  • Set up a camera trap to automatically photograph animals in an area over a period of weeks or months. 

What is wildlife photography?

Since the 19th century, photographers have lugged cameras deep into the wilderness of all seven continents to document the undisturbed expanses of the great outdoors. High-quality pictures of animals and rugged landscape photography are mainstays of long-running magazines like National Geographic and have helped to raise awareness about the habitats of different animals — and what we can do to protect and preserve them.

    

“It’s exciting,” says professional wildlife photographer Trip Jennings. “It’s one of the only ways to really showcase wildlife in a way that captures their natural background and environment.”

A female lion is photographed in side profile while looking up at the sky
A pair of Emperor penguins standing in an arctic marsh with snowy mountain peaks in the background
A Canada lynx is photographed in profile from the front while turning slightly from camera

How do you become a wildlife photographer?

For aspiring wildlife photographers, a photography class is a great way to familiarize yourself with your camera — but it’s even more important to familiarize yourself with your subject matter. Before you set foot in the wilderness, you should be knowledgeable about the animals you want to photograph: What do they eat? What are their natural predators? Where and when do they migrate? Knowing the habits and behaviors of the wildlife can help you find the best spot for a great picture while avoiding any missteps that could put you or the animals in harm’s way.

 

“You need to understand the animal before you photograph them,” says Alaskan wildlife photographer Jeff Schultz. “For beginners who want to photograph animals, I’d recommend they start by going to a zoo or some other controlled environment, just so they can get that practice.”

 

Once you start building a portfolio, you can share your photos online, sell them to magazines and news organizations, or enter them in nature photography competitions. Placing well in a prestigious competition, such as the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, can increase your exposure by putting your photography in front of an audience of millions.

A wildlife photographer leaning out of an open-frame jeep and taking a photo of the person photographing them

What type of gear do you need to be a wildlife photographer?

Wildlife photographers rely on lightweight mirrorless or DSLR cameras with high shutter speeds. “At least 10 frames per second would be kind of a minimum for me,” Schultz says. “And 20 or more is even better.” The higher your shutter speed, the faster your camera creates exposures, which is perfect for capturing a clear image of a moving animal without any motion blur.

 

A camera with high ISO settings is ideal for taking pictures in low-light conditions, while a telephoto lens helps photographers get great shots while keeping a safe distance from wild animals. In addition to long lenses, a camera with wide focal length is well suited to capturing the expansive vistas of the open wilderness.

A wildlife photographer mounts a camera trap onto a tree in the forest with a strap

Another important piece of equipment is a camera trap, which allows the photographer to set up their camera to trigger automatically when animals are nearby and then leave the area long enough for wild animals to come and investigate.

       

“You basically need a box for your camera, with a hole in it that the lens points out of,” Jennings says. “You put your camera in there with a big battery that lasts for months, and then you put it on a tripod or nail it to a tree with an infrared beam pointing from the camera to what you want to shoot. And whenever an animal walks by and breaks that beam, the camera takes a picture.”

Weatherizing your equipment.

Spending a lot of time out in the wilderness can take a toll on camera gear, which is why it’s important to protect your equipment against the elements. You can invest in specialized waterproof bags and carrying cases to keep your camera dry, but sometimes the best solutions are the simple ones.

       

“There’s a saying: The more equipment you have, the fewer pictures you take. And that’s a big deal,” Schultz says. “That’s why I just use a plastic bag as a rain cover. Just give me a camera lens, a battery, and a card, and let’s go.” 

A red fox is photographed head-on on while emerging from the inky black of a dark tree den
An owl is profiled in close-up from the side with focus on one large yellow eye and beak

Wildlife photography tips.

Before you set off into the great outdoors to start shooting wildlife photos, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with some photography best practices to make sure the pictures you come back with look their best. 

Frame your shot.

When lining up a shot of an animal, be sure to obey the rule of thirds: Placing your subject in the left third or the right third of your viewfinder leaves the other two thirds open to create a more pleasing composition.

       

“I think a lot about putting the animal in its landscape,” Jennings says. “There are a lot of close-up images of animals, and as a beginner it’s fun to get a long lens and fill the frame with the animals you’re photographing. But for me, I always want to tell a story with my image. And the way I tell it is by figuring out how that animal is interacting with its landscape.”

Select the right lens.

Different lenses have different strengths. For example, a wide-angle lens is great for photographing an expansive river valley, but a telephoto lens is better for a close-up shot of salmon jumping out of the water. Instead of wasting time swapping out lenses, try carrying two camera bodies — one with a wide angle lens attached, the other with a telephoto lens — so you can change on the fly without missing a shot.

Shoot at the right time.

To get the best shots, plan your photo excursions for the early morning just after sunrise or early evening just before sunset. These times are perfect for natural lighting, when the sun casts a soft golden glow that lights your subjects evenly and warmly. Morning and evening are also when wild animals are most active, foraging for food or seeking out a place to bed down for the night. If you’ve done your research and know of a trail animals like to use, staking it out just before sunrise or sunset can be the key to shooting an incredible photo.

Be ready for anything.

“It’s always good to be prepared for anything,” Schultz recommends. “Always have extra memory cards, so if something amazing happens, you always have enough shots. And carrying bear spray is good, even if you’re not photographing bears, because other wildlife can be an issue. Be careful out there.”

       

Whether you’re photographing orangutans in Indonesia or bald eagles in Alaska, wildlife photography is a great way to unleash your creativity while getting in touch with nature.

Share this article

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Do more with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Devices icon

You may also like

Please make sure that the "dexter.base.react.umd" and "dexter.base.consonantcardcollection" clientlibs have been added to the template's Page Policy