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How to photograph wildlife

For most of us, photographing wildlife is usually restricted to a few quick snaps of the local duck pond and the occasional action shot of scavenger foxes turning over the bins.

Getting to see different kinds of birds and animals is one of the best things about travel and, with this in mind, Booking.com has come up with some handy tips and tricks for making sure you get that dream photo, starting with the basics.

Beginner

Two african cheetahs running fast. The second one is almost hidden beneath the high grass

Two african cheetahs running fast. The second one is almost hidden beneath the high grass

Know what your camera is capable of

Off the top of your head, do you know how quickly your camera can shift focus? What it's maximum aperture is? Can you change the exposure settings without having to look away from the viewfinder? Understanding your camera’s limits and being able to use your equipment efficiently will immediately improve your chances of getting a great shot.

An elephant walks between two safari vehicles

An elephant walks between two safari vehicles

Create the best possible conditions

If you’re not an experienced photographer and/or familiar with your subject’s natural habitat, going in search of a rarely-seen, near-mythical creature is likely to be an exercise in frustration. Planning a trip somewhere that already has lot of wildlife (such as an eco-lodge, wildlife resort, or even a farm) and gives you the opportunity to practise photographing lots of different species.

Intermediate

Buffalo during the early morning 'golden hour'

Buffalo during the early morning 'golden hour'

Steer clear of nighttime photography

While nocturnal animals do tend to be some of the most photogenic (it’s something about those big, gleaming eyes), shooting in low or fluctuating, dusk, light is tricky for even the most experienced photographer. Your best bet is to aim for the ‘golden hours’; the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. It’s also worth doing your research to know what your subject’s behaviour will be at this time. Will they be energised or sleepy, moving towards the sun or seeking to escape it, etc.

Ostriches forming a straight line in South Africa

Ostriches forming a straight line in South Africa

Don’t forget about context

It can be tempting to get as close as possible to your subject but that’s not always going to give you the best image (and can traumatise the animal or endanger yourself). By choosing a wider angle you can use the subject’s surroundings to give your work context, making it clear that this animal was photographed in the wild, rather than at your local zoo. This also helps with the composition of a photo and is a technique favoured by professional bird photographers.

Experienced

A peregrine falcon in search of prey

A peregrine falcon in search of prey

Make sure your focal length matches the speed of your subject

Some fun facts: birds tend to cruise at around 20-30 miles an hour but this can rise to 50 mph when in pursuit and the fastest bird in the world (the peregrine falcon) has been known to hit 242 mph. Which means that an ISO of 1600 is your best chance of capturing a bird at the most enthralling (and therefore most difficult to capture) part of it’s flight. Researching your subject’s average and fastest speed will always pay off.

An impala in Serengeti National Park

An impala in Serengeti National Park

Don’t get hung up on the cute pandas

There’s a term for the kind of animals that are beloved by the general public, the animals that constantly pop up on awareness campaigns, and are the most exciting to spot in the wild. Charismatic megafauna. Even professional photographers admit to occasionally having their heads turned by a majestic herd of elephants, but that does tend to also be the moment a photographer misses the nearby artfully-posed antelope or mole-rat.

For all photographers

Some advice from the professionals

Some advice from the professionals

The Nature Photographers Network has compiled a list of ways to make sure your photography and interaction with animals remains ethical:

A couple of things to remember:

Avoid touching the animals or interfering with their natural habitat.
Defer to local expertise and wildlife experts.
Report inappropriate behaviour to the authorities.