5 Top Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography

5 Top Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography

A visit to a game reserve such as Kruger Park may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be enhanced by the photos you take. But be aware that wildlife photography is different from other kinds of photography, and should be approached carefully. Here are five tips that will help you take great wildlife photos.

Equipment

Although you don’t need the most expensive equipment, a decent digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a zoom or telephoto lens are recommended. Don’t use a smartphone or point and shoot camera as the pictures will be too small. The minimum focal length lens recommended for wildlife photography is 300 mm and for bird photos 400 mm. For really sharp photos, choose the most expensive lens you can afford and avoid cheap kit lenses. Ideally, the lens should have optical stabilization and always fit a UV filter to protect the lens so it won’t get scratched.

Composition

In the excitement of taking a photograph of an unusual animal, it’s easy to ignore obstructions such as grass or leaves that are obscuring the face of the animal you are photographing. And it’s even more difficult to see a tuft of grass that’s out of focus right in front of the subject’s eyes. So take a moment to study the scene and carefully compose your photo, being mindful of the “rule of thirds” that says the subject looks best when slightly off-center and positioned in either the left or right third of the viewfinder facing inwards.

Focus, Aperture, and Depth of Field

Always try to focus on the animal’s eyes. Be aware that modern cameras have many focus points and may select the wrong focus point unless you deliberately select the one you want. A telephoto lens has a short depth of field, so if possible select an aperture between f/8 and f/16 to keep as much of your subject in focus as possible and to retain sharpness. Do not go beyond f/16 unless you have a full-frame camera, as diffraction will affect the sharpness of the photograph.

Exposure, Light, and Shutter Speed

During the heat of the African day, colors are flat and photos tend to be washed out. The best times to take photos are the first few hours at the beginning and end of the day. With a telephoto lens, its best to choose a shutter speed that’s at least the same as the lens’s focal length (1/300 sec for 300 mm); any slower and you’ll experience camera shake even with an optical stabilizer. If possible, use a bean bag or monopod to steady the camera but avoid tripods, as they are awkward for wildlife photography. Beware of high contrast, backlit, and dark subjects, and be prepared to manually adjust exposure to compensate.

Be Patient

Avoid the temptation to snap as many shots as possible in the hope of getting one great photo; this usually doesn’t work and makes for boring photos. Watch out for interesting and photogenic animals, poses, and groupings. Take two or three shots, stop, and look for something else to photograph. Try spending time sitting at interesting places such as waterholes, and you may be surprised at what you see by waiting quietly in one place.

At Camp

At camp, review your photos and if possible, download them. Look for what worked and what didn’t so you can avoid making the same mistake again. Wildlife photography is not always easy, but if you persevere, you’ll get good shots. Make a selection of the best photos for entertaining your friends and encouraging them to visit Kruger National Park.

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