Pro Tips for Photographing Wildlife


For nature lovers, the dedicated wildlife holidays offered by specialist operators are quite often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to encounter a wealth of incredible animal species in their natural habitat. Capturing these special moments through the lens of a camera (or even a smartphone) is a very important part of the experience, so it pays to be well prepared – and know how to take a jaw-dropping, pin-sharp wildlife image at a moment’s notice.

Getting the Best Shot on your Wildlife Holidays

Wildlife photography is unlike any other genre. Animals can be unpredictable, unexpected and you’ve always got to be on high alert if you want to get the best shots. You can’t control nature, but you can be in control of yourself – and that means being prepared and ready to react.

Get to Know Your Subject

Knowledge is always power and the more you understand about your potential subjects’ habits, the more likely you are to be able to pre-empt their behaviour and be ready to fire off some shots. While it’s not usually practical to spend large amounts of time with specific species on wildlife holidays, doing some research before the trip can go a long way towards understanding them.

Familiarise Yourself With Your Equipment

Some people definitely fall into the category of ‘all gear and no idea’ when it comes to photography; the bells and whistles are of no use unless you know how to correctly work them. You usually only have a very short window of opportunity to take your shot, so it pays to get all the trial and error over with before you’re leaning out of the back of an open-topped vehicle with a Cheetah in your sights and no idea which button does what on your SLR camera. Study your equipment’s settings and accessories and practice at home so you know how to use them to optimise your images when it counts.

It’s All About the Light

It’s a happy coincidence that a lot of wildlife holidays focus on trips into habitats in what’s known as ‘the golden hours’ (around sunrise and sunset). As these times are often when the animals are most active, the combination of the soft light and increased opportunities for sightings can produce some truly magical images. Conversely, the hard light in the middle of the day is the least favourable time to shoot.

Wider View, Longer Lens, Faster Shutter Speed

While all rules are made to be broken, it’s a wise idea to learn them first. A long lens is a must when shooting professional-standard images of wild animals, but it’s also important not to go longer than you can handle. The longer the lens, the more you’re able to ‘isolate’ the subject from the background for more striking and intimate composition, but you’ll also need a faster shutter speed in order to prevent camera shake. A wide-angle lens is very useful when you’re looking to create an image with context.

Patience Pays Off

Probably the most pertinent piece of advice for aspiring wildlife photographers is to cultivate the virtue of patience. It’s understandable to want to produce perfect, show-stopping images every time, but it’s simply not possible. Even the most seasoned professionals have hard drives full of mediocre, out-of-focus and downright bad shots, but practice and patience will always pay off.

As they’re dedicated to providing the best sightings in a range of habitats, specialised small group wildlife holidays are the perfect opportunity to develop the skills needed to capture memorable, high-quality photos.

Author Plate Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in birds. With a passionate interest in rare avian species, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of flora and fauna in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.