How to capture wildlife shots

Whether you want to use your Canon in your local woods or snap away on the plains of the Serengeti, discover ways to improve your wildlife shots

← Works best with EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens

The greatest asset, other than a Canon camera, that every wildlife photography enthusiast should have, is patience. If you're not a patient person this genre may be a struggle, as typically to get the most natural, awe-inspiring images you'll need to conceal yourself, keep quiet and wait, sometimes for long periods of time, before your subject even emerges. What's more, when the animal does appear its presence may be fleeting, so it's important to know your camera inside-out, so you can work efficiently in the few moments you have. Over these pages we'll cover everything you need to know, from embracing the right settings to carrying the best kit.

Shoot close for character
Closely-cropped frames yield instant impact and are ideal for showing the animal's character. Usually shots like this need a telephoto focal length so consider boosting your ISO or using a tripod to avoid blur. Alternatively move a little closer to the subject, as long as it's safe to do so!

Set up to shoot
Ensuring your camera is ready for action before any wildlife appears makes the difference between getting the shot and not. As wildlife photography is all about speed, your exposures will need to be as fast as the subjects you want to capture. As you'll need to use far-reaching focal lengths you must consider raising the ISO or supporting the camera to ensure your frames are crisp.


Composition tricks

1 Rule of thirds
Ensure the main point of interest lies on one of the intersecting lines or points. This suits telephoto and wildlife focal lengths. 

2 The eye dance
Compose an image so the viewer's eyes 'dance' over the image. Frame the shot with interesting elements placed all over.   

3 Break the rules
Break the rules when the occasion calls for it, as not every photo needs a compositional trick to enhance it. Simply use them as a guide to help you get started.


The first thing you need to know, if you're planning on shooting handheld, is how high you can push your camera's ISO without noise ruining the quality of your imagery. Test this at home before setting of and inspect the results on your computer. Once you know its limits, avoid going beyond this in the field, but don't be scared to go as close as you can to this limit as higher ISOs will allow you to gain faster shutter speeds, essential for this breed of photography. If you can erect a tripod covertly, keep low to the ground or perhaps lie down and shoot with your camera supported on something like a solid backpack, your frames are less likely to blur. If shooting handheld, support the camera underneath with your spare hand and either support your shooting elbow on the ground or on your knee for added stability.

Advanced shooters
When it comes to settings, you'll probably find it easier to shoot in manual or Shutter Priority, to ensure that the images are well exposed, with nice crisp details and accurate colours


Get that perfect shot

1 Patience is a virtue
The more you know about an animal the better. Use this to narrow down the time and place of the shoot. Then wait for it to appear.

2 Settings in motion
Before the animal appears, have your settings already dialled in. Aim for a fast shutter speed and know your ISO limit

3 Killer capture
Choose an orientation that best suits the animal, lock the focus and exposure then fire the shutter when the animal looks at you.


Picking a lens
Lens choice can be tricky. You should choose which lens to use wisely as you'll want to avoid making any noise, such as that caused by changing lenses, in the beasty's habitat. A better idea is to take a couple of cameras with lenses sporting varying focal lengths ready attached, so you can simply 'switch' lenses by swapping cameras. Whilst prime lenses provide undeniably sharper results, it's perhaps more advisable to use zoom lenses in this field unless you know your subject will stay in one place or if they are like to move slowly. Zoom lenses are better for faster-paced or less predictable animals, as they will offer greater compositional scope.

Practice makes perfect
A good way for any wildlife photographer to begin is by photographing pets and domestic animals. They are likely to be more willing than the real thing but you can start to see how speed is one of the most important factors here

Know your animal facts
The more you know about the animal you wish to photograph, the more likely you are to capture stunning imagery. A little research goes a long way here, as information like the hours of day it's active will tell you when to get into position, plus discovering what it eats will give you a tip of as to where to lie in wait. The more you know, the more confident you will be to guess what it will do next, thus you can better follow the subject, anticipate its movements and get as many usable frames as possible. This is crucial if you want to shoot character portraits showing the personality of the animal. Get as close as you can and aim to frame with eye contact. Whatever you do, just have fun with it and enjoy what you're shooting.

When shooting handheld, place your elbow on the ground or on your knee, and your spare hand under the camera.


Focal length versus speed
While most contemporary lenses host vibration reduction technology, it's a good idea if you're shooting handheld to know what the minimum shutter speed of the camera and lens is for ensuring your images are sharp and not blurred. The general rule of thumb for this is to not exceed an exposure time longer than the focal length, so for example if you're shooting at a 250mm focal length, so it's advisable to use a shutter speed faster than 1/250sec.


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