5 Common Mistakes in Wildlife Photography

Dec 26, 2016

Wildlife photography is a genre of photography dedicated to documenting wildlife in its natural habitat. From adorable chipmunks to ferocious tigers, wildlife photography can take many forms. It can also take many wrong turns, which can lead to poor images and frustration.

As landscape photographers that not only sell prints and stock photography, but also guide novice to experienced photographers on exciting workshops and photo tours, our goal is to help people who love taking pictures make the best pictures they can. Toward that end, we thought we would tell you five things not to do in wildlife photography.

Not Getting Close Enough to Your Subject

You’re on a safari and you see a pack of lions up the road. You take a picture and check it out on the back of the camera only to see a few yellow-brown dots in a sea of yellow-brown grass. All you need to do is move a bit closer, right? Wrong. One of the prime directives in wildlife photography is to not stress the animals, so in many wildlife photography situations, what you need to do is wait for the wildlife to come to you, otherwise you may stress and scare them away. When considering what you want in your picture, decide what you want in your frame and wait until you have the opportunity to get it. The better the lens and camera, the better the zoom, which will afford you more opportunities to get that perfect shot.

A Distracting Depth of Field

When your camera is shooting on automatic, it decides the shutter speed and aperture for you. This is fine in some situations, but to get truly stunning wildlife photography pictures you probably need to choose these settings yourself. Small aperture pictures will increase the depth of field around your subject, allowing objects and colors in the background to look sharp and compete with your subject. Wider apertures, which also have a faster shutter speed, will allow you to narrow the depth of field, focus on the animal itself, and capture the animal clearly while creating more of a palette feel in the background.

Getting too Close

This mistake can take two forms: safety-related and camera-related. For safety, our advice is pretty obvious: don’t get so close to an animal that you put yourself in danger. No picture is worth your life or your limbs. Camera-wise, we are accustomed to being too far away from our subjects, and when we have the opportunity to shoot a close-up we tend to overdo it. If you want a portrait of the animal’s head, that’s one thing, but it is often better if an animal happens to walk right into your frame, try zooming out a little bit so you can put the animal in a larger perspective.

Poor Timing

Animals are naturally unruly subjects. They aren’t exactly willing participants. Wildlife photography, like all other genres of photography, is about timing. There are thousands of opportunities to take a bad picture and just a few to take a good one. Your job as a photographer is to take advantage of those few moments that will deliver a great picture. You do this by applying equal parts patience and perseverance. Don’t get frustrated if it takes you all day to get that perfect shot. This is what it takes! To further increase your odds of getting a great photograph, shoot at hours of the day that will give you ideal lighting: early morning and late afternoon. And remember when someone says, “Wow, that was a lucky shot!” that luck is merely the confluence of preparation and opportunity, so be prepared when the opportunity presents itself.

Learn Wildlife Photography from the Pros

Want to see how it’s done? Check out some stunning wildlife photography images in our galleries, which are sortable by categories like Animals and On Safari. Want to learn how to do it yourself from wildlife photographers Jim and Lori Steinberg? See where we’re headed next!