Photography Cheat Sheet: Essential Wildlife Photography Tips

Wildlife photography will often require you to be quick on your feet. This handy photography cheat sheet will equip you with the essentials, so you don’t waste the perfect moment fiddling with settings.

Wildlife photography is one of the most challenging but also rewarding fields you can get into. Getting the right gear is one thing; having the right skill set to capture those fleeting moments out in the wild is another. If you’re just getting started and are looking for some tips, today’s cheat sheet will arm you with essential know-how.

The wildlife photography cheat sheet below, by Digital Camera World, will serve as a quick but indispensable guide for anyone who wants to step up with photographing animals and venture into the great outdoors instead of their local zoo. It’s going to be a lot more challenging, but hopefully, the tips here will help you develop more confidence in shooting. With enough practice, of course!

The goal of this cheat sheet is to allow you to shoot fast, so you don’t miss a picture-perfect but fleeting moment. It’s divided into four parts: Composition, Focusing, Aperture, and Exposure Compensation.

As with any kind of photography, wildlife photography requires strong composition skills for beautiful results. It’s best to get the camera down to the level of the animals you want as your subjects, so you’re shooting eye-to-eye for intimate portraits. If the animal is facing left or right, leave some room in the frame for them to “look” into. Don’t forget to check the background and foreground for any distracting elements like branches, leaves, and grass. In these cases, you’ll need to make some small adjustments in your framing to get a perfect shot.

Focusing can be tricky, especially when you’re photographing a moving animal. “Soft Eyes, Sharp Nose” typically happens when the camera’s autofocus locks on tips of long snouts or bills, and outstretched wings. To avoid this, select an off-center focus point or the center focusing point and lock the focus on the eyes by pressing the shutter button halfway. Then, recompose the shot afterward.

Shoot in Aperture Priority mode as well so you can select your lens’s widest aperture. This will also allow your camera to shoot in fast shutter speeds that will freeze action. As a plus, wider apertures will also blur out distracting backgrounds. This effect will look even more exaggerated when you’re using a long lens.

Lastly, you can turn to your camera’s exposure compensation function for situations where the animal you’re trying to photograph is darker or lighter than the midtone exposure your camera is tuned to capture. The camera will try to overexpose dark subjects to lighten them and underexpose light subjects to darken them. To address this, dial in negative compensation for dark animals and positive compensation for light ones.

As a bonus, there is also some recommended gear for those who are wondering what lens and tools they need. Make sure you include long lenses like 100mm-400mm telephoto lenses for extra reach (you’ll need it) and a 100mm macro lens for stunning close-ups of bugs and critters. A tripod and ball head will let you capture fast-moving animals with ease, while a flash will add a nice catchlight to dark eyes for close-up portraits. Beanbags will also be handy for shooting in low angles and from a car or public hide.

Additional Reading: Wildlife Photography Tips for the Novice

Want more photography tips and tricks like this? Don’t forget to check out our photography cheat sheet collection, and we’re sure you’ll find loads of help!